RootsTech Update, Class Navigation Aids & the Pass Winner

I have several updates for you today.

Let’s start with RootsTech pricing.

Early Bird Special

The in-person price for RootsTech is currently $98 which is the early-bird special pricing. Sometime in February, the price will increase. If you’re planning to attend, I encourage you to sign up sooner rather than later at this link.

Locating Speakers, Schedules and Sessions for In-Person and Virtual

The blended combination of virtual and in-person sessions, some of which are being live-streamed, has caused some confusion. Specifically, the in-person sessions are not listed with the virtual sessions and are difficult to find. I’ve had several people ask me why none of my sessions are listed. They are, just not in the class list they were viewing.

I think it’s sorted out now, so I’m going to step you through how to find your favorite speakers and both types of sessions.

On the main RootsTech page, below where you register, you’ll see the two options, above.

In-Person Classes

You can click on “Browse In-person Classes” to view everything happening at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.

You can click on Classes or Speakers or any of the other tiles.

There’s no direct way to obtain a filtered list of the in-person sessions being live-streamed, but if you look at a specific class, you can see if it’s being live-streamed. Live-streamed classes will be available for viewing later and are also listed in the “virtual” portion of the conference.

My classes are not being live-streamed, but this class by my friend Amy Johnson Crow is being live-streamed in addition to being available in person, of course. Every class that is live-streamed will include the announcement, above, which is also where you click to view the live-streamed session.

RootsTech has provided a conference planner so you can add both in-person and live-streamed classes to your conference schedule.

Classes By Date

You can view all of the in-person classes in list or grid format, by date, here.

RootsTech Virtual Classes

By clicking on the “Browse NEW Virtual Classes” button on the main page, you can view the virtual classes.

You can also click on the “Classes” link, above, in the header of the “Browse In-Person Classes” page.

Regardless of how you get there, you can filter the virtual classes by year (be sure it’s 2023,) or by speaker. Remember, most of the earlier virtual classes are still available too, which is why you need to filter by 2023 to view this year’s new sessions.

Roberta’s Sessions

My three sessions are in-person-only this year. You can view them here and by clicking on any session, you can see more, including the room number.

Regarding room numbers, if you’re attending in person, the day of your sessions, verify that the room number has not changed.

Exhibitors Booth Mini-Sessions

In addition to the RootsTech-sponsored classes, many of the exhibitors will be providing mini-sessions and classes in their booths.

Those sessions are often published in their physical or virtual booths, so be sure to check the exhibitors in the Expo Hall either in person or the virtual Expo Hall after it goes live.

I’m planning to give mini-sessions in select vendors’ booths. I’ll let you know as soon as my schedule is finalized, closer to the conference dates. There’s a lot still up in the air!

Planning is Essential

For those who have never attended RootsTech in person, the Salt Palace conference center is massive and some of the classrooms are widely separated. Planning your class schedule is essential.

Also note that some of the rooms are relatively small and you may not be able to get into a class of your choice if you don’t arrive early.

How early? I don’t know, but I’d suggest having pre-selected a second choice or perhaps not scheduling every slot.

I do know that there is half an hour between the end of one class and the beginning of the next class, so you will have time to move from room to room.

Be sure to understand the layout of the convention center in advance so you can find your room. The Salt Palace map is here, including classrooms. On this map, halls A-D are opened up to be the RootsTech Expo Hall. The RootsTech exhibitor map in the Expo Hall is here.

Free Pass Winner

I offered a free RootsTech pass for one lucky person, here, and recruited Jim to pull the name of an entrant out of a hat. (Ok, it’s a bowl-buddy, but I digress.)

I’m very pleased to announce that blog subscriber, Barbara, is attending RootsTech for the first time as the winner of the free RootsTech pass.

Congratulations Barbara! Wear really comfy shoes, dress warm, and prepare to have an amazing time!


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Moments Frozen in Time in Our Collective Memory: The Challenger Explosion – 52 Ancestors #387

On January 28th, 1986, a bright, sunny Florida morning, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch, killing all 7 crew members aboard. Later, we learned that their deaths probably occurred instantaneously or within seconds after the explosion ripped the capsule apart, but we didn’t know that at the time. Thank goodness they didn’t suffer and may have been blessedly unconscious, unaware of what was happening.

In the US, many people still listened to and watched the shuttle launches. This launch, in particular, was more widely viewed because teacher Crista McAuliffe was among the crew members. The launch feed was piped into many classrooms, including to Crista’s own students who had been celebrating and cheering wildly, then fell into stunned silence. shared this image today.

Most people who are old enough to recall remember exactly what they were doing that day.

I was driving on Interstate 96 in Michigan, on the way to the Hewlett Packard office where I worked. I was listening to the launch on the radio, as I did most space launches, given that I was then and remain a space geek. This launch, this time, though, was different.

Something was wrong. Very wrong.

Of course, I couldn’t see the images in the car, but I can still hear the newscaster’s voice and recall vividly where I was on the expressway. I knew I was only about 10 minutes from the office.

I clung to every word along the way. The newscaster didn’t tell us outright that the Challenger had exploded, but simply that there was something wrong, and there had been a “major malfunction,” followed by complete and utter silence. That NEVER happens on air. Never. I turned the radio up, but it was still eerily silent.

After what seemed like the longest minute or two ever, he simply said that the “vehicle had exploded.” We know now that he was listening to mission control and was probaby trying to digest what he was hearing, and weighing exactly what to say, knowing he had to say something.

He spoke dryly in very measured tones of “recovery and contingency procedures,” and then that they had “impact in the water.” You could tell he was well-trained, but the lack of urgency, panic and shock in his voice allowed us to be hopeful that it wasn’t as bad as the situation suggested.

Remember, I was in a vehicle and couldn’t see anything. I was shocked and numb. Tears began to slip down my cheeks, but I couldn’t cry because I had to drive. I needed to get to that television and see what was transpiring. Maybe I was misunderstanding.

I wanted to believe that the capsule had simply fallen into the ocean and the crew would be picked up. Maybe it was just the booster and the capsule itself was alright. Maybe.

This launch had been previously delayed. I already had a bad feeling about it. I wanted to be wrong.

You can view the NASA video here. It’s still very difficult for me to watch.

When I arrived at the office about 10 minutes later, everyone was clustered tightly around the single small television on the premises, in dead silence. Many were crying.

By this time, more commentary had emerged. I have no idea who was speaking, but the explosion and pieces cascading in graceful smokey arched contrails into the ocean was replaying. I was horrified. When I saw all those separate pieces, I realized what we were watching.

I knew that Crista’s parents and children were in the stands watching, along with the families of the other astronauts. Nothing prepares you to watch that, even though everyone knew space travel held inherent risk.

Given that a school teacher was allowed to join the crew, we believed that perhaps space travel had become safter and one day, more civilians would join those ranks.

The difference between this disaster and others is that in an instant, it was burned with a branding iron into the collective consciousness of an entire set of generations.

We witnessed it, then again and again on replay, and it was shockingly horrible. Most of us remember vividly where we were at the time.

Many were confused at first. We didn’t believe or maybe understand what we saw. We were in collective shock. No, no, this couldn’t possibly be real.

Slowly, as the day wore on, our worst fears were realized and we understood that we had witnessed the deaths of 7 incredibly brave people in the clear, blue sky above Cape Kennedy.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

This was never supposed to happen.

High Flight

The poem High Flight was written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. in 1941, but was quickly associated with the Challenger accident when then-President Reagan spoke some of these legendary words to a shocked and grieving nation in his public address to the country in lieu of the previously planned State-of-the-Union. His speech still makes me cry – it was and is incredibly inspirational, as is “High Flight.”

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds –
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

“Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

By Tim1965 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

High Flight is carved on the back of the Challenger Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery where the co-mingled cremated remains of the crew were laid to rest that May.

By Jtesla16 – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

For years, I had a copy of High Flight magneted to my filing cabinet, the words brought me comfort, honoring the pioneering spirit of those brave souls, along with others less famous and often forgotten.

Dave’s Departure

Twenty-six years later, on the same day in 2012, about the same time, my brother Dave slipped his bonds of earth too.

Not long before, Dave took this picture through the windshield of his big rig in the mountains someplace out west, probably on his last run. I always think of him, “there,” in that light. I think of them “there” too.

This day and date are forever seared into my memory. Those two events are now forever linked by a common day in terms of grief and disbelief, but also because of bravery, inspiration, admiration and love.

Share Your Memories?

What are your memories of the Challenger explosion? Have you shared them with your family members? Where were you? How did it affect you?


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ThruLines Suggests Potential Ancestors – How Accurate Are They?

I wanted to evaluate the accuracy of Ancestry’s ThruLines suggested Potential Ancestors when compared with a tree I know is accurate. I conducted an experiment where I created a small tree on Ancestry for a DNA tester that included only the first two generations, meaning grandparents and great-grandparents.

Click to enlarge any image.

This gave Ancestry enough data to work with and means that for the upstream ancestors, Ancestry’s ThruLines suggested specific people as ancestors.

How well did Ancestry do? Are the Potential Ancestors suggested by Ancestry accurate? How do they make those suggestions anyway? Are they useful?

I do have a second, completely separate, full tree connected to my other DNA test, and I do know who those ancestors are, or, in some cases, I know who they aren’t. I’ve had the privilege of working intensively on my genealogy for decades, so I can easily compare what is known and proven, or what has been disproven, to Ancestry’s suggested Potential Ancestors.

We’ll start with the great-grandparents’ generation, but first, let’s talk about how ThruLines works. I’ve previously written about ThruLines here and here.

How ThruLines Works

ThruLines is a tool for people who have taken an AncestryDNA test and who link themselves to their position on their tree. Linking is a critical step. If you don’t link the DNA test to the proper profile, the tester won’t have ThruLines. I provided step-by-step instructions, here.

I want to emphasize this again, ThruLines is a TOOL, not an answer. It may or may not be accurate and it’s entirely UP TO YOU to take that hint, run with it, and verify or disprove. Ancestry is providing you with a hint.

Essentially, the more ancestors that you provide to Ancestry, generally, the better they can do when suggesting additional Potential Ancestors. They do need something to work with. I wrote about that in the article Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines.

If you don’t provide at least your parents and at least your grandparents in a tree, it’s unlikely that Ancestry will be able to provide Potential Ancestors for you.

I added two generations above the parents in this experiment in order to provide Ancestry with a significant “hook” to latch onto to connect with:

  • Other DNA testers who match the tester AND
  • Other people’s trees, whether the tree-owners have tested their DNA or not

So yes, to be clear, Ancestry DOES:

  • Use the trees of other people whose DNA you match AND have the same ancestors in their tree
  • Along with the trees of people you don’t match (or who haven’t DNA tested,) to propose ancestors for you

ThruLines only reaches back to ancestors within 7 generations, meaning the ancestor is the tester’s 5th great-grandparent or closer.

Most suggested Potential Ancestors in ThruLines have descendants who have tested and are DNA matches to you, but not necessarily all.

On your tree itself, the ThruLines “3 people” icon shows on the ancestors that have Thrulines.

Click to enlarge

Looking at this graphic of my tree, you can see that ThruLines ends at the 7th generation, but Potential Ancestors continue to be suggested beyond 7 generations. Note generation 9, below, which is beyond ThruLines but has Potential Ancestors suggested based entirely on other people’s trees.

ThruLines stops at 7 generations, but Potential Ancestor suggestions do not.

In the above example, in generation 7, Michael McDowell (1720-1755) is a known ancestor and has a ThruLine, but his wife is unknown. Ancestry has suggested a Potential Mother for Michael McDowell (1747-1840) who is also the spouse of Michael McDowell (1720-1755).

Here’s the ThruLines suggestion for Michael McDowell’s wife.

Ironically, there are no DNA matches for either Michael or Eleanor. However, there are DNA matches for their child who clearly descends from Michael. This may be an example of a situation where the other testers are beyond the 7th generation, so they don’t show as matches for our tester in Michael’s generation. The other possibility, of course, is a glitch in ThruLines.

(For those familiar with the Michael McDowell (1720-1755) lineage, Eleanor is his mother, not his wife. His wife is unknown, so this Potential Ancestor is incorrect.)

Potential Ancestors Without DNA Matches

A person may still be suggested as a Potential Ancestor even without any DNA matches.

I have seen situations where a parent has DNA matches to several ThruLine ancestors, but their child has the same suggested ancestor with zero DNA matches listed because the child and the match are one generation too far removed to be listed as a DNA match on ThruLines.

Yet, if you search the child’s match list for the individual listed as a DNA match to their parent through that ancestor, that match is also on the child’s match list.

In the chart that follows, you can see that ancestors in the midrange of generations have many DNA matches, but as you approach the 7th generation, the number of matches drops significantly, and some even have zero. That’s because both people of a match pair have to be within the generational boundary for ThruLines to list them as matches.

In some cases, the ancestor is not suggested for the child in ThruLines because the ancestor is the 6th great-grandparent of the child. If you look directly at the child’s tree, the Potential Ancestor may be suggested there.

Points to Remember

  • The difference between ThruLines and Potential Ancestors is that Potential Ancestors are still suggested beyond the hard 7 generation or 5 GG boundary for ThruLines.
  • ThruLines may suggest Potential Ancestors with or without DNA matches.
  • Potential Ancestors, either within or beyond ThruLines must connect to someone in your tree, or another Potential Ancestor or ancestors who connect to someone in your tree.

Incorrect Ancestors and Discrepancies

An incorrect ancestor can be listed in multiple people’s trees, and Ancestry will suggest that incorrect ancestor for you based on the associated trees. At one point, I did a survey of the number of people who had the incorrect Virginia wife listed for my ancestor, Abraham Estes, and the first 150 trees I viewed had the wrong wife. We have church record proof of her death in England before his children were born by his colonial Virginia wife. Garbage in, garbage out.

That doesn’t mean those trees aren’t useful. In some cases, the information “saved” to that person in those incorrect trees shows you exactly what is out there and can’t be correct. For example, if there is a death record and burial for someone, they can’t also be alive 50 years later in another location. Or someone born in 1780 can’t have been a Revolutionary War veteran. Sometimes you’ll discover same name confusion, or multiple people who have been conflated into one. Other times, you may actually find valid hints for your own ancestor misplaced in someone else’s tree. Always evaluate.

You “should” have the same number of matches to the man and woman of a couple if neither of them had descendants with another partner, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I would presume that’s due to tree discrepancies among your matches or other trees on Ancestry.

If the same ancestor is listed with multiple name spellings or similar differences, I have no idea how Ancestry determines which version to present to you as a Potential Ancestor. That’s why ThruLines are hints. Ancestry does show you the various trees they utilized and allows you to peruse them for hints for that suggested ancestor.

Just click on the Evaluate button. Unfortunately, neither of these trees have any records for this ancestor.

If you click on the tree, you are then given the opportunity to add Eleanor (meaning the potential ancestor) to your tree from their tree.

I STRONGLY, STRONGLY suggest that you DO NOT do this. By adding information directly from other people’s trees, you’re introducing any errors from their tree into your tree as well.

If you click through to their tree, you’ll often find that they used someone else’s tree as their “source,” so misinformation propagates easily. Seeing “Ancestry Family Trees” as a source, especially in multiple records, provides you with an idea of the research style of that tree owner. This also conveys the message to less-experienced researchers that copy/pasting from other trees is a valid source.

Use this information provided as hints and do your own research and evaluation.

Where Do Potential Ancestors Come From?

Let’s view an example of an incorrect Potential Ancestor suggestion and proof-steps you can utilize to help validate or potentially disprove the suggestion.

We know that George Middleton Clarkston/Clarkson is NOT the father of James Lee Clarkson based on Y-DNA testing where the descendants of the two men not only don’t match, they have a completely different haplogroup. They do not share a common paternal ancestor. Furthermore, proven descendant groups of both men do not have autosomal DNA matches.

However, George Middleton Clarkson is suggested as a Potential Ancestor in ThruLines as the father of James Lee Clarkson.

Mousing over the ThruLines placard shows 98 DNA matches to other people who claim descent from George Middleton Clarkson. How is it possible to have 98 matches with descendants of George Middleton Clarkson, yet he’s not my ancestor?

Many people just see that “98,” which is a high number and think, “well, of course he’s my ancestor, otherwise, I wouldn’t match all those descendants.” It’s not that simple or straightforward though. It’s certainly possible to all be wrong together, especially if you’re dealing with long-held assumptions in the genealogy community and trees copies from other people’s trees for decades.

To view the ThruLine detail for George Middleton Clarkson, just click on the placard.

The ThruLine for George Middleton Clarkson has three attributed children with DNA matches. Let’s evaluate.

  • ThruLines Child 1 is my own James Lee Clarkson that has been erroneously attached to George Middleton Clarkson. However, the Y-DNA of the three various lines, above, does not match. That erroneous connection alone counts for 80 of those 98 matches. If all of those people who match me do descend from our common ancestor, James, those matches all make sense.

According to early histories, James Lee Clarkson was believed to be George’s son based on geographic proximity between the state of Franklin in eastern Tennessee and Russell County, Virginia, but then came DNA testing which said otherwise.

This DNA grouping from the Clarkson/Claxton DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA shows that the men, above, which includes descendants of James Lee Claxton/Clarkson, all match each other.

  • ThruLines Child 2 is Thomas Clarkston who has 17 DNA matches through 7 of his children.

By clicking on the green evaluate button for Thomas, we see that two of the DNA related trees have records, but three do not.

The first tree is quite interesting for a number of reasons.

  1. Thomas Clarkson is found in Lee County, VA, in relatively close proximity to where James Lee Clarkson is first found in Russell County, VA as an adult in 1795.
  2. There is no actual documentation to connect Thomas Clarkson with George Middleton Clarkson who was hung in 1787 in the lost State of Franklin, Tennessee, now Washington and Greene Counties in Tennessee. It has been “accepted” for years that Thomas descends from George Middleton based on information reportedly passed down within that family long before the internet.

The Claxton/Clarkson DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA shows the Thomas lineage. This lineage reaches back into England based on Y-DNA matches – a huge and important hint for the Thomas descendants that they won’t be able to obtain anyplace else.

Note that Thomas’s Y-DNA does not match that of James Lee Clarkson/Claxton which means these people must match me through a different line. That’s not surprising given that many of the families of this region intermarried for generations.

  • ThruLines Child 3 is David Claxton, who has one DNA match, so let’s look at that by clicking on the green evaluate button.

You’ll see that this ancestor through David Claxton was recommended based on:

  • One DNA match with a tree with 0 source records, and
  • Zero Ancestry member trees of people whose DNA I don’t match, or that haven’t DNA tested

Checking this tree shows no sources for the following generations either, so I have no way to evaluate the accurace of the tree.

However, I did track his descendants for a generation or so and found them in Wilson County, TN, which allowed me to find them in the Clarkson/Claxton Y DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA.

In the Clarkson/Claxton DNA project, we see that this David Claxton of Wilson County, TN is in a third DNA group that does not match either the James Lee Claxton or the Thomas Claxton line.

Furthermore, look at the hints for the descendants of David Claxton based on the Y-DNA matches. This link appears to reach back to a Clayton in Kirkington, Yorkshire.

ThruLines Conflation

In this case, three men of similar or the same surnames were cobbled together as sons of George Middleton Clarkson where clearly, based on Y-DNA testing, those three men are not related to each other paternally and do not share a common paternal ancestor. They cannot all three be descendants of George Middleton Clarkson.

It’s amazing how much is missed and erroneously inferred by NOT testing Y-DNA. In very short order, we just proved that the ThruLine that connected all three of these men to George Middleton Clarkson as their ancestor is inaccurate.

In defense of Ancestry, they simply used user-submitted erroneous trees – but you have it within YOUR power to search further, and to utilize Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA testing for additional clarification. This Clarkson/Claxton information was freely available, publicly, by just checking.

You can find surname or other projects at FamilyTreeDNA, by scrolling down, here, or simply google “<surname you seek> DNA Project.”

How Can These People All Match the Tester?

If we know that the male Claxton/Clarkson line is not the link between these matches, then why and how do these people all DNA match the tester? That’s a great question.

It’s possible that:

  • They match the tester through a different ancestor
  • There has been a genetic disconnect in the Claxton/Clarkson line and the match is through the mother, not the Claxton/Clarkson male
  • Some of the other testers’ genealogy is in error by including George Middleton Clarkson in their trees
  • People accept the George Middleton Clarkson suggestion, adding him to their tree, propagating erroneous information
  • The descendants of James Lee Clarkson/Claxton match because he is their common ancestor, but connecting him to George Middleton Clarkson is erroneous
  • The 15 cM match (and potentially others) is identical by chance
  • The Y-DNA disproved this possibility in this case. In other cases, the matches could have been from the same biological Clarkson/Claxton line, but the testers have their ancestor incorrectly attached to George Middleton Clarkson/Claxton. In this case, we can’t say which of David Claxton, James Lee Claxton and/or Thomas Claxton are or are not individually erroneously connected to George Middleton Clarkson, but we know for a fact that David’s, James’ and Thomas’s descendant’s Y-DNA does not match each other, so they can’t all three be descendants of George Middleton Clarkston. Furthermore, there is no solid evidence that ANY of these three men are his descendant. We know that these three men do not share a common direct paternal ancestor.

I recommend for every male line that you check the relevant Y-DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA and see if the information there confirms or conflicts with a suggested ancestor, or if a descendant hasn’t yet tested. I also STRONGLY recommend that a male in the relevant surname line that carries that surname be asked to test in order to verify the lineage.

ThruLine Ranking

I’m going to rank Ancestry’s suggested Potential Ancestors by awarding points for accuracy on their Potential Ancestor ThruLines suggestions and subtracting points for incorrect Potential Ancestor suggestions. This chart is at the end with links to my 52 Ancestor’s articles for those ancestors.

OK, let’s take a look, beginning with the great-grandparent generation.


I entered all of these ancestors and they are connected to their children, the tester’s grandparents. They are not connected to their parents for purposes of this article, although I do know who the parents are, so let’s see how Ancestry does making Potential Ancestor suggestions through ThruLines.

Ancestors (above example) that are NOT framed by a dotted line and who are NOT labeled as a “Potential Ancestor” have been connected in their tree by the DNA tester, meaning you.

The next generations, below, are all framed by dotted lines, meaning they are Potential Ancestor suggestions provided by Ancestry. Potential Ancestors are always clearly marked with the green bar.

Eight 2nd Great Grandparents

In this generation, because I have not connected them, Ancestry has suggested Potential Ancestors for all sixteen 2X Great-Grandparents.

I’ve provided gold stars for the correct ancestor information meaning both the name and the birth and death date within a year or a decade when they died between census years.

Of these 16, three are completely accurate and the rest were at least partially accurate.

I repeated this process for each one of the suggested Potential Ancestors in the 3rd, 4th and 5th great grandparent categories as well, completing a ranking chart as I went.

Ranking Chart

I’ve ranked Ancestry’s accuracy in their Potential Ancestor recommendations.

  • +2 points means the name AND birth and death years are accurate within a year or decade if they died within a census boundary
  • +1 point means that EITHER the name OR the birth and death dates are (mostly) accurate, but not both
  • 0 means uncertain, so neither positive or negative
  • -1 point means that NEITHER the name NOR birth and death dates are accurate but it’s clear that this is meant to be the correct person. In other words, with some work, this hint could point you in the right direction, but in and of itself, it is inaccurate.
  • -2 means that the person suggested is the wrong person

I’ve been generous where there was some question. I’ve linked these ancestors where I’ve written their 52 Ancestors stories. [LNU] means last name unknown. It’s worth noting that one of the trees Ancestry has available to utilize for Potential Ancestors is my own accurate tree with many source documents for my ancestors.

# Generation Ancestry Name & Birth/Death Years Correct Name & Birth/Death Years # Matches Points Awarded Y or mtDNA Confirmed
1 2nd GGP John R. Estes 1788-1885 John. R. Estes 1787-1885 110 2 Yes
2 2nd GGP Nancy Ann Moore 1789-1865 Ann Moore or Nancy Ann Moore c1785-1860/1870 112 1 Need mtDNA through all females
3 2nd GGP Lazarus Dotson 1785-1861 Lazarus Dodson 1795-1861 46 -1 Yes
4 2nd GGP Elizabeth Campbell 1802-1842 Elizabeth Campbell c 1802-1827/1830 46 1 Yes
5 2nd GGP Elijah R. Vannoy 1782-1850 Elijah Vannoy 1784-1850s 82 -1 Yes
6 2nd GGP Rebecca Lois McNeil 1781-1839 Lois McNiel c1786-c1830s 81 -1 Yes
7 2nd GGP William Crumley ?-1859 William Crumley 1788-1859 97 1 Yes
8 2nd GGP Lydia Brown Crumley 1796-1847 Lydia Brown c1781-1830/1840 112 -1 Yes
9 2nd GGP Henry Bolton 1741-1846 Henry Frederick Bolton 1762-1846 152 -1 Yes
10 2nd GGP Nancy Mann 1777-1841 Nancy Mann c1780-1841 134 1 Yes
11 2nd GGP William Herrel 1803-1859 William Harrell/Herrell c1790-1859 31 1 Yes
12 2nd GGP Mary McDowell 1785-1871 Mary McDowell 1785-after 1872 45 2 Yes
13 2nd GGP Fairwick Clarkson 1800-1874 Fairwix/Fairwick Clarkson/Claxton 1799/1800-1874 82 2 Yes
14 2nd GGP Agnes Sander Muncy 1803-1880 Agnes Muncy 1803-after 1880 106 1 Yes
15 2nd GGP Thomas Charles Speak 1805-1843 Charles Speak 1804/1805-1840/1850 60 1 Yes
16 2nd GGP Ann McKee 1805-1860 Ann McKee 1804/1805-1840/1850 60 1 Yes
17 3rd GGP George M. Estes 1763-1859 George Estes 1763-1859 76 1 Yes
18 3rd GGP Mary C. Younger 1766-1850 Mary Younger c1766-1820/1830 75 -1 Yes
19 3rd GGP William Moore 1756-1810 William Moore 1750-1826 72 1 Yes
20 3rd GGP Susannah Harwell 1748-1795 Lucy [LNU] 1754-1832 69 -2 Need Lucy’s mtDNA through all females
21 3rd GGP Lazarous Dotson 1760-1826 Lazarus Dodson 1760-1826 42 1 Yes
22 3rd GGP Janet Jane Campbell 1762-1826 Jane [LNU] c1760-1830/1840 38 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
23 3rd GGP John Campbell 1772-1836 John Campbell c1772-1838 65 1 Yes
24 3rd GGP Jane Dobkins 1780-1860 Jane Dobkins c1780-c1860 22 2 Yes
25 3rd GGP Francis Vanoy/Vannoy 1746-1822 Daniel Vannoy 1752-after 1794 76 -2 Yes
26 3rd GGP Millicent “Millie” Henderson 1755-1822 Sarah Hickerson 1752/1760-before 1820 76 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
27 3rd GGP William McNeil/McNeal 1760-1830 William McNiel c1760-c1817 116 1 Yes
28 3rd GGP Elizabeth Shepherd McNeil 1766-1820 Elizabeth Shepherd 1766-1830/1840 115 -1 Yes
29 3rd GGP William Crumley 1767-1837 William Crumley c1767-c1839 59 1 Yes
30 3rd GGP Hannah Hanner “Hammer” 1770-1814 unknown 60 -2 Have her mtDNA
31 3rd GGP Jotham Sylvanis Brown 1765-1859 Jotham Brown c1740-c1799 100 -2 Yes
32 3rd GGP Ruth Johnston Brown Phoebe Cole 1747-1802 97 -2 Incorrect person but have correct mtDNA
33 3rd GGP Henry Bolton 1720-1757 Henry Bolton 1729-1765 88 1 Yes
34 3rd GGP Sarah Corry 1729-1797 Sarah Corry 1729-1797 80 2 Need mtDNA through all females
35 3rd GGP Robert James Mann 1753-1801 James Mann 1745-? 77 -1 Need Y-DNA
36 3rd GGP Mary Jane Wilson 1760-1801 Mary Brittain Cantrell c1755-? 80 -2 Incorrect but have correct mtDNA
37 3rd GGP John Herrell 1761-1829 John Harrold c1750-1825 19 -1 Yes
38 3rd GGP Hallie Mary [LNU] c1750-1826 18 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
39 3rd GGP Michael McDowell-McDaniel 1737-1834 Michael McDowell c17471840 25 -2 Yes
40 3rd GGP Sarah Isabel “Liza” Hall Isabel [LNU] c1753-1840/1850 27 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
41 3rd GGP James Lee Clarkson 1775-1815 James Lee Clarkson c1775-1815 170 2 Yes
42 3rd GGP Sarah Helloms Cook 1775-1863 Sarah Cook 1775-1863 188 1 Yes
43 3rd GGP Samuel Munsey-Muncy 1767-1830 Samuel Muncy after 1755-before 1820 108 1 Yes
44 3rd GGP Anne W. Workman 1768-1830 Anne Nancy Workman 1760/1761-after 1860 107 -1 Yes
45 3rd GGP Rev. Nicholas Speak 1782-1852 Nicholas Speak/Speaks 1782-1852 93 2 Yes
46 3rd GGP Sarah Faires Speak 1782-1865 Sarah Faires 1786-1865 93 -1 Yes
47 3rd GGP Andrew McKee 1760-1814 Andrew McKee c1760-1814 86 2 Yes
48 3rd GGP Elizabeth 1765-1839 Elizabeth [LNU] c1767-1838 88 2 Yes
49 4th GGP Moses Estes 1742-1815 Moses Estes c1742-1813 27 1 Yes
50 4th GGP Luremia Susannah Combes 1747-1815 Luremia Combs c1740-c1820 33 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
51 4th GGP Marcus Younger 1735-1816 Marcus Younger 1730/1740-1816 30 2 Yes
52 4th GGP Susanna Hart* 1725-1806 Susanna [possibly] Hart c1740-before 1805 26 -1 Yes
53 4th GGP William Moore 1725-1757 James Moore c1718-c1798 25 -2 Yes
54 4th GGP Margaret Hudspeth 1725-1808 Mary Rice c1723-c1778/1781 26 -2 Need Mary Rice mtDNA through all females
55 4th GGP Samuel “Little Sam” Harwell 1716-1793 Incorrect 36 -2
56 4th GGP Abigail Anne Jackson 1712-1793 Incorrect 33 -2
57 4th GGP Rawleigh “Rolly” Dodson 1730-1793 Raleigh Dodson 1730-c1794 19 2 Yes
58 4th GGP Elizabeth Mary Booth 1728-1793 Mary [LNU] c1730-1807/1808 27 -2 Need Mary’s mtDNA through all females
59 4th GGP Nancy Ann Steele 1728-1836 Unknown mother of Jane [LNU], wife of Lazarus Dodson 16 -2 Need Jane’s mtDNA through all females
60 4th GGP James Campbell 1742-1931 Charles Campbell c1750-c1825 28 -2 Y DNA confirmed NOT this line
61 4th GGP Letitia Allison 1759-1844 Incorrect 31 -2
62 4th GGP Jacob Dobkins 1750-1833 Jacob Dobkins 1751-1835 91 1 Yes
63 4th GGP Dorcas (Darcas) Johnson 1750-1831 Darcus Johnson c1750-c1835 92 2 Yes
64 4th GGP John Francis Vannoy 1719-1778 John Francis Vannoy 1719-1778 47 2 Yes
65 4th GGP Susannah Baker Anderson 1720-1816 Susannah Anderson c1721-c1816 59 2 Need mtDNA through all females
66 4th GGP Thomas Hildreth Henderson 1736-1806 Charles Hickerson c1725-before 1793 37 -2 Have Hickerson Y-DNA
67 4th GGP Mary Frances “Frankie” McIntire 1735-1811 Mary Lytle c1730-before 1794 37 -2 Need mtDNA from all females
68 4th GGP Rev. George W. McNeil 1720-1805 George McNiel c1720-1805 143 1 Yes
69 4th GGP Mary Sarah Coates 1732-1782 Sarah/Sallie or Mary [maybe] Coates c1740-1782/1787 139 1 Need mtDNA through all females
70 4th GGP John James Sheppard Shepherd 1734-1810 Robert Shepherd 1739-1817 136 -2 Have Shepherd Y-DNA
71 4th GGP Sarah Ann Rash 1732-1810 Sarah Rash 1748-1829 178 -1 Yes
72 4th GGP John Crumbley 1737-1794 William Crumley 1736-1793 77 -2 Have Crumley Y-DNA
73 4th GGP Hannah Mercer 1742-1774 Hannah Mercer c1740-c1773 73 2 Yes
74 4th GGP John Hanner (Hainer) Incorrect 19 -2
75 4th GGP Jotham Brown 1740-1799 Incorrect 183 -2 Have Brown Y-DNA
76 4th GGP Phoebe Ellen Johnston 1742-1810 Incorrect 182 -2
77 4th GGP Moses Johnston 1746-1828 Incorrect 45 -2
78 4th GGP Eleanor Havis 1753-1837 Incorrect 47 -2
79 4th GGP Henry Boulton 1693-1737 John Bolton before 1693-after 1729 23 -2 Have Bolton Y-DNA
80 4th GGP Elizabeth Bryan 1658-1742 Elizabeth Goaring 1795-1729 22 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
81 4th GGP Thomas Curry (Corry) 1705-1729 Thomas Curry 1705-1729 25 2 Need Curry Y-DNA
82 4th GGP Monique “Moniky” Curry 1704-1729 Monique Demazares 1705-1729 25 1 Need mtDNA through all females
83 4th GGP Robert James Mann 1740-1787 John Mann 1725-1774 26 -2 Need Mann Y-DNA
84 4th GGP Sarah Susannah McCloskey 1716-1797 Frances Carpenter 1728-1833 28 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
85 4th GGP Benjamin “Col. Ben” Colonel Wilson 1733-1814 Incorrect 28 -2
86 4th GGP Mary Ann Seay 1735-1814 Incorrect 29 -2
87 4th GGP John Hugh McDowell 1695-1742 Michael McDowell c1720-after 1755 7 -2 Incorrect but have correct Y-DNA McDowell Y-DNA
88 4th GGP Mary Magdalena Woods 1705-1800 Incorrect 8 -2
89 4th GGP Ebenezer Hall 1721-1801 Incorrect 6 -2
90 4th GGP Dorcas Abbott Hall 1728-1797 Incorrect 6 -2
91 4th GGP George Middleton Clarkston/Clarkson 1745-1787 Incorrect 98 -2 Incorrect but have correct Clarkson Y-DNA
92 4th GGP Catherine Middleton 1764-1855 Incorrect 94 -2
93 4th GGP William Henry Cook 1750-1920 Joel Cook before 1755 – ? 83 -2 Need Cook Y-DNA
94 4th GGP Elizabeth Wall 1747-1826 Alcy [LNU] c 1755-? 91 -2 Yes
95 4th GGP Obediah Samuel Muncy 1735-1806 Samuel Muncy 1740-1799 33 -1 Yes
96 4th GGP UFN Obediah Muncy wife Unknowen (sic) 1728-1843 Agnes Craven 1745-1811 27 -2 Need Agnes Craven Need mtDNA through all females
97 4th GGP Joseph Workman 1732-1813 Joseph Workman c1736-c1813 64 2 Yes
98 4th GGP Phoebe McRay McMahon 1745-1826 Phoebe McMahon c1741-after 1815 64 1 Yes
99 4th GGP Charles Beckworth Speake/Speaks 1741-1794 Charles Speake c1731-1794 47 1 Yes
100 4th GGP Jane Connor 1742-1789 Incorrect, unknown first wife 40 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
101 4th GGP Gideon Farris 1748-1818 Gideon Faires before 1749-1821 54 -1 Yes
102 4th GGP Sarah Elizabeth McSpadden 1745-1821 Sarah McSpadden c1745-c1820 55 1 Yes
103 4th GGP Hugh McKee 1720-1795 Unknown 34 -2
104 4th GGP Mary Nesbit 1732-1795 Unknown 35 -2
105 4th GGP Private (sic) Unknown father of Elizabeth, wife of Andrew McKee 35 -2
106 4th GGP Anna Elizabeth Carney [wife of “private”] Incorrect 35 -2
107 5th GGP Moses Estes 1711-1788 Moses Estes 1711-1787 13 2 Yes
108 5th GGP Elizabeth Jones “Betty” Webb 1718-1782 Elizabeth [LNU] 1715/1720-1772/1782 5 -2 No known daughters
109 5th GGP George W. Combs 1714-1798 John Combs 1705-1762 6 -2 Need Combs Y-DNA
110 5th GGP Phebe Wade ?-1830 Incorrect 6 -2 Need mtDNA of John Combs first wife through all females
111 5th GGP Sarah Ferguson 1700-1781 Incorrect 3 -2
112 5th GGP Anthony Hart 1700-? Possibly Anthony Hart but no evidence 3 0
113 5th GGP Charles Rev. Moore 1685-1734 Incorrect 4 -2
114 5th GGP Mary Margaret Barry Moore 1690-1748 Incorrect 4 -2
115 5th GGP Ralph Hudspeth II* 1690-1776 Incorrect 9 -2
116 5th GGP Mary Carter 1699-1737 Incorrect 3 -2
117 5th GGP Samuel Harwell 1674-1767 Incorrect 3 -2
118 5th GGP Mary Ann Coleman*8th Ggm (sic) 1678-1723 incorrect 6 -2
119 5th GGP Ambrose (Sar) Jackson 1695-1745 Incorrect 6 -2
120 5th GGP Anne Amy Wyche 1692-1765 Incorrect 6 -2
121 5th GGP George E Dodson (DNA) (sic) 1702-1770 George Dodson 1702-after 1756 23 -1 Yes
122 5th GGP Margaret Dogett Dagord 1708-1770 Margaret Dagord 1708-? 24 1 Need mtDNA through all females
123 5th GGP James Booth 1700-1741 Incorrect 4 -2
124 5th GGP Frances Dale Booth (15great aunt) (sic) 1688-1777 Incorrect 3 -2
125 5th GGP Samuel Scurlock Steele 1709-1790 Incorrect 2 -2
126 5th GGP Robert R. Campbell 1718-1810 Incorrect 34 -2
127 5th GGP Lady: Letitia Crockett 1719-1760 Incorrect 8 -2
128 5th GGP John A. Dobkins 1717-1783 John Dobkins c1710-c1788 20 1 Yes
129 5th GGP Mary Elizabeth Betty Moore 1739-1815 Elizabeth [LNU] c1711-? 20 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
130 5th GGP Peter Johnson 1715-1796 Peter Johnson/Johnston c1720-c1794 0 1 Yes
131 5th GGP Mary Polly Phillips 1729-1790 Mary Polly Phillips c1726-? 1 2 Need mtDNA through all females
132 5th GGP Francis Janzen Vannoy Van Noy 1688-1774 Francis Vannoy 1688-1774 8 1 Yes
133 5th GGP Rebecca Anna Catherine Anderson 1698-1785 Rebecca Annahh Andriesen/ Anderson 1697-1727 13 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
134 5th GGP Cornelius Anderson (Andriessen) 1670-1724 Kornelis Andriesen 1670-1724 5 2 Yes
135 5th GGP Annetje Annah Opdyck 1670-1746 Annetje Opdyck c1675-after 1746 5 2 Need mtDNA through all females
136 5th GGP Thomas Hildret Henderson 1715-1794 Incorrect


3 -2
137 5th GGP Mary Frisby 1709-1794 Incorrect 3 -2
138 5th GGP Alexander (Alex) McEntire 1707-1802 Incorrect 12 -2
139 5th GGP Hannah Janet McPherson 1711-1792 Incorrect 15 -2
140 5th GGP Thomas James McNeil 1699-1803 Incorrect 25 -2
141 5th GGP Mary Hannah Parsons 1697-1784 Incorrect 27 -2
142 5th GGP John Coates 1699-1732 Incorrect 21 -2
143 5th GGP Sarah Ann Titcombe 1710-1732 Incorrect 22 -2
144 5th GGP George Sheppard, Shepherd 1716-1751 George Shepherd c1700-1751 42 1 Have Shepherd Y-DNA
145 5th GGP Elizabeth Mary Angelicke Day (Daye) 1699-? Elizabeth Mary Angelica Daye 1699-after 1750 41 1 Need mtDNA through all females
146 5th GGP Joseph Rash 1722-1776 Joseph Rash before 1728-c1767 36 1 Yes
147 5th GGP Mary Warren 1726-1792 Mary Warren 1726-? 36 1 Yes
148 5th GGP James L Crumley/Cromley 1712-1784 James Crumley c1711-1764 11 -1 Yes
149 5th GGP Catherine Bowen Gilkey 1712-1784 Catherine [LNU] c1712-c1790 11 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
150 5th GGP Edward Willis Mercer 1704-1763 Edward Mercer 1704-1763 5 1 Yes
151 5th GGP Ann Lueretias Coats 1710-1763 Ann [LNU] 1699/1705-c1786/1790 5 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
152 5th GGP Daniel Brown 1710-1798 Incorrect 39 -2
153 5th GGP Mary Brown 1717-1777 Incorrect 40 -2
154 5th GGP Zopher “Elder” Johnson/Johnston* 1700-1804 Incorrect 51 -2
155 5th GGP Elizabeth Williamson Cooper 1703-1794 Incorrect 49 -2
156 5th GGP Joseph Benjamin Johnson (6th ggf) (sic) 1709-1795 Incorrect 3 -2
157 5th GGP Elizabeth Shepard 1709-1786 Incorrect 3 -2
158 5th GGP John (Boulware) Havis (Rev/war) (sic) 1728-1807 Incorrect 4 -2
159 5th GGP Susannah Gentile Boullier (Boulware) 1733-1817 Incorrect 3 -2
160 5th GGP Henry Boulton Jr. 1652-1720 Incorrect 22 -2
161 5th GGP Elizabeth Bryan 1658-1742 Incorrect, linked in two generations Duplicate not processing -2
162 5th GGP Norton Bryan 1634-1672 Incorrect 2 -2
163 5th GGP Elizabeth Middlemore 1640-1658 Incorrect 2 -2
164 5th GGP Guillam Demazure 1685-1706 Guillam Demazares before 1685-after 1705 2 2 Need Y-DNA
165 5th GGP Marie Demazure 1686-1705 Marie [LNU] before 1686-after 1705 2 1 Need mtDNA through all females
166 5th GGP John Robert Mann {Minnis} 1711-1772 Incorrect 3 -2
167 5th GGP Anne Vincent 1711-1747 Incorrect 3 -2
168 5th GGP Joseph David McCluskey 1693-1756 Incorrect 3 -2
169 5th GGP Barbara S Rohlflag 1695-1755 Incorrect 3 -2
170 5th GGP Willis Wilson, Jr. 1710-1794 Incorrect 4 -2
171 5th GGP Elizabeth Goodrich ?-1789 Incorrect 4 -2
172 5th GGP Reverend James Matthew Seay 1696-1757 Incorrect 7 -2
173 5th GGP Elizabeth (James M Seay) Wilson or Lewis 1696-1752 Incorrect 6 -2
174 5th GGP Ephriam Samuel McDowell 1673-1774 Murtough McDowell before 1700-1752 0 -2 Yes
175 5th GGP Margaret Elizabeth Irvine 1674-1728 Eleanor [LNU] before 1700-after 1730 1 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
176 5th GGP Michael Marion Woods 1684-1782 Incorrect 9 -2
177 5th GGP Mary Catherine Woods 1690-1742 Incorrect 9 -2
178 5th GGP Joseph Hall 1680-1750 Incorrect 0 -2
179 5th GGP Sarah Kimball Hall Haley 1686-1752 Incorrect 0 -2
180 5th GGP Edward Abbott 1702-759 Incorrect 0 -2
181 5th GGP Dorcas Mehitable Chandler 1704-1748 Incorrect 0 -2
182 5th GGP James Anderson Clarkston 1717-1816 Incorrect 17 -2
183 5th GGP Thomasina Elizabeth Middleton 1720-1796 Incorrect 17 -2
184 5th GGP Harlace Middleton Incorrect 5 -2
185 5th GGP Capt. Vallentine Felty Kuke Cook 1730-1797 Incorrect 25 -2
186 5th GGP Michael Wall 1728-1749 Incorrect 11 -2
187 5th GGP Rebecca Chapman 1725-1791 Incorrect 11 -2
188 5th GGP Samuel Scott Muncy 1712-1786 Samuel Muncy 1712-after 1798 50 -1 Yes
189 5th GGP Mary Daughtery Skidmore 1710-1797 Mary Skidmore c1710-1811 51 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
190 5th GGP Abraham Woertman Workman 1709-1749 Abraham Workman 1709-1813 26 1 Yes
191 5th GGP Hannah Annetje (Smith) Workman 1706-1747 Annetie Smith 1714-? 26 1 Need mtDNA through all females
192 5th GGP Hugh McMahon 1699-1749 Hugh McMahon 1699-1749 17 2 Need Y-DNA
193 5th GGP Agnas Norton 1699-1747 Agnas Norton after 1700-? 17 2 Need mtDNA through all females
194 5th GGP Thomas Bowling Speake V 1698-1765 Thomas Speak c1634-1681 11 -2 Yes
195 5th GGP Jane Barton/Brisco Smoote 1714-1760 Elizabeth Bowling 1641-before 1692 12 -2 No known daughters
196 5th GGP William Farris 1714-1776 William Faires/Farris before 1728-1776 11 1 Yes
197 5th GGP Deborah Johnson Faries 1734-1812 Deborah [LNU] 1734-1812 11 1 Need mtDNA through all females
198 5th GGP Thomas of Borden’s Grant McSpadden 1720-1765 Thomas McSpadden c1721-1785 19 1 Yes
199 5th GGP Mary Dorothy Edmondson (Edmundson, Edmiston, Edmisten) 1721-1786 Dorothy [possibly Edmiston] 1721-? 28 1 Yes
200 5th GGP Thomas Alexander McKee, Sr 1693-1769 Incorrect 7 -2
201 5th GGP Tecumseh Margaret Opessa Pekowi 1695-1780 Incorrect 6 -2
202 5th GGP Thomas F Nesbit 1707-1783 Incorrect 7 -2
203 5th GGP Jean McKee 1707-1790 Incorrect 7 -2
Total -163

Please note that I will provide a free Y-DNA testing scholarship at FamilyTreeDNA for any male descending through all men from the male ancestor where it’s noted that Y-DNA is needed. Y-DNA is typically the surname line in most western countries.

I will also provide a mitochondrial DNA testing scholarship at FamilyTreeDNA for anyone who descends from the women where it’s noted that mitochondrial DNA is needed. Mitochondrial DNA passes through all females to the current generation, which can be male or female.

If this is you or a family member, please reach out to me.

The Scores

Of the 203 ancestors for which Ancestry provided a Potential Ancestor, they could have amassed a total of 406 points if each one provided an accurate name and accurate birth and death dates within a reasonable margin. If they were completely wrong on every one, they could have earned a negative score of -406.

Ancestry’s ThruLine accuracy score was -163, meaning they were wrong more than right. Zero was the break-even point where there was equally as much accurate information as inaccurate.

In fairness though, the older ancestors are more likely to be wrong than the more recent ones, and there are more older ancestors given that ancestors double in each generation. Once Ancestry provided a wrong ancestor, they continued down that wrong path on up the tree, so once the path was incorrect, it never recovered.

Regardless of why, Ancestry suggested incorrect information, and as we know, many people take that information to heart as gospel. In fact, many people even call these *TrueLines* instead of *ThruLines*.

Ok, how did Ancestry do?

Category Total Percent
+2 – Both Name and Date Accurate or Within Range 24 11.82%
+1 – Name and/or Date Partly Accurate 41 20.2%
0 – Uncertain 1 0.49%
-1 – Neither Name nor Date Accurate, but Enough Context to Figure Out With Research 22 10.84%
-2 – Inaccurate, the wrong person 115 56.65%

 Take Aways – Lessons Learned

This leads us to the lessons learned portion.

  • Never, ever, take ThruLines or Potential Ancestors at face value. They are hints and nothing more. Ancestry states that “ThruLines uses Ancestry trees to suggest how you may be related to your DNA matches through common ancestors.” (Bolding is mine.)
  • Verify everything.
  • Never simply copy something from another tree or accept a hint of any kind without a thorough evaluation. No, your ancestor probably did not zigzag back and forth across the country every other year in the 1800s. If you think they did, then you’ll need lots of information to prove that unusual circumstance. Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary proof.
  • Never add extraneous “things” to names like “DNA match” or name someone “Private,” unless, of course, that was actually their name. Extraneous “pieces” in names confuses Ancestry’s search routines too, so you’re hurting your own chances of finding relevant information about your ancestor, not to mention ThruLines for others.
  • Naming someone “Private” isn’t useful if they are attached to other non-private people as ancestors, siblings and descendants. Just sayin…
  • Once the first incorrect ancestor is suggested, ThruLines continues to go up the incorrect tree.
  • In the the older or oldest generations, a small number of DNA matches for a particular ancestor may simply mean that lots of people are beyond the ThruLines match reporting thresholds. Unfortunately, Ancestry does NOT have a function where you can hunt for matches by ancestor.
  • In the the older or oldest generations, a small number of DNA matches may also mean it’s either the wrong ancestor, or they have few descendants, or few have tested.
  • The number of matches, in either direction, is not directly predictive of the accuracy of the suggested ancestor.
  • One of the best ways to validate ancestor accuracy is to match other descendants through multiple children of the ancestor, assuming that the children have been assigned to that ancestor properly. Recall George Middleton Clarkson where the three male children assigned to him do not have the same Y-DNA.
  • Another validation technique is to also match descendants of both parents of the ancestor(s) in question, through multiple children.
  • Remember that paper trail documentation is an extremely important aspect of genealogy.
  • Do not rely on trees without sources, or on trees with sources without verifying that every source is actually referencing this specific person.
  • Same name confusion is a very real issue.
  • For male ancestors, always check the Y-DNA projects at FamilyTreeDNA to verify that males attached as children have descendants with matching Y-DNA.
  • Always test males for their surname line. You never know when you’ll either prove or disprove a long-held belief, or discover that someplace, there has been a biological break in that line.
  • Y-DNA matches can provide extremely valuable information on earlier ancestral lines which may lead to breaking through your brick wall.
  • Mitochondrial DNA testing and matching of descendants is sometimes the only way of proving maternity or discovering matches to earlier ancestors.
  • Both Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, via haplogroups, can provide origins information for that one specific line, meaning you don’t have to try to figure out which ancestor contributed some percentage of ethnicity or population-based DNA.
  • Everyone can test their mitochondrial DNA, inherited from their direct matrilineal line, and men can test their Y-DNA, which is their surname line.
  • Remember that ThruLines can only be as good as the trees upon which it relies.
  • Review the source trees for each Potential Ancestor provided, evaluating each source carefully, including notes, images and web links. You just never know where that diamond is hiding.

How Can Ancestry Improve ThruLines, Potential Ancestors and Provide Customers with Better Tools?

To improve ThruLines and/or Potential Ancestors, Ancestry could:

  • My #1 request would be to implement a “search by ancestor” feature for DNA matches. This would be especially beneficial for situations where matches are beyond the 5GG threshold, or if someone is testing a hypothesis to see if they match descendants of a particular person.
  • Provide a “dismiss” function, or even a function where a customer could provide a reason why they don’t believe a connection or suggestion is accurate. This could travel with that link for other users as well so people can benefit from commentary from and collaboration with others.
  • Provide all DNA matches to people who share a specific ancestor, even if one person is beyond the 5 GG level. Currently, if both people are beyond that threshold, the match won’t show for either, so that’s no problem. The hybrid way it works today is both confusing and misleading and the hard cutoff obfuscates matches that have the potential to be extremely useful. Often this is further exacerbated by the 20 cM thresold limit on shared matches.
  • Add a feature similar to the now defunct NADs (New Ancestor Discoveries) where Ancestry shows you a group of your matches that descend from common ancestors, but those ancestors are NOT connected to anyone in your tree. However, DO NOT name the tool New Ancestor Discoveries because these people may not be, and often are not, your ancestors. If you’re related to a group of people who all have these people in THEIR tree as ancestors, that alone is a powerful hint. You might be descended from their ancestors, from the spouse of one of their children – something. But it’s information to work with when you have brick walls where Ancestry cannot connect someone as a potential ancestor directly to someone in your tree. Even locations of those brick-wall-breaker possible ancestors would be a clue. In fact, it’s not terribly different than the Potential Ancestors today, except today’s Potential Ancestors are entirely tree based (beyond ThruLines) and dependent upon connecting with someone in your tree. These new Brick-Wall-Breaker Potential Ancestors are (1.) NOT connected to your tree, and (2.) are all a result of DNA matches with people who have these ancestors in their tree.
  • If you already map your segment information at DNAPainter, the Brick-Wall-Breaker ancestral lineage connection would be immediately evident if Ancestry provided DNA segment location information. In other words, there are answers and significant hints that could be available to Ancestry’s customers.
  • Extend ThruLines for (at least) another two generations. Today ThruLines ends at the point that many people begin running into brick walls about the time the US census began. Using a 25-year generation, the current algorithm gives you 175 years (about 1825 starting with the year 2000), and a 30-year generation gives you 210 years (about 1790). Extending that two additional generations would give testers two more generations, several more Potential Ancestors, and 50-60 more years, approaching or reaching across the US colonial threshold.
  • Extending ThruLines and adding that Brick-Wall-Breaker functionality wouldn’t be nearly as important if customers could search by ancestor and download their match with direct ancestor information, similar to the other vendors, but since we can’t, we’re completely reliant on ThruLines and Potential Ancestors for automated connections by ancestor. Downloading your match list including a list of each person’s direct ancestors and matching segments would provide resources for many of these customer needs, without Ancestry having to do significant major development. If nothing else, it could be an interim stepping-stone.


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Project Administrators: How to Prepare Your Project for FamilyTreeDNA’s New Group Time Tree

Last week, FamilyTreeDNA  gave us a sneak peek into their new Group Time Tree that displays Big Y testers in time tree format within group projects that they have joined. I wrote about this in the article, Sneak Preview: Introducing the FamilyTreeDNA Group Time Tree.

The Group Time Tree is an excellent way to recruit new members, because people can see how other people with the same surname fit together in terms of common ancestors. Additionally, the time tree shows when they are related meaning TMRCA, time to the most recent common ancestor.

Here’s an example of the Estes project group time tree with some of the subgroups I’ve defined selected.

Click to enlarge any image

Feel free to view the public Estes project, here, and the Estes Group Time Tree, here.

View my subgroupings, and how they appear on the Group Time Tree. See if that’s how you want your project to work. You can use the search box to search for your own project, or other projects.


As a volunteer project administrator, there are a number of things you’ll either need to do, or may want to do to prepare for the wider introduction of the exciting Group Time Tree. You’ll want your project members to benefit as much as possible.

Project Must Be Publicly Displayed

In order for your project to be able to be displayed in the Group Time Tree format, it must be a public project, meaning it has a public presence and viewing is not restricted to members only. The minimal selection for the Group Time Tree is that Y SNPs must be public.

Under Project Administration, Public Website, you’ll see the following configuration options.

Please click to enlarge

  • “Display Project Statistics” must be checked to facilitate displaying the Country Map showing the locations around the world of your Big Y project members.
  • You will want to enable the members Surname, and the Earliest Known Ancestor if you want them to display in the Group Time Tree. If at least one of these is not selected, the Group Time Tree will not be displayed.
  • Option 1: Under “YDNA Options,” at right, if you select “Public” for “Member DNA Test (YDNA) Results,” both SNP and haplogroup results will be shown in the public project, but of course, only Big Y tester’s results are shown on the Group Time Tree. You do NOT have to select public here to enable the Group Time Tree, but if you DON’T select public here, then you MUST select “Public” for “Y DNA SNP” (Option 2) or the Group Time Tree will not be enabled.
  • If you select either “Project Members Only” or “Do Not Display” for “Member DNA Test (YDNA) Results,” there will be no public project display for individual results.
  • Option 2: If you do NOT select “Public” for “Y-DNA SNP”, there will be no Group Time Tree display unless the “Member DNA Test (YDNA) Results” (Option 1) are set to Public.

In other words, for the Group Time Tree to be enabled, Option 1 or Option 2 MUST be set to “Public.”

Here’s a chart to help.

Field Selection Group Time Tree Result
Display Project Statistics Not selected No Country Map displayed.
Display Project Statistics Selected Country Map Displayed if group project publicly enabled.
Members Last Name and/or Earliest Known Ancestor Must select one or both If at least one is not selected, Group Time Tree is not enabled.
Option 1: Member DNA Test (YDNA) Results Public STR and haplogroup results show in BOTH the traditional public project display and the Group Time Tree.
Option 1: Member DNA Test (YDNA) Results Project Members Only or Do Not Display Will not display in the traditional project display. If this option is set to anything but Public, then Option 2 must be Public to enable the Group Time Tree.
Option 2: Y-DNA SNP Public Will display Group Time Tree even if Member DNA Test Results are not public.
Option 2: Y-DNA SNP Not Public Will NOT display Group Time Tree unless Option 1 set to Public.
Option 1 and Option 2 Neither set to Public No public group project display and no Group Time Tree.
Option 1 and Option 2 Both set to Public Public display of STR results, haplogroup, SNP results, and Group Time Tree.

Don’t forget to “Save” when you’re finished with your project configuration.

Country Map

For the Country Map to be displayed, you must enable the Project Statistics, above.

The Country Map reflects Big Y results for everyone within the project. If you do not want to include the Y-DNA of men within the project who not associated with the direct paternal surname of the project, you can disable the public display of their Y-DNA results.

An example would be a male who has joined a surname project because he is autosomally related to the surname, but does not carry the Y-DNA of that surname ancestor. I have this situation a LOT in the Estes project, because I “gather” my family members there and encourage cousins to join.

Here’s how to disable the display of those results within the project.

Suppress Display of Tests of Individuals

Select Public Results Display Settings.

Then, select the option for what you wish to implement for the various project members.

Options are:

  • Show Y DNA
  • Hide Y DNA
  • Show mtDNA
  • Hide mtDNA

Group Project Subgroupings

In the Estes project, I opted to colorize the descendants of Abraham Estes, the immigrant, all teal. Now, with the new Group Time Tree subgroup display, I may wish to change that. I might want the descendants of different sons to be different colors.

I definitely want different genetic Estes lineages to be different colors.

If you have people in your project whose Y-DNA is not relevant to the project, and you don’t want to suppress the display of their Y DNA results, you can group them together in a separate subgroup so you can deselect that group altogether when displaying the Group Time Tree, although their results will appear on the Country Map.

You can create subgroups and then group members under Project Administration, Member Subgrouping.

Weekly Updates

The Group Time Tree is only updated once a week, so there will be approximately a week’s delay after you make project configuration changes before you will see the results reflected in the Group Time Tree.

That’s why it’s a good idea to review your settings now so that when it goes live, you’ll be ready and it will display the way you want.


If one of your project members has a padlock in place of their surname and Paternal Ancestor, they are a project member but have not opted-in to the public display within the project.

In their own settings, they can change that by Opting-In to the Group Project Profile Sharing. You can provide them with these instructions.

Under Account Settings, select Project Preferences.

Then, scroll down to Group Project Profile.

Select Opt-in to Sharing.

Encourage Big Y Upgrades and General Fund Donations

I’ve been encouraging everyone in my projects to upgrade to the Big Y-700 and providing several scholarships. Don’t hesitate to send bulk emails to your project members asking for general fund donations to upgrade someone who is willing but needs a scholarship. I’ve had amazingly good luck with the scholarship approach and the Big Y results benefit everyone in the project, including women who don’t have a Y chromosome to test.

Encourage Members to Complete Earliest Known Ancestor and Locations

The three haplotrees supported by FamilyTreeDNA  all depend on location information:

  • The Public Y-DNA and Mitochondrial DNA Haplotrees include country flags
  • The Discover Haplogroup tool includes the Country Frequency and country flags under the Haplogrop Story
  • The Group Time Tree includes country flags for the Earliest Known Ancestor (EKA) of individual testers

Please encourage members to complete their Earliest Known Ancestor name and location. Remember, this information is NOT extracted from uploaded trees.

In a few days, I’ll publish step-by-step instructions for how to add EKA and location information.

Now is a good time to update your project selections so you’ll be ready for the official rollout of the Group Time Tree.

Accessing Your Group Time Tree

Until the official rollout, there are two ways to access your group’s time tree:

  1. Click here and then enter the name of the group project in the search box.
  2. Replace the word “estes” with your project’s exact name in the following url:


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Sneak Preview: Introducing the FamilyTreeDNA Group Time Tree

Drum roll please!!!

This is a sneak peek of a new tool being rolled out by FamilyTreeDNA in a VERY EARLY BETA soft launch.

Right now, the only way to view the Group Time Tree is by using the link to my group project, below, then, search for a different project name. I’ll show you, but first, let’s talk about this VERY COOL new tool for Big Y group project results.

The Group Time Tree is a feature that group project administrators and project members have wanted for a VERY long time!

At FamilyTreeDNA, the words “group” and “project” are both used to describe Group Projects which are projects run by volunteer administrators. FamilyTreeDNA customers can join any number of projects to collaborate with other testers who have a common interest.

Four basic types of public group projects exist:

  • Surname Group Projects
  • Haplogroup Group Project
  • Geographic Group Projects which can include other types of special interests
  • Mitochondrial Lineage Group Projects

What Does the Regular Discover Time Tree Do?

The Discover tool that was recently introduced (here) provides a Time Tree view of any specific haplogroup (but no surnames or ancestors) in relation to:

  • Big Y testers (not SNP-only testers and not STR results because they can’t be used for time-to-most-recent-common-ancestor (TMRCA) calculations)
  • Ancient Connections
  • Notable Connections

Using the regular Discover Haplogroup took, here’s an example of the haplogroups of the Estes (and other) men, beginning with the R-BY154784 lineage near the bottom. Time is at the top. The only way you know they are Estes men is because I told you. The Discover tool is haplogroup specific, not surname specific.

What Does the New Group Time Tree Do?

The brand-new Group Time Tree is an extension of the Discover technology, but focused within projects and includes both surnames and earliest known ancestors for people who have opted-in to have their results display in public group projects. This tool only works for group projects that have the public display enabled, and includes only data that the administrator has included. Not all administrators have enabled the display of the “Paternal Ancestor” field, for example.

Now, you can see Big Y group project members:

  • All mapped together on a genetic time tree, or
  • By project subgroups defined by the project administrator

I want to provide a friendly reminder that this is a BETA tool and will be fully rolled out in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, it’s fun to have a sneak preview!!!

Estes DNA Group Project

Before going further, here are some screen shots of the Estes DNA Group Project for comparison.

I’ve created multiple color-coded groups within the project based on the genealogy and Y-DNA matches of the participants. The teal groups all descend from the Estes line from Kent, England, and match each other. Since not every man with an Estes surname descends from this line, there are also other color-identified groups.

Additionally, in the Estes project, I do not restrict members to males with the Estes surname, so there are several non-Estes men who have joined. Their Y-DNA shows in the project so I have placed them in an “Autosomal – Not Y DNA” group because they are Estes-related autosomally, not through the direct Y-DNA surname line.

I’ve grouped other clusters of Estes-surname males who do not descend from the Kent line into other color-coded groups, which turned out to be extremely beneficial for the new Group Time Tree.

Let’s see how the Estes Project works with the new Group Time Tree.

The Estes Group Time Tree

Here’s the link to the Estes Group Time Tree. I’ll be using the Estes data for this article, then show you how to view other group projects of your choosing from this link. So please read these instructions.

The Group Time Tree shows a genetic family tree of direct paternal lineages on a time scale. It shows how Big Y tested members of Group Projects are related to each other and when their shared ancestors are estimated to have lived.

Click on any image to enlarge

This is the first display I see.

Looking around, I notice the menu.

Select either “All search results” or the group or groups you want to view.

If you compare the groups above on the menu to the project screen shots, you’ll notice that the colors along the left side equate to the colors of the project subgroupings. We have Eastridge, meaning those who are not genetically Estes, then “Estes Autosomal, Not Y DNA,” then a group of teal project groupings who descend from the Estes Kent line.

I clicked on “Select All Search Results” which displayed everyone in the project from all haplogroups. This resulted in the Estes men being scrunched on the right-hand side, below, due to the long timeframe involved, which is not useful.

What is VERY useful is the Paternal Ancestor column which is the earliest known ancestor (EKA) for each tester’s line. Hopefully, this will encourage everyone to enter their EKA and location. You can find instructions, here.

Ok, let’s “De-select all” and just focus on specific groups.

Much better. I can see a much more relevant timeline for the men in the line being researched. The Estes men are no longer scrunched up along the right side because the left-to-right time is much shorter – 1500ish vs 100,000ish years.

The colored dot on the location flag indicates which colored group these men have been assigned to by the project administrator.

It’s very easy to see if two groups (or two men) descend from the same paternal line.

Next, I added the Eastridge group back into the display as an experiment.

The common ancestor between the single Eastridge Big Y tester and the Estes men is back in the Stone Age, about 35,000 BCE.

I do feel compelled to mention that this information can’t necessarily be extrapolated for all Eastridge men, because there are a few men with Eastridge surnames that are actually genetically Estes men. Someplace along the line, the name got changed. This is the perfect example of why every man needs to test their Y-DNA.

You can remove the menu by clicking on Subgroups.

You make the menu re-appear by clicking on Subgroups again.

I LOVE – LOVE – LOVE that I can see the ancestors and the clusters and I didn’t have to do this grouping myself. These men could have been in one big group in the project and the software would have created the clusters for me.

For example, there has been debate for decades about whether or not Moses Estes of South Carolina was descended from Abraham Estes, the immigrant, and if so, through which son.

Based on the Big Y-700 test (the Big Y-500 did not reveal this) and clustering, we know assuredly that Moses Estes of SC:

  • Descended from the Kent line
  • Descended from Abraham who has mutation R-BY490
  • Did NOT descend from Abraham’s son Moses whose descendants have mutation R-ZS3700

I’ve been keeping this project spreadsheet for years now. It’s wonderful to be able to see a genetic tree visualization. The Big Y men are blocked in red.

I’m hopeful that the balance of the men who have NOT yet taken the Big Y-700 will upgrade now because there’s so much more to learn. This is especially true for men who reach a brick wall prior to Abraham. The Big Y-700 test, perhaps combined with STRs, will place them in a lineage.

I’m sure that we would discover new haplogroups among Abraham’s descendants if they would all upgrade. There are more men who have not tested at the Big Y level than those that have.

Display Options

Under display options, you can add Ancient or Notable connections, remove confidence bars, and adjust the tree height.

Discoveries for Administrators

As a project administrator, one thing I discovered is that I might want to regroup within some of my projects to take full advantage of the color coding on the Group Time Tree. If you are a project administrator, you may want to ponder the same.

I also discovered that when I clicked on Country Map, I did not have Project Statistics enabled.

If you make project configuration changes, this report will only be updated weekly, so it’s not immediate.

The country map shows the distribution of all the countries within the project, not specific groups within projects

You can view Country Maps in either map or table format, but remember that if the project is a surname project and includes autosomal testers, the map view will not be representative of the surname itself. This view shows all groups.

Viewing Another Group Project

To view a different group project, simply enter that project name in the search box. For now, this is how you’ll be able to view group projects until this tool is fully rolled out.

I entered the surname “Speak” and was presented with these options.

Obviously, the surname Speak or a variation is found in these projects. Just click to view.

Your Turn

If you have not yet taken or upgraded to the Big Y-700 test, now’s the time. Order or upgrade, here.

If you have already taken the Big Y-700 test, or want to view a project, click on this link, and search for your project of choice.

Have fun!!!


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RootsTech 2023 Theme is “Uniting” – Registration is Open – Free Pass Giveaway

The RootsTech theme for this year is “Uniting,” and RootsTech registration is now open. The dates this year are March 2-4 in Salt Lake City, but of course you could always arrive early or stay late and visit the Family History Library for some intensive genealogy therapy – ummm – I mean research.

That’s what I’m hoping to do.

FamilySearch has combined the super-successful virtual RootsTech format of 2021 and 2022 with the tried and true in-person conference loved by so many.

I don’t know about you, but I was extremely grateful for virtual RootsTech in 2021 and 2022, but I’m also VERY MUCH looking forward to gathering with my genea-friends and family again.

I’m glad to see this hybrid event because it makes RootsTech more widely available to a larger audience.

You can read about RootsTech 2023 in the press release here.


Classes and speakers will be announced shortly, but we know there are over 200 sessions that will be available for free, virtually. That means you could watch one a day, everyday, from the beginning of RootsTech through the middle of September. Sounds like genealogy-Heaven to me.

Classes will be announced soon, but let me give you a sneak-peek about my classes.

  • Big Y for the Win – When, where and how to use the BIG Y test to unravel or at least make sense of your genealogy.
  • DNA for Native American Genealogy – 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor (even if they don’t show up in your ethnicity.)
  • DNA Journey – Follow Your Ancestor’s Path – Let your ancestor’s DNA guide you home. Literally! Y-DNA, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA all play roles in this journey.

In addition, I’m finalizing multiple sessions in two different vendors’ booths. More about this as it firms up.

Book Signing

I’m also attempting to organize a book-signing for my book, DNA for Native American Genealogy.

More on this later too.


The in-person pass is $98 for three full days, but the Expo Hall is open and free for everyone during that time.

In addition to the virtual classes, there will be about 210 in-person classes as well. According to the RootsTech team, there will be 16 classes taking place simultaneously, with 2 or 3 being live-streamed.

There will be 5 blocks of session-time on Thursday and Friday, and 4 blocks on Saturday. Each of those blocks will have 16 class slots available, so you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy. Of course, many of the vendors host mini-sessions in their booths too, so there’s a lot going on and educational opportunities everyplace you look.

You can view registration details, here.

Free Pass Giveaway

I’m giving one free three-day pass to a lucky blog reader. Of course, you’ll need to get yourself there and such, but a $98 value is nothing to sneeze at.

Already purchased your pass? Don’t despair. If you win and you’ve already purchased a pass, just let me know and RootsTech will reimburse you.

How Do You Enter?

Just make a comment on this article – something about an ancestor. Maybe the Uniting theme. To prevent dustups, please DO NOT make any type of political comment, nor include a link, nor reference a vendor.

On January 25th, I will literally pull a name out of some type of old-fashioned “hat” and notify the winner by email. The winner will need to provide their registration information to RootsTech.

How fun is this!

Ok, for those who would like to attend RootsTech in person: ready – set – go.

Tell me something interesting about one of your ancestors in the comments.


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Sarah Cook (1774/1775-1863), Epitome of Perseverance – 52 Ancestors #386

Sarah Cook was the wife of James Lee Claxton, or Clarkson. That name changed like a chameleon and trust me, those changes caused Sarah massive headaches too.

Much of what we know about Sarah comes from her application for her husband’s War of 1812 pension benefits and bounty land. These applications were quite difficult and fraught with bureaucratic red tape. This process of application and reapplication requiring several affidavits must have been horribly frustrating for Sarah, but it is quite the boon for genealogists, telling us a lot about Sarah and the people in her life.

It’s in those documents that we discover that Sarah’s father’s name is Joel Cook and that she was married on October 10, 1799 (or 1805) in Russell County, Virginia by Justice of the Peace, John Tate.

Ironically, while Sarah gave two different years in which she was married, her marriage month and day remained constant.

I tend to think that 1799 is accurate, in part because three of her children were born before 1805, by which time she and James were living in Claiborne County, TN.

On June 16, 1805 and twice in September, James Claxton appears in the Claiborne County court notes. It’s very unlikely that he married in Russell County on October 10 of that year. It’s equally unlikely that Sarah had three children before marrying James, and moved to another county and state without the benefit of marriage.

They would not have returned to Russell County, a week’s hard journey across the mountains by wagon to be married by the Justice of the Peace there.

In 1810, in Claiborne County, James Claxton bought land from John Hall – 100 acres on the north side of Powell River.

By 1810, Sarah would have had about 6 children. Number 7 was born in 1811, and number 8 was born between 1813 and 1815.

Sadly, Sarah said goodbye to James for the last time on November 13, 1814, as he left to do his patriotic duty and serve his county in the War of 1812. In February of 1815, just days before the end of the war, James died in distant, cold Fort Decatur, hundreds of miles away from home, on the banks of the Tallapoosa River across from the Creek Nation in what would become Alabama in 1819.

James was buried beside the fort in a now-lost grave, probably marked only with a wooden cross at the time, if that. No one other than his fellow soldiers that dug his grave was at his funeral, such as it was. There probably wasn’t much of a funeral, because every minute the men were outside the fort, they were exposed to attack. Not only that, but many men at Fort Decatur were sick, very sick.

Sarah never got to bring James home, never got to bury him, never got to dress and wash his body, never got to weep over his grave, and never got to plant flowers and speak to him in the springtime. James may never have seen his last child who was probably born after he died.

Sarah was left with at least 8 children, and that’s 8 children that we know about. We don’t know how many might have passed away as infants or as children. It would have been terribly unusual for all children born to a woman to live to adulthood.

If Sarah and James were married for 15 and a half years, and had 8 children, that would have meant Sarah had a baby about every 2 years – about normal for a pioneer couple.

I do wonder if Sarah gave birth the last time after James’ death. Perhaps she did, but before she knew that he had died.

Sarah may not have known that James had perished until the rest of the men in his unit made their way home, on foot, after their discharge in May of 1815.

The soldiers from eastern Tennessee marched the 400 miles or so to Fort Decatur, and they would have marched home, much the worse for wear, only half as many as marched to Fort Decatur the previous November. At the rate of 15 miles per day, the sad march home by the bedraggled men would have taken almost a month, about 26 days – only to bear the burden of telling the families of the men who weren’t with them where they were.

I can envision Sarah, holding a baby and the hands of 7 stairstep children as she excitedly waited for James to appear with the rest of the soldiers. She had probably given the children baths and they would have been wearing their best clothes to welcome Daddy back home.

The soldiers must have been excited to be returning home, but horribly saddened and dreaded seeing the hopeful faces of the families of the men who were buried back at Fort Decatur or along the way.

Perhaps it was Tandy Welch who served beside James and was at his deathbed – the man who would one day become Sarah’s son-in-law – that imparted the terrible news.

I have always wondered if somehow Sarah knew. Maybe she had the second-sight, or maybe she just had a “feeling.” Maybe she was hoping against hope, watching the group of soldiers approach, then pass by, one by one, until one of the men she knew walked up to her and put his hands on her arms to steady her.

Untold grief had arrived, and with it, Sarah’s life as she knew it was upended.

Sarah’s Birth

Based on Sarah’s age given on the various petitions she signed related to James Claxton’s military service, she was born in either 1774 or 1775. In 1851, Sarah gave a deposition on March 8th and in that deposition states her age as 76, which means she was born in 1775. Given that the deposition was given the first week of March, there’s a roughly 25% chance Sarah had already had her birthday in 1851. If Sarah’s birthday happened after March 8th, then her birth year would subtract to 1774.

On October 16, 1858, Sarah signed a deposition in which she states that she is 83 years old, which means that she was born about 1775.

In 1853, Sarah gave a deposition on November 29, 1853 and gave her age as 79, indicating that she was born in 1774.  By the end of November, there was only a one in twelve chance that Sarah had NOT yet had her birthday in 1853.

We even have Sarah’s signature along with son, Fairwick.

Given the two bracketing depositions, it’s most likely from these records alone that Sarah was born sometime between March 9, 1774 and November 28, 1774, someplace in Virginia, according to the 1850 census.

While we find it odd today that someone would provide inconsistent information about their age, birth date or marriage year, it was quite common in that place and time to not know your birthday or year. Even today, sometimes I have to think about how old I am and substract to be sure.

Sarah’s Death

Sarah spent the rest of her life after James’ death as a single woman. She was only 40 or so when he died and lived for 48 years as a widow, longer than she lived before James died and three times as long as she was married. She was reported to be 88 years old on December 21, 1863 when she passed away, which would have put her birth firmly in 1775.

According to this paperwork filed in conjunction with James’s pension, Sarah “died very suddenly of no particular disease being recognized,” with Rebecca Wolf and Nancy Eaton in the room with her when she died.

I wish Sarah had a gravestone, but given that she died in the midst of the Civil War, a gravestone probably wasn’t possible.

I’m positive that Sarah is buried in the Claxton/Clarkson Cemetery in Hancock County, Tennessee where she lived with her son Fairwick and where he is buried as well.

In the photo above, the Claxton/Clarkson Cemetery, now called the Cavin Cemetery, is fenced on the Claxton/Clarkson original land. Sarah is buried here someplace in one of the many unmarked graves.

Sarah’s Records

In contrast with most women of her era, Sarah was quite active in land acquisition.  Some land may have been awarded to her as a result of her husband’s military service, but certainly not all of her land was thanks to James.

First, we find Sarah mentioned in her son’s land survey.

Claiborne County Survey Book 29 – page 693, Claiborne Co. Tn number 28765 March 16, 1826 – Farwix Claxton assignee of JP Shackleford, assignee of Farwix Claxton, assignee of Sarah Claxton – 100 acres granted to Farwix Claxton and his heirs lying in the county aforesaid adj Sarah Claxton on the north side of Powell’s river, crossing a public road, Sarah’s old corner. Surveyed Oct 14, 1826, filed June 4, 1853, chainers Henry Cook and John Plank

Is the Henry Cook who was the chainer significant, given that Sarah was a Cook before marriage?

It’s rather unusual that this survey wasn’t registered until in 1853, but surveys weren’t free and neither was registering deeds.

Did Fairwick and Sarah each have a 100-acre survey?  It would appear so.

On the same day in 1826, Sarah’s own 100 tract was surveyed, but the survey wasn’t entered for another 4 years, probably indicating Sarah didn’t have the money to pay the surveyor and the registration fee, both. This new survey adjoins her “old tract” which was probably the land that James Claxton purchased in 1810.

On August 16, 1826, Sarah had another 30 acres surveyed. In this deed, she is called Sally, which would have been the nickname for Sarah. So, now we know her nickname as well, called such by the surveyor who clearly knew her personally. This parcel too adjoined her “old tract.”

Chainers were often family members, and Henry Cook, found in all 3 of these surveys, may have been related to Sarah. John Plank was the neighbor, and he would surely have wanted to be sure this land was surveyed accurately.

In the 1830 census, Sarah is shown living with 5 people in her household.

  • 1 male 15-20 – unknown, probably Henry Claxton
  • 1 male 30-40 – unknown
  • 1 female 15-20 – probably daughter Martha Patsy
  • 1 female 30-40 – uncertain
  • 1 female 50-60, which would have been Sarah herself

Sarah’s daughter Rebecca had married John Collingsworth in 1829, so they could be the couple age 30-40 living with Sarah, although the dates and ages don’t align exactly.

In 1832, 25 acres was surveyed for Farwix Claxton on the Powell River adjoining his mother’s land. His brother, Henry, was a chain carrier for the surveyor.

A drawing from the Claiborne County survey book dated December 18, 1832 shows the survey for Sarah Claxton’s 30 acres bordering on Henry Clarkson’s and Levi Parks’ grant and on the Montgomery grant. Shadrack Moore and Henry Clarkson were chainers and the land was on the Powell River near 4 Mile Creek.

We are actually quite fortunate, because we know exactly where this bend of the Powell River was located. In fact, it was even called Claxton’s bend, as shown in this 1831 survey.

In 1834, in the Claiborne County Court Notes we find a lawsuit that may have forced the children of James Claxton to sell their land to their mother to protect it from being sold out from under them by court order. Fairwick, it seems, owed a debt.

Hugh Graham vs Fairwick Claxton – Fidelie S. Hurt JP returned with warrant judgement and execution for sum of 38.30 with the following returned endorsements on said execution to wit: There being no goods or chattels of def in my county I have levied this execution of F. Claxton “undivided interest in 100 ac of land on Powels River whereon Sarah Claxton now lives – June 16 1834”.  Order of sale issued.

It appears that the family was right, because they executed the deed of sale in March and the following June, the next court session, the court orders the land to be sold.  However, by this time, the land had already been sold and Fairwix had enough money in hand to pay his debt, if he so chose. However, if he chose not to pay the debt, the land his mother was living on was protected from his creditors. I’m assuming that Fairwix did indeed pay his debt, because we find nothing else in the court records that suggests otherwise.

We are quite fortunate because the resulting 1834 deed lists the children of James Claxton and Sarah, or at least the ones who were adults by this time. I would wager there were some heated discussions about this transaction, and how it would or might occur. I can’t imagine Sarah and her other children being happy about this turn of events.

1834 – Fairview (Fairwick) Claxton to Sarah Claxton, 1834, Book O-233 for $70.00 – original reads March 27th, 1834, between Farwick Clarkson, Andrew Hurst and wife Mahala, John Plank and wife Elizabeth, Levi Parks and wife Susannah, John Collinsworth and wife Rebecca, Jacob Parks and wife Patsy, heirs at law of James Clarkson deceast of the one part and Sarah Clarkson widow of the aforesaid James Clarkson decd of the other part, all of Claiborne Co. Tn. In consideration of:

    • Farwick Clarkson, $70 (signs with a signature – but all of the rest make marks. Fairwick’s wife is not included for some reason.)
    • Andrew Hurst and wife Mahala – $70
    • John Plank and wife Elizabeth – $70 or 20
    • Levi Parks and wife Susannah – $70
    • John Collensworth and wife Rebecca – $20
    • Jacob Parks and wife Patsy “Polly” – $20

To Sarah Clarkson, widow aforesaid, 100 acres, Claiborne on the North side of Powell river where Sarah lives and land that was conveyed to James Clarkson from John Hall of Sumner Co. Tn… beginning at Hobbs line, bank of Powell river. Witnessed by John Riley and Johiel Fugate. Registered Jan. 1, 1841

Sarah’s youngest child, Henry is conspicuously absent from this deed which probably suggests he was still living with Sarah and was yet underage.

Did Sarah have to borrow the money to pay her children? Did the children accept IOUs from their mother in order to convey the land to her?  Did they expect to receive their payment after her death?  Were they angry with their brother, Fairwick, or were there forces at work that we can’t understand from a distance of 179 years?

Because of the surveys, deeds and later generation lawsuits, we know exactly where Sarah’s land is today. Seen here, looking across the fence from the road, we see the old barn in the distance with the fenced cemetery in front of the barn.

This land, beautiful, but oh so rocky would have proved difficult for Sarah to work as a farm. Not to be deterred, she did work that farm, for 48 years after James died, raised her family, and from all indicators, was successful by any measure they had in her lifetime.

In 1839, Sarah was listed on the Claiborne County Tax list with 100 acres of land worth $250. The tax was 12 and a half cents and 30 acres was valued as school land, although I’m not entirely sure what that meant.

Almost everyone had a “school land” amount, and clearly everyone didn’t have a school on their property. Sarah’s entire tax was 12 and a half cents.

In the 1840 census, Sarah Claxton is shown living with one male, age 60-70 and two females aged 60-70.

One of those females would have been Sarah, but I have no idea who the other is. I have only a slight inkling of who the male might be. He might possibly have been John Helloms who we find living with Sarah in 1850.


I hate it when my research starts forest fires of rumors that I can’t later extinguish. More than two decades ago, I discovered that Sarah was living with an elderly Helloms male in the 1850 census and made the mistake of excitedly sharing my discovery with other researchers. It appears that they were excited too, and before long, Sarah’s maiden name was Helloms in countless online trees. Sarah’s maiden name was actually Cook, discovered later, but there is no catching up with a tidal wave of misinformation once it is unleashed.

In 1850, Sarah is age 75, born in Virginia, with one John Helloms, age 70, listed as idiotic, living with her. Both Sarah and John were born in Virginia. Sarah’s grandson through son Fairwick, Samuel Claxton lives next door, probably on the same land and just another house away we find Farwick with his wife, now age 50. The census was taken on December 13th, but was supposed to be taken as of April in that year. In any case, Sarah’s birth year subtracts to be 1775.

This is the record that caused many researchers to infer that Sarah’s middle name was Helloms, and that John Helloms was her brother. Until we discovered Sarah’s birth name given in James’ War of 1812 records, that assumption that John Helloms was probably her brother and she was caring for a family member stood as the conventional wisdom. However, that was incorrect and illustrates quite aptly why one should never draw even tentative conclusions, at least not out loud. Unfortunately, the majority of trees available still show Sarah’s maiden name as Helloms.

Conversely, it’s probably accurate to speculate that Sarah is somehow involved with or related to the Helloms family. In the Claiborne County Court Notes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions 1819 – 1822, on page 106 we find:

May 9, 1820 – Sarah Claxton admitted to administer on all the singular goods and chattels rights and credits of William Hulloms (this is clearly the name) decd who entered into bond with Josiah Ramsey for her security and was qualified as the law directs.

The combination of this record and that of John Hulloms living with Sarah in 1850 was truly convincing that her maiden name was Hulloms or Helloms, but it wasn’t, as sworn to by Sarah herself. However, there is very clearly a connection in some fashion to the Helloms of Hulloms family.

It’s worth noting that there is no Helloms entry in the reconstructed 1790 Virginia census using tax records from the 1780s, as provided by, but there are several Helms.  There is, however, one William Hulloms in Westmoreland County on the 1791 “census.”

There is also a William Hulloms in Ashe County, NC in 1790, although he appears to be fairly young with 3 young children – so he can probably be ruled out – but not positively.

An 1804 tax list for Knox County, TN shows a William Helloms Sr. with 229 acres on Hickery Creek with 1 white poll, along with a John Hellams with 237 acres on Hickery Creek with 2 black polls (but no white polls.)

While these might be red herrings, they may not be. Clearly there is some connection to the Helloms/Hulloms family, by whatever spelling. Sarah was a close enough relative to become administrator of William’s estate and 30 years later we find John Helloms, “idiotic,” living with Sarah.

The Helloms/Hulloms mystery stands to this day.

John Riley

Sarah continued to be involved in the community, and once again, we find her interacting with John Riley.

On August 8, 1855 she is noted as having a receipt for $24.22 in the estate of John L. Riley.

John Riley appears throughout Sarah’s life, including having been at her wedding in Russell County, according to depositions relating to Sarah’s attempts to receive both a pension and bounty land as a result of James’ death during the War of 1812.

The Russell County, Virginia deed abstracts tell us that John Riley lived on Mockason Creek in Russell County, at the foot of Clinch Mountain adjoining the Hustons and Fugates and with James Tate as a neighbor as well. John Tate was the JP that married Sarah Cook and James Claxton/Clarkson.

Members of the Riley family, along with James Claxton and the Fugates migrated together to the Powell River in then Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The Riley family was one of the earliest founders in Russell County, information provided by the Riley family history. In other words, the Riley family was already well established in the region, with their first land grant in 1774, long before the Cook family arrived 20 years later in about 1795.

The Last Census

Sarah lived an amazingly long time in an era with little medical care, or at least not as we know medical care today. They didn’t have antibiotics, or assistance during childbirth other than midwives. No matter how skilled they were, fate determined in many cases whether you survived or not.

In the last census where Sarah appears, 1860, she is 85 years old, born in Virginia, and still living in her own household beside son, Fairwick. Living with her we find her grandson, Robert Shiflet, spelled Shifley in the census, along with his wife Sary (Sarah, named for her grandmother) and their daughter Elizabeth.

Sarah’s occupation at age 85? Housework. Not retired. How does a woman ever retire from housework?

It looks like Sarah spent her entire life taking care of a long list of people. Perhaps as she aged, some of those same people helped make her life a little easier. I hope so.

Sarah’s granddaughter, Sarah Claxton Shiflet is shown above. I can’t help but wonderif she looked like her grandmother.

The Civil War

The Civil War in Hancock County was brutal. Families into the late 1900s told stories of hiding their livestock and what little food they had in caves, and finally, secreting themselves there as well.

To begin with, this part of Tennessee was highly divided. Tennessee was the last state to secede and join the Confederacy on July 2, 1861. Most of the men in this part of Hancock County crossed the state line into Virginia, then into Kentucky, under cover of darkness in the night and enlisted with the Union forces. But not all.

Hancock County saw fighting, as did every county in eastern Tennessee. Making the situation even worse, this area was a crossroads for the marauding soldiers of both the north and south, and all soldiers arrived hungry. The area was savaged.

Most of the families in Hancock County did not own slaves. The land was rocky and difficult to farm. I would describe the lifestyle as subsistence living. Most people were too poor to afford slaves, had they been inclined. However, the neighbor, William Harrell owned one slave, a female name Harriet and her son, who, it turned out, was also William Herrell’s son, Cannon.

In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Confederate troops occupied Tazewell, the county seat of neighboring Claiborne County, burning the town in November.

Cumberland Gap, directly north of Tazewell was a strategic military point between the north and the south, and the Gap itself changed hands several times during the war.  Each time, the forces encamped at the Gap didn’t have enough supplies to feed the men, and the soldiers of both sides ravaged the landscape of everything available to eat, leaving the residents with virtually nothing.

Food was scarce and life was incredibly dangerous throughout the Civil War. At least two and probably four of Sarah’s grandchildren died during the Civil War. We don’t know why Sarah died. It could easily have been attributed, at least in part, to the war.

By the time the war ended in 1865, Sarah was gone – having joined James a half-century later in watching over her family from the other side.

Military Records

Poor Sarah. James’ military files were then, and remain, a mess.

After I initially received part of them about 25 years ago, I managed to misplace some. When reordering those same records, they aren’t there. I’m glad I took notes at the time. I wish I had made copies, but that was before scanners.

To begin with, the military recorded his service records as Claxton on the unit’s roster, and Sarah applied as Clarkson. Eventually, they got that straightened out, but the Civil War interfered in that process too.

Sarah did succeed in receiving half of James’ pay for 5 years. She eventually received a 40-acre land grant, which she subsequently had cancelled, persevering to obtained an 80-acre grant instead, claiming she had been short-shifted. Forty acres was awarded to those who served for 30 days and 80 acres was awarded for four months service. Apparently, the powers-that-be agreed that an error had occurred, because Sarah received her 80-acre grant. We don’t know where that land was located, or if she simply sold the grant. By that time, she already had obtained her own land grants in Claiborne, now Hancock, County, TN and I’m sure she wasn’t the least bit interested in moving elsewhere. Sarah would have needed her family to help with the farm, and eventually, probably to help care for her.

For all the headaches this process caused Sarah, it provided wonderful information not available elsewhere.

On May 3, 1861, Sarah signed a Power of Attorney assigning Fairwix, her son, as her attorney to act on her behalf. In most of her documents, in later years, she signed with an X. Note that her surname is spelled as Clarkston. Unfortunately, the surname vacillates between Claxton, Clarkson and Clarkston. Based on Y-DNA matches, it appears to have originally been Claxton , but there is little consistency in James’s records.

This list of pensioners and their payments from Knoxville, TN shows Sarah Clarkson, widow of James, as a pensioner. Unfortunately, this record series is titled U.S., Revolutionary War Pensioners, 1801-1815, 1818-1872, which is clearly incorrect, because he served in the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War.

This record shows that Sarah was restored to the pension list in May of 68, meaning 1868 of course, correcting sheet June 8/69 in the amount of 3.50 per month. James was a Private. Commencement is February 3,1858, and then September 4, 1860.

The columns appear to be March and September of each year, and she is noted with 4 and 2 until in 1861, then 1, and then September of 1863, it looks like she did not receive anything. Sarah died in December of 1863, so it looks like her heirs were finally paid in full in January 1869.

What this summary record doesn’t tell us is that Sarah had been dealing with this in one form or another since 1816, shortly after James’ death. Nor does it hint at the disruption caused for these families by the Civil War. For that, we need to look at Sarah’s various applications beginning in the 1850s.

Benefit Applications

In the 1850’s, Congress passed several acts benefiting military survivors and widows. It was during that period that Sarah Clarkson applied for both James’ pension and bounty land. An act passed on September 28, 1850 provided for the granting of bounty land warrants. We know about the circumstances of James’ death because Sarah applied for both land and his pension.

According to the Treasury Department letter dated Dec. 30, 1853, James Claxton enlisted on November 8, 1814 and died on February 11, 1815. His widow, Sarah, had received a soldier’s half-pay pension of $4 per month under the Act of April 16, 1816 which was to last for 5 years, at that time. This means, of course, that James was paid $8 a month. In other words, he marched 400 miles and died at Fort Decatur for the sum of $24.

Hancock Co, State of Tennessee – On this 8th day of March 1851 personally appeared before me a JP John Riley of Hancock Co., Tn. and John Taylor of Lee Co., Va. who being duly sworn according to law declare that Sarah Clarkson is the widow of James Clarkson decd who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. John Brockman in the 4th regiment of East Tennessee militia commanded by Col. Baylis – in the War with Great Britain declared by the United States of the 18th day of June 1812. That said Sarah Clarkson was married to James Clarkson decd in Russell Co. in the St. of Va on the 10th of October 1805 by one John Tate a JP in their presence, that the name of the said Sarah Clarkson before her marriage aforesaid was Sarah Cook, that her husband the said James Clarkson died at Fort Decature on the 20th of Feb. AD 1815 and that she is still a widow, and they swear that they are disinterested witnesses. Signed by both John Riley and John Taylor and witnessed by AM Fletcher. Sworn before William T. Overton JP

There’s John Riley again. A disinterested witness means that they don’t stand to benefit from the statement.

A second sworn statement is given below:

On March 8th, 1851 personally appeared before me Sarah Clarkson aged 76 years a resident of Hancock Co. Tn. who being duly sworn according to law declares that she is the widow of James Clarkson decd who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. Brock (number of regiment not recollected) regiment of E. Tennessee militia commanded by Colonel (too light to read) in the war with Great Britain declared June 18th, 1812. That her said husband was drafted at Knoxville Tn. on or about the 13th of November AD 1814 for the term of 6 months and continued in actual service as she is informed and believes in said War for the term of 3 months and 7 days and died at Fort Decatur or near there on or about the 20th of February 1815 as will appear on the muster rolls of his company on account of sickness. She further states that she was married to the said James Clarkson in Russell Co. VA on October 10th 1805 by one John Tate JP and that her name before her marriage was Sarah Cook and that her said husband died at Fort Decatur as aforesaid on the 20th of February AD 1815 and that she is still a widow. She makes this declaration for the purpose of obtaining the bounty land to which she may be entitled under the act passed September 25th, 1850. Witness Fairwick Clarkson (possibly others as the bottom of page is cut off) and she makes her mark.

James Lee Claxton’s death date is given variously as February 11 and February 20, by different sources.

In another statement, Sarah gave her marriage date to James Lee Claxton as October 10, 1799 which meshes better with the births of their children. By 1805, James and Sarah were living on the Powell River in what is now Hancock County, Tennessee, raising a family. Their oldest son, Fairwick (Fairwix, Farwick, Farwix) Claxton/Clarkson, also my ancestor, was born in 1799 or 1800.

A third document tells us a little more about the circumstances of James death.

State of Tennessee, County of Hancock, on the 29th day of August in the year of our Lord 1853, personally appeared before me a JP within and for the county and state aforesaid. Foster Jones and Tandy Welch citizens of said state and county who being duly sworn according to law declare that they were personally acquainted with James Clarkson decd (sometimes called and written Claxton) who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. Brock in the 4th regiment as well as recollected of E. Tennessee militia commanded by Col. Bales in the War with Great Britain declared June 18 1812 and that the said James Clarkson (or Claxton) sickened and died before the expiration of the time for which he engaged to serve in the said war and he belonged to the said company and regiment to which we did and that we each of us have applied under the act of Sept. 28 1850 and obtained land warrants for our service in said war. Tandy Welch and Foster Jones both make their marks, AM Fletcher a witness and Stephen Thompson a witness.

Another statement indicates that both Tandy Welch and Foster Jones swore that they witnessed the death of James Claxton.

Tandy Welch, the man who was at James’ side when he died, five years later, on June 22, 1820, married James’ daughter, Mary. I wonder, did Tandy promise James, on his death bed, to take care of his family?

On November 29, 1853, personally appeared before me Mrs. Sarah Clarkston, a resident of Hancock County aged 79 years…widow of James Clarkson…married about 1799…drew 5 years half pay in 1816…obtained 40 acres of land bounty dated Sept. 22, 1853 number 92928.

One of the absolute best things about these applications is that we actually have Sarah’s signature and it’s not an X.

We also have her son, Fairwick’s signature, as well, in several locations. Now that I see this, the surname looks identical so I wonder if he signed for her. On other documents, she signed with an X.

Sarah filed another deposition in March of 1854, claiming she was entitled to 80 acres instead of 40. The 40-acre grant was canceled (a copy of the canceled certificate is in the pension file) and the 80-acre grant was approved. Sarah also received a widow’s pension of $3.50 per month. However, under the Act of Congress of February 4, 1862 her pension was suspended due to the war with the Confederate States of America. As Tennessee had seceded to join the Confederacy, all pensions payments in the state were stopped. This, combined with the effects of the war itself in Hancock County surely had to be a hardship for Sarah.

After the war had ended, Fairwix Clarkson applied for a restoration and arrears of payment on September 25, 1866. He filed as the administrator of the estate of Sarah Clarkson, who had died on December 21, 1863, at his home on the Jonesville Road. That’s some “Merry Christmas,” especially in combination with the ongoing war.

After the Civil War, on September 24, 1866, to obtain payment, Fairwick, as administrator of Sarah’s estate was required to sign an oath of allegiance, which he gladly did, I’m sure. His son, Samuel Claxton/Clarkson (below) would yet die of injuries and illness he received in the war, enlisted as a union soldier.

Missing Documents

In addition to the information, above, now available at Fold3, I’m missing the following documents:

  • Sarah started receiving James’s half pay amount under the 1816 Act, but I don’t have that 1816 application and associated paperwork. She mentions in later documents that she submitted proof of her marriage in 1816.
  • Anything between 1816 and 1851
  • I do not have the 80-acre bounty land grant, or any information about it.

One of these documents included the statement that her father was Joel Cook.

I paid an on-the-ground researcher to pull these files at the National Archives, and the records mentioned above seem to have been misfiled someplace, probably together. The only saving grace is that I know I didn’t dream it, because the documents we do have refer to earlier, now missing, documents.

James Taylor

In addition to John Riley, another family that Sarah was involved with in early Claiborne County was James Taylor. James, then living in Kentucky, also signed that he was present at her marriage.

Who was James Taylor?

According to an 1816 survey in Russell County, James Taylor’s land shared a property line with Joel Cook, at the mouth of Musick’s spring branch.

92 – August 19, 1816 – James Taylor – 330 ac – part Treasury Warrant 11962 dated May 10, 1782 – on both sides of the north fork of Clinch River – corner to a big survey of Andrew Hebourn – corner to John Wilson – corner to Hebourn, James Madison & Harris Wilson – on the west side of a gap – corner to Joel Cook – at the mouth of Musicks spring branch – corner to Abednego White – corner to Henry Bowen.

Sarah’s Burial

Although no record officially tells us, I’m positive that Sarah is buried right here, in the Claxton cemetery, where the rest of her family is found.

Sarah’s son, Fairwick is buried here, along with his son, Samuel.

Samuel’s name is misspelled for eternity as Saluel. If one couldn’t read, how would they have known? Or did they get such a good “discount” on the stone because of the error that they just decided to leave the name alone? After all, they knew who he was.


This cemetery, now called the Cavin Cemetery, is found in Claxton bend on the original Claxton land on what would then have been known as the Jonesville Road. This picture, taken from the road, shows old barn behind the cemetery.

Me, inside the cemetery one VERY hot May day.

My cousin and I were infamously trapped inside the Clarkson Cemetery by an amorous bull who wanted to add us to his harem.

Oh, the things memories are made of.

There are many fieldstone headstones and even more graves entirely unmarked.

Sarah is here someplace.

Sarah’s Life and Times

We know that Sarah endured a great deal in her lifetime, but nothing ever defeated her except the grim reaper himself, and then not until she was 88 years of age. Sarah was the epitome of perseverance and tenacity. Indeed, she persisted.

Her life was incredible. She was a child during the Revolutionary War, lost her husband in the War of 1812 and lived to lose grandchildren in the Civil War, dying herself in the midst of the fighting.

During her lifetime Sarah moved across state lines and lived on the frontier when land on the Powell River was first being settled. She and James were the first settlers on Claxton’s Bend, and their choice of location would inform who their children and grandchildren would marry. There was no one else to marry except your neighbors.  That old adage about the choices of the parents affecting the children into the 7th generation holds true. My children are that 7th generation.

Not long after Sarah and James moved to Claiborne County, Sarah’s father, Joel Cook, sold the family land in Russell County and literally disappeared. It’s speculated that he went to Kentucky, but we really don’t know.

In any event, if the family ties had not already been severed when Sarah moved to Claiborne County, they surely were at that point by simple virtue of geography.

We don’t know if Sarah had any children that died young. We do know she had 8 children that lived between her marriage in October 1799 and James’s death in February of 1815. Four may have been two sets of twins, but twins that survived in that time are rare. It’s more likely that we just don’t know their accurate birth years. Keep in mind that Sarah gave conflicting information herself about the year in which she was married – and she was certainly present and old enough to remember. If she was born in 1774 or 1775, she would have been 14 or 15 when she married in 1799.

Birth and marriage years didn’t seem to matter terribly in that time and place. Close enough was good enough.

Sarah and James had 8 known children:

  • Fairwick born 1799/1800 in Virginia, died Feb. 11, 1874 in Hancock County, TN, the 59th anniversary of his father’s death. He married Agnes Muncy and had 8 children.
  • Mahala born Dec. 7, 1801 in Virginia, died March 1892 in Claiborne Co, TN, married Andrew Hurst, had 10 children.
  • Elizabeth born 1803 in TN, died May 1, 1847 in Claiborne Co., TN, married John Plank, had 11 children.
  • Mary Polly born September 4, 1803, died June 22, 1887 in Hancock Co., TN, married Tandy Welch Sr., had 17 children.
  • Susannah “Sukey” born October 11, 1808, died May 22, 1895 in Iowa, married Levi Parks, had 11 children.
  • Rebecca born December 6, 1808, died September 4, 1880 in Union Co., TN, married John Collingsworth, had 12 children.
  • Martha Patsy “Polly” born September 11, 1811, died December 23, 1898 in Claiborne County, TN, married Jacob J. “Tennessee” Parks, had 9 children.
  • Henry born ? 21, 1815, died August 1838, married Martha “Patsy” Gillus Walker, had 3 children.

If Henry was indeed born in 1815, Sarah was pregnant when James marched off to war, and James never saw his son, Henry, who died young himself.

We receive information about Sarah’s children at her death from this 1868 letter detailing her son Fairwix’s attempts to obtain her War of 1812 pension payments that were suspended during the Civil War.

Sarah’s children and grandchildren here are stated as:

  • Fairwix who was loyal and who had 3 sons in the Federal Army. Samuel, Henry Avery and John – two of whom died in the war, and Samuel who died later of illness contracted during the war.
  • Mahala Hurst who left the county long before the war.
  • Polly Welch of Hancock County thoroughly loyal through the Rebellion.
  • Patsy Parks of Claiborne County – she and her family thoroughly loyal.
  • Rebecca Collingsworth of Union County who is reported as disloyal but from personal knowledge can say nothing.
  • Sukey Parks who moved to Iowa many years before the war.
  • Two children of Henry Clarkson deceased who died some 20 years ago named Edward H. and Flora A. Clarkson who were both loyal all during the war.
  • The heirs of Elizabeth Plank who died some 20 years ago and all of whose children were considered loyal.

In 1815, when James died, Sarah was 40 years old, give or take a few months, and she had 8 children at home, or 7 and 1 on the way. The oldest, Fairwick or Fairwix, was 15 or 16. The youngest, Henry, if born yet, was just a baby. It’s certainly possible that Henry was born after James’ death, meaning of course that James left a pregnant wife when he enlisted. James enlisted in November of 1814 and died in February of 1815. Henry’s birth was recorded in 1815. If Sarah became pregnant about the time James left, that tells us that Henry was born sometime before September of 1815. It’s certainly possible that Sarah was pregnant, with 7 children, when she received the devastating news that James had perished.

The younger children would have had no memory of their father.

Life couldn’t have been easy. Later depositions taken regarding the death of Fairwick gave us a glimpse into the drama that took place in these early very-interrelated family families living on the banks of the Powell River. All was not a bed of roses.

The Civil War introduced additional strife and upheaval. The families in this area were horribly divided, a rift that was to last for decades, certainly into the 20th century.  When I first visited Claiborne and Hancock Counties in the 1980s, more than 115 years after the Civil War ended, the families still identified each other by which side their “kin” had fought for in “the War.” While most of the families in this part of Hancock County fought for the Union, that wasn’t universal and almost every family had its share of “disloyal” or traitors. Of course, the definition of traitor depended on your perspective.

The division was still palpable and real in the early 1900s when these families still actively feuded and denied any relation to each other over Civil War alliances.

Sarah’s grandsons and great-grandsons marched off to war. For Sarah, this must have been a horrible déjà vu, a repeat of her James marching off to the War of 1812, never to return. Sure enough, just like James, some didn’t

In Sarah’s lifetime, two of her children died. Henry, her baby, died in August of 1838 and Elizabeth who married John Plank died in 1847.

Sarah’s grandson, James Claxton, son of Fairwick who named him for his father, James, had died by 1845, and Fairwick raised James’ 4 children. Of course, they lived next door to Sarah, so in reality, the entire family raised those children.

One of those boys that Sarah raised, William, died on May 4, 1863, serving the Union, at Camp Dennison, Ohio.

Fairwick lost 2 sons and a son-in-law during the Civil War. The Civil War was cruel to this family.

John Clarkson enlisted for the Union on March 15, 1862 and was killed on March 20, 1863 in Nashville, TN, almost 9 months to the day before Sarah died. John was likely buried near where he fell, so the family never got to bury him or say their goodbyes. For Sarah, a repeat of what happened to her beloved James.

The other two died a few months after Sarah. Perhaps she greeted them on the other side. Henry died February 2, 1864 in Louisville, KY and John Wolfe, Fairwick’s son-in-law and Sarah’s grandson-in-law, died March 16, 1864.

Before Sarah’s death, Fairwick’s other son-in-law, Calvin Wolf, had been captured in Atlanta, Georgia during a battle, also serving the Union, and was held prisoner under utterly horrific conditions at Andersonville Prison for 3 very long years. Sarah died without knowing what happened to this man, or what would become of her granddaughter and her great-grandchildren. Miraculously, somehow Calvin survived.

Sarah’s grandson, Levi Hurst, the son of Mahala Clarkson, shown above, who had married Andrew Hurst, also died in the Civil War. Levi was a Confederate and died September 18-20, 1863 at the Battle of Chickamauga, three months before Sarah’s death.

It must have been incredibly difficult for Sarah to have grandchildren literally fighting each other on both sides of the war.

Mahala’s granddaughter, Charity, appears to have died sometime between the 1850 and 1860 census, or she married and left no trail. Mahala’s son James Hurst married Elizabeth Farmer and we lose track of him as well.

In case you’re keeping track, that’s a total of 2 grandchildren, 2 grandchildren-in-law and 1 great-grandchild killed in the un-Civil war, along with 1 who served three tortuous years as a POW.

Sarah suffered another kind of grief as well – that of departure. Her daughter, Susannah married Levi Parks about 1824. Sarah witnessed the births of 11 grandchildren, born to Susannah. The last arrival, a baby girl joined the family in 1848, just before Susannah and Levi would sell their belongings, hitch up a wagon, and head for David County, Iowa. That sweet baby girl born in 1848 would die in 1850, the first member of that family to be buried in Iowa soil. Departure was, in those days, a form of death – because Sarah and Susannah, mother and daughter, both very clearly knew that their departure was a final goodbye and they would not be reunited until after their deaths.

So, Sarah grieved the absence of Susannah and all 11 of her children, and then the death of the baby. That bad news would have arrived by letter, if Sarah ever knew at all. It’s somehow ironic that I can discover more today about what happened to Sarah’s children who moved away than Sarah could in her own lifetime.

We know less about what happened to the rest of Sarah’s children and grandchildren, but it stands to reason that those families were negatively affected by the war as well.

Sarah Cook and James Lee Claxton had 8 children and 91 grandchildren. Sarah wouldn’t have known all of her grandchildren, because daughter Susannah Parks moved to Iowa in the 1840s and Rebecca moved to Union County, TN. Two other daughters, Patsy and Mahala were living close by in neighboring Claiborne County, so Sarah probably saw them from time to time.

Mary who married Tandy Welch (cabin shown above) and their family lived close, as did Fairwick of course, who lived next door, and several of his children.

Henry, Sarah’s son, had lived just down the road, before his death, near the Edward Walker cabin, above, where his wife, Martha “Patsy” Gillus Walker had lived with the Edward Walker family.

After Henry’s death, Henry’s widow, Martha, married William Claxton, son of Fairwick and moved to neighboring Claiborne County where they became estranged from the Claxton family. I told you there was drama!

Sarah said premature goodbyes to a lot of family members in her lifetime, if she got to say goodbye at all. Aside from her parents, Sarah lost her husband, several children and grandchildren to early deaths and warfare.

She was one of very few people who saw three monumental wars in her lifetime.

Sarah’s life was anything but easy and pain-free, yet, she persevered, a testament to fortitude.

Sarah’s Mitochondrial DNA

I was fortunate enough to connect with a cousin who descends from Sarah Cook Claxton through all females. I am ever so grateful to her for testing her mitochondrial DNA.

Several of her matches have taken the full sequence test, the test needed to obtain the full haplogroup designation, which allows us to narrow the scope of the geography where Sarah’s ancestors may have been found.

Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA is haplogroup H100, meaning she is the 100th branch named in haplogroup H.

On the FamilyTreeDNA  haplogroup tree, you can see that H100 is a branch of H.

Haplogroup H100 is found in the FamilyTreeDNA  database in Ireland, Canada, France, Saudi Arabia, the US and Scotland. Saudi Arabia? That’s unusual.

Our tester who descends from Sarah shows exact full sequence matches to four people, none of whom have entered their most distant ancestor information, and only one has provided a tree. Their ancestor is first found in Ohio in the 1800s.

Sarah’s descendant is fortunate to have 7 additional mutations that, along with her four exact matches, will likely form a new haplogroup together when the new mitotree is released. That should also provide a time estimate for a common ancestor which will help everyone immensely.

Sarah inherited her mitochondrial DNA from her mother whose name was Alsy, probably short for Alice.

Alsy was born sometime around 1750, probably in Virginia. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll have mitochondrial DNA matches to Virginia families. Then, Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA, combined with genealogy records and autosomal matches will help us break down that next brick wall.


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The Best of 2022

It’s that time of year where we look both backward and forward.

Thank you for your continued readership! Another year under our belts!

I always find it interesting to review the articles you found most interesting this past year.

In total, I published 97 articles in 2022, of which 56 were directly instructional about genetic genealogy. I say “directly instructional,” because, as you know, the 52 Ancestors series of articles are instructional too, but told through the lives of my ancestors. That leaves 41 articles that were either 52 Ancestors articles, or general in nature.

It has been quite a year.

2022 Highlights

In a way, writing these articles serves as a journal for the genetic genealogy community. I never realized that until I began scanning titles a year at a time.

Highlights of 2022 include:

Which articles were your favorites that were published in 2022, and why?

Your Favorites

Often, the topics I select for articles are directly related to your comments, questions and suggestions, especially if I haven’t covered the topic previously, or it needs to be featured again. Things change in this industry, often. That’s a good thing!

However, some articles become forever favorites. Current articles don’t have enough time to amass the number of views accumulated over years for articles published earlier, so recently published articles are often NOT found in the all-time favorites list.

Based on views, what are my readers’ favorites and what do they find most useful?

In the chart below, the 2022 ranking is not just the ranking of articles published in 2022, but the ranking of all articles based on 2022 views alone. Not surprisingly, six of the 15 favorite 2022 articles were published in 2022.

The All-Time Ranking is the ranking for those 2022 favorites IF they fell within the top 15 in the forever ranking, over the entire decade+ that this blog has existed.

Drum roll please!!!

Article Title Publication Date 2022 Ranking All-Time Ranking
Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages January 2017 1 2
Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA December 2012 2 1
Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them in in You? June 2017 3 5
AutoKinship at GEDmatch by Genetic Affairs February 2022 4
442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match? Daily Updates Here September 2020 5
The Origins of Zana of Abkhazia July 2021 6
Full or Half Siblings April 2019 7 15
Ancestry Rearranged the Furniture January 2022 8
DNA from 459 Ancient British Isles Burials Reveals Relationships – Does Yours Match? February 2022 9
DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents January 2020 10
Ancestry Only Shows Shared Matches of 20 cM and Greater – What That Means & Why It Matters May 2022 11
How Much Indian Do I Have in Me??? June 2015 12 8
Top Ten RootsTech 2022 DNA Sessions + All DNA Session Links March 2022 13
FamilyTreeDNA DISCOVER Launches – Including Y DNA Haplogroup Ages June 2022 14
Ancient Ireland’s Y and Mitochondrial DNA – Do You Match??? November 2020 15

2023 Suggestions

I have a few articles already in the works for 2023, including some surprises. I’ll unveil one very soon.

We will be starting out with:

  • Information about RootsTech where I’ll be giving at least 7 presentations, in person, and probably doing a book signing too. Yes, I know, 7 sessions – what was I thinking? I’ve just missed everyone so very much.
  • An article about how accurately Ancestry’s ThruLines predicts Potential Ancestors and a few ways to prove, or disprove, accuracy.
  • The continuation of the “In Search Of” series.

As always, I’m open for 2023 suggestions.

In the comments, let me know what topics you’d like to see.


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Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research