About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.

Estes Ancestors to 1495, Plus Wives – 52 Ancestors #385

I’ve been asked several times to compile a list of all of my Estes lineage articles in one place.

I’ve created a table below, and I will update with links as I write additional articles or expand the lineage, although I suspect we are at the end of the Estes line at 1495.

I’ve also included the wife or partner that I descend through for each ancestor, when known. I will create a separate lineage document beginning with the wife as the first person in her family line.

Think of these as chapters in my Estes lineage book! I hope some of these people are your ancestors too, and if not, I encourage you to write your ancestors’ stories.

Ancestor Article My Ancestral Spouse
William Sterling Estes (1901 or 1902-1963) Searching for Ilo’s Son – 52 Ancestors #1 Barbara Ferverda (1922-2006)
Finding Ilo’s Son, Lee Devine – 52 Ancestors #3
William Sterling Estes – The Missing Years – 52 Ancestors #5
April Fool Meltdown Thanks to William Sterling Estes, 52 Ancestors #154
WWI – 100 Years Ago – Thou Art Gone, 52 Ancestors #155
Unwelcome Discoveries and Light at the End of the Tunnel, 52 Ancestors #156
On This Day – What Were Your Ancestors Doing? – 51 Ancestors #170
Suicide – 52 Ancestors #197
Eleven “Soldier Boy” Love Letters from the Lost Summer of 1919 – 52 Ancestors #205
William Sterling Estes and the Backwards Tombstone, 52 Ancestors #209
Aunt Margaret’s Bombshell Letter – 52 Ancestors #210
William Sterling Estes’ Court Martial and Escape: 3 Wives and 4 Aliases – 52 Ancestors #217
Edna Estes Miller (1920-1990), Sister: Once Found, Twice Lost – 52 Ancestors #361
Seriously, Addie Browning (1909-1996) is NOT my Father’s Wife – 52 Ancestors #365
William George Estes (1873-1971) William George Estes (1873-1971), You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive, 52 Ancestors #53 Ollie Bolton (1874-1955) Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
My Crazy Estes Aunts – 52 Ancestors #2
Unraveling the Odd Fellows Lodge Meeting in Claiborne County, Tennessee – 52 Ancestors #343
MyHeritage New Photo Enhancer – Seeing Family Faces for the First Time
Lazarus Estes (1848-1918) Lazarus Estes (1845-1918), Huckster and Gravestone Carver, 52 Ancestors #59 Elizabeth Vannoy (1847-1918)
John Y. Estes (1818-1895) John Y Estes (1818-1895), Civil War Soldier, Walked to Texas, Twice, 52 Ancestors #64 Martha Rutha Dodson (1820-1903)
John Estes Goes to Jail – 52 Ancestors #265
John R. Estes (1787-1885) John R. Estes, War of 1812 Veteran (1787-1885), 52 Ancestors #62 Nancy Ann Moore (c1785-1860/1870) 
Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
George Estes (1763-1859) George Estes (1763-1859), Three Times Revolutionary War Veteran, 52 Ancestors #66 Mary Younger (c1766-1820/1830)
Moses Estes (1742-1813) Moses Estes (c1742-1813), Distiller of Fine Brandy and Cyder, 52 Ancestors #72 Luremia Combs (c1740-c1820) 
Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available 1
Moses Estes (1711-1787) Finding Moses Estes (1711-1787), 52 Ancestors #69 Elizabeth “probably not Webb” Estes (1715/1720-1772/1782), Wife of Moses, 52 Ancestors #86 *2
Abraham Estes (1647-1721) Abraham Estes, (c 1647-1720), The Immigrant, 52 Ancestors #35 Barbara “Not Brock” Estes (c1670-1721), Abraham’s Wife, 52 Ancestors #70  Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
Sylvester Estes (1596-1647) Visiting Deal, Kent, UK – The Estes Homelands Ellen Martin (c1600-1649)  Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
Deal and Deal Castle – Kent, England
Sylvester Estes (1596-c1647), Sometimes Churchwarden, 52 Ancestors #31
Robert Eastes (Eastye) (1555-1616) Robert Eastes (1555-1616), Householder of Ringwould, 52 Ancestors #30 Anne Woodward (1571-1630)
Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
St. Nicholas Church at Shoulden and St Leonard’s at Deal
Sylvester Estes (Eastes, Eastye) (1522-1679) Sylvester Estes (c1522-1579), Fisherman of Deal, 52 Ancestors #29 Jone (<1535-1561)
Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
Nycholas Ewstas (c1495-1534) The White Cliffs of Dover Anny (c1500->1533) *2
Nycholas Ewstas (c1495-1533), Progenitor, 52 Ancestors #28

Brief  Estes Progenitor Synopsis

It’s hard to comprehend that the earliest known Estes progenitor, Nycholas Ewstas was born in 1495, the same year that Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Nycholas owned a sheep and a horse, and was found living near Deal, England, along the white cliffs of Dover.

Despite a persistent and enchanting story, there is no evidence, genetic or otherwise, that the family descends from the d’Este family of Italy. Trust me, I wanted it to be so, but I’ve pretty well disproven that oral history.

Nycholas Ewstas’s descendants, for generations, were mariners.

If you have information about these lines that I have not included in these articles, please let me know. You never know what’s going to pop up.

Estes Resources

My family trees are available at:

The Estes family archivist, David Powell, maintains free research sites here and here.

The Estes Trails Newsletter, current and back issues are available from Larry Duke at estestrails@aol.com.

The Estes DNA Project is available here, and all Estes descendants are welcome to join by either taking a Family Finder test, here or uploading a DNA file from another vendor. Step-by-step upload instructions are found here.

Estes men are strongly encouraged to order the Y DNA test, here. The most detailed results are available with the Big Y-700 test.


*1 – Mitochondrial DNA descends through all females to the current generation, which can be males. Anyone who descends from this woman through all females carries her mitochondrial DNA today, so is eligible for a free testing scholarship if you have not already taken a mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA. Either way, please reach out! There’s a lot we can learn.

*2 – No daughters known, so mitochondrial DNA would not be available.


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Chromosomes and Genealogy

Sometimes people ask about how chromosomes relate to genealogy. Every single one of us started with that question, right?

Are chromosomes different sizes, and does that matter? What are the mystery terms, cMs and SNPs? How does all of this intersect with genealogy? Do I care?

These are all great questions, and of course, there are different ways to answer. Let’s start with some basics.

Chromosomes 1-22

First, you have two copies of each of chromosomes 1-22.

The karyogram above, a photo taken through a microscope, courtesy of the National Human Genome Research Institute, shows the chromosomes of a human male. I’ve added the numbering and labeled the X and Y chromosomes (23).

You inherit one copy of each chromosome from each of your parents. You can see the two halves of each chromosome, above. One half of each chromosome is contributed by the person’s mother, and the other half is contributed by the father.

That’s why DNA matching works, and each match can be designated as “maternal” or “paternal,” depending on how your match is related to you.

Each match will be related either maternally, paternally, or sometimes, both. Of course, that’s presuming the matches are identical by descent, and not identical by chance, but that’s a different discussion. For this article, we’re referencing valid matches with whom you share common ancestors – whether you know who they are or not.

Your 23rd chromosome is different than chromosomes 1-22.

Chromosome 23 Determines a Child’s Sex

Your 23rd chromosome is your sex-determination chromosome and is inherited differently.

You still inherit one copy of chromosome 23 from each parent.

  • Males inherit a Y chromosome from their father, which is what makes males male.
  • Males inherit an X chromosome from their mother.
  • Females inherit an X chromosome from both parents, which makes them female.
Chromosome 23 Father Contributes Mother Contributes
Male Child Y chromosome X chromosome
Female Child X chromosome X chromosome

Because males don’t inherit an X chromosome from their father, X chromosome matching for genealogy has a unique and specific pattern of descent which allows testers to immediately eliminate some potential common ancestors.

The Y chromosome can be tested separately for males and follows the direct paternal line. You can read about the 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy, here.

The X chromosome is quite useful for genealogy due to its unique inheritance path and is included by both FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe in matching.

Picture This

Three of the four major vendors, plus GEDmatch, provide a visual match depiction of your chromosomes using a chromosome browser:

Unfortunately, Ancestry does not provide a chromosome browser or segment location information.

Using your chromosomes as the canvas, matches to your father and mother are shown using the chromosome browser at FamilyTreeDNA, below.

You can see that a tester matches both parents on the entire covered region of all of their chromosomes. The beginning and the end tips of each chromosome sometimes aren’t covered, and neither are some other regions that are very SNP-location-poor. Omitted regions are shown by hashes. Regions that are light grey, but not hashed, are covered, but the match’s test didn’t produce results in that region.

This is why you may have a slightly different size match with one parent versus the other, especially if they both didn’t test at the same vendor at the same time.

The chromosome browser graphic visually answers the chromosome size question, but there’s more to this answer. It’s easy to see that there’s a significant difference in the physical chromosome size, but there’s more to the story.

SNPs – Chromosome Street Addresses

SNPs, known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, are mutations recorded at specific addresses on chromosomes. Each chromosome holds a specific number of addresses that are read during sequencing and used for match comparison.

All of your other matches that are not parent-child and not your identical twin will match on some subset of these locations.

The Rest of the Answer – Centimorgans and SNPs

Centimorgans (cMs) are units of recombination used to measure genetic distance. You can read a scientific definition here.

For our conceptual purposes, think of centimorgans as lines on a football field. They represent distance on the chromosome.

SNPs are locations that are compared between two people to see if a match occurs.

Think of SNPs as addresses for blades of grass on that football field where an expected value occurs. If values at that address are different, then they don’t match. If values are the same, then they do match. For autosomal DNA matching, we look for long runs of SNPs that match between two people to confirm a common ancestor.

Think of SNPs as blades of grass growing between the lines on the football field. In some areas, especially in my yard, there will be many fewer blades of grass between those lines than there would be on either a well-maintained football field, or maybe a manicured golf course. You can think of the lighter green bands as sparse growth and the darker green bands as dense growth.

If the distance between 2 lines on the football field is 8 cM, for example, and there are 700 blades of grass growing there, you’ll be a match to another person if (almost) all of your blades of grass between those 2 lines match, assuming the match threshold is minimally 8 cM and 700 SNPs.

For purposes of autosomal DNA, the combination of centimorgans (distance,) and the number of SNPs (locations) within that distance measurement determines if someone is considered a match to you. In other words, you’re listed as a match if the shared DNA is over the minimum or selected thresholds. Think of track and field hurdles. To get to the end (a match), you have to get over all of the hurdles!

For example, a threshold of 8 cM and 700 SNPs means that anyone who matches you equal to or greater than both of these cumulative thresholds will be displayed as a match. Centimorgans and SNPs work in tandem to ensure valid matches.

A Second Yardstick

So, the second measure of chromosome size is the number of cMs from the beginning to the end of the chromosome, and the number of SNPs on that chromosome.

Different vendors, and different DNA testing chips cover slightly different regions. This is my match with my mother, which shows:

  • Total matching cMs on each chromosome
  • Total matching SNPs on each chromosome
  • SNP Density, which is a calculation (cM/SNPs) showing how “thick” the SNP grass is on each chromosome

The higher the matching number of cMs, especially in a row (longest segment,) the higher quality the match, and the closer the relationship.

Note that endogamous, or intermarried populations, may need separate interpretations. I discussed the signs of endogamy in this article.

Calculating Matches

Some vendors provide the ability to select your match cM and SNP thresholds, and others make those selections for you. Most vendors no longer display the number of matching SNPs, given that SNP-poor regions are, for the most part, automatically eliminated, although you can view them in your matching segment download file. In other words, the vendors simply take care of this for you. The accepted rule of thumb has always been that 500 (some said 700) or fewer SNPs was too small to be genealogically relevant, regardless of the cM match size.

Vendors include numerous and varying factors in determining match quality and potential relationships, including:

  • Total shared DNA, meaning total matching cM
  • Longest shared, meaning contiguously matching DNA block
  • X matching
  • Sex of tester (especially with respect to X matching)
  • Endogamy flags
  • Half versus fully identical DNA regions (to positively identify relationships such as half vs full siblings)
  • Triangulated segments
  • Family Matching (maternal and paternal bucketing) at FamilyTreeDNA
  • Tree matching

Not all vendors include all factors, and each vendor utilizes proprietary algorithms for features like triangulation.

The question isn’t chromosome size or even match size alone, but the quality of the match plus additive genealogical features like Theories of Family Relativity at MyHeritage to identify common and even previously unknown ancestors.

Be sure to test at the primary vendors or upload for free to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch to receive as many matches as possible. You just never know where that match you really need is hiding!



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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.

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Hugh Benson (c1650-1687) and Wife, Catherine; Landowners in Leonard’s Town – 52 Ancestors #384

Let’s begin this journey by disproving Hugh Benson’s birth.

He might have been the Hugh Benson born on September 5, 1653 to William Benson in Yorkshire. The timeframe fits, and so does the location for Catholics.

Transcribed; “Hugh Benson, sone to Wm. Benson, the 4 of September.” The year, “53” is recorded at right.

This record is attached to many trees, but it’s incorrect. How do we know that?

Further digging in this church’s records reveals that this child, Hugh Benson, was buried on November 7, 1653, so this is NOT our Hugh Benson unless he came back to life.

And no, there were not multiple Hugh Bensons born to William Benson in this same church, at least not that are indexed.

This is a reminder about getting excited and failing to check further. A name and place does not a match make, no matter how much we want that to be the case. I ws very disappointed, to put it mildly.

There are other Hugh Bensons born about this time in England, but we don’t know which one, if any of those, is ours.


The first record we can attribute to our Hugh Benson is his arrival in Maryland which would have taken between two and four months onboard a ship, assuming nothing went wrong.

We know Hugh Benson was transported into the colony of Maryland on February 16, 1671 by Thomas Notley. He was apparently one of 53 “adventurers” and was free by 1682. The fact that Notley describes them as “adventurers” tells us that they weren’t convicts, political prisoners, petty thieves, or perhaps even common indentured servants. Researcher Kent Walker believes that this shipload of men were handpicked by the Catholic gentry because they were known and trusted.

Many ships arrived at St. Clement’s Island at the entrance of St. Clement’s Bay, as did the first settlers in 1634. Blackistone Lighthouse marks the location, along with a cross, today marks the location in the St. Clement’s Island State Park.

While we don’t know the name of the ship that transported Hugh, the St. Mary’s Historic District created a full-sized working replica of the Dove, above, the smaller of two ships that arrived in March of 1634 with settlers, Jesuit missionaries, and indentured servants to establish what would become Maryland. The Calvert family was fulfilling their dream of establishing a safe haven for Catholics who were persecuted in England beginning in the mid-1500s during the rule of Henry VIII. Life as a Catholic became increasingly dangerous in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The larger ships looked something like this replica in Amsterdam

Confined on these ships for weeks, mostly below deck, sleeping like cordwood in rows of hammocks, passengers would have been anything but comfortable. I tried a hammock, and not only could I not get in, I barely got out. Let’s just say there was a lot of laughter.

I’m not even going to mention personal hygiene on these ships, because there wasn’t any.

If you were lucky, the water wasn’t contaminated, lasted the length of the voyage, and the food didn’t rot or become spoiled on the way.

Danger loomed everyplace.

The ships, the masts, something going wrong, weather, dysentery, typhoid, falling or being washed overboard, not to mention issues like chronic seasickness.

One had to really, REALLY want to make this journey, or maybe have no choice in the matter.

Some died, some traveled once and never again, but others make a life on the sea.

Thomas Notley, the man who transported Hugh Benson, was a Catholic planter, merchant, and attorney in St. Mary’s County. He was active as a Burgess beginning not long after his arrival in 1662. He lived in St. Clements Hundred, and in St. Mary’s City.

In 1663, Notley purchased 500 acres from Thomas Gerrard and then added another 1800 acres. He built Notley Hall, a manor about 2-3 miles south of what is today, Maddox, Maryland. This may well have been where Hugh Benson spent at least part, if not all of his indenture.

The archives of Maryland report that their council meetings on August 6, 1676 and January 1678 were held at Manahowick’s Neck, meaning Notley’s Manor. Hugh was likely there in 1676, as indentured servants weren’t generally freed for 7 years. During a full council meeting, Notley probably had all of his servants and enslaved people at the location where many people were gathered. Notley would have needed prodigious amounts of food, lodging, and personal services for his many guests.

You can get an idea of what this area looked like by viewing the photos from the Lower Notley Hall Farm event facility, here.

Notley died testate in 1679, with no children. In his estate, he had “11 male slaves, 8 female slaves, 2 male servants, 1 female servant, 10 undetermined slaves, 5 undetermined servants.”

Hugh Benson may have been one of those servants, depending on the length of time he had to serve for his transportation. The normal length of indentured servitude was 7 years, so he might have been freed in 1678. The length of time could have been more or less depending on the contract or specific circumstances.

Dr. Carr summarized her findings about Hugh in her work and reflects that Hugh was free by 1682.

What’s somewhat confusing is Hugh’s marriage and wife, Catherine, whose birth surname is unknown.

It wasn’t common practice for indentured men to marry before arrival. Indentured people generally weren’t allowed to marry during their servitude, either.

However, we know that Hugh had at least two children with his wife, Catherine, before his death in 1687.

Mary Benson was born to Hugh Benson and Catherine sometime after his 1671 immigration, probably between 1673 and 1680, in St. Clement’s Hundred.

It’s thanks to records relating to that daughter, Mary, that we know as much about Hugh Benson as we do.

St. Clement’s Hundred was defined as St. Clements Island and 5 miles into the mainland. St. Clements is where Thomas Notley lived as well as the colonial capital at St. Mary’s City.

This inset from a 1685 map shows the Pamunkey Indian land, Portabaco, Clements Bay and St. Clements Island, and then St. Marys City. Zachia Swamp, spelled Zachkia and noted by its Native name of Pamgayo played a huge role in the lives of the next generation of settlers.

What was going on at that time in Maryland, based on the few existing St. Clements manorial records?

September 1670 – We prsent That the Lord of the Mannor (Thomas Gerard) hath not provided a paire of Stocks, pillory, and Cucking Stoole. Ordered that these Instrumts of Justice be provided by the next Court by a generall contribution throughout the Manor

“Instruments of Justice”

Stocks and pillories were both installed in the public square.

Stocks, as opposed to the pillory, only restrained the legs, and while seated. Stocks were used as both punishment as well as restraint while the accused was awaiting trial. Often people were sentenced to more than a day confined in the stocks, so they would have to soil themselves.

Since part of the point was humiliation, passerbys were encouraged to do whatever came to mind. Fiendish boys would often remove the shoes of the person in the stocks and tickle their feet. Trash and other objects were thrown, and whipping occurred, sometimes to the bottoms of the bare feet.

These stocks remain in Belstone in Dartmoor, England, as a historical marker. Notice that there is no backrest.

A pillory restrains the hands and head while the victim is standing.

Here’s me in a replica pillory in Williamsburg.

Traditional pillories were often elevated on a platform for spectator sport and designed as a torture device. I couldn’t find any historical images that weren’t nauseating and I’m not going to describe what else was done to pilloried people. Humans can be unbelievably cruel and take such perverse pleasure in inflicting cruelty upon others, and watching. I’m amazed what crowds can be convinced to go along with sometimes.

I might be smiling in this photo, but trust me, no one who was there for more than about 5 minutes would have been smiling. If you relaxed your legs, you effectively hung yourself.

What offenses got you sentenced to time in the pillory in colonial America? Public intoxication, blasphemy, fortune telling, arson, and if you were enslaved, escaping or attempting to. The pillory was also a method of disabling someone while others abused, tortured, or murdered, them.

The third “instrument of justice,” the cuckolding stool was used to dunk offenders, primarily women, who were deemed disorderly or “too scoldy,” as indicated by this 1615 ballad:

Then was the Scold herself,
In a wheelbarrow brought,
Stripped naked to the smock,
As in that case she ought:
Neats tongues about her neck
Were hung in open show;
And thus unto the cucking stool
This famous scold did go.

Sadly, many women were immersed for so long that they drown. And yes, people watched for sport.

Eventually, dunking, with or without benefit of a chair, was a test for witchcraft. If you didn’t drown, you were deemed to be in league with the devil, and you were then killed. If you’re thinking to yourself that there was no “win” here, you’d be exactly right.

Yes, unfortunately, there were witchcraft trials in Maryland. Moll Dyer, who died about 1697, was reportedly chased from her home by local townspeople in the winter of 1697 in Leonard’s Town, Maryland, after being accused of witchcraft. It’s thought that Moll was actually a healer, but a flu epidemic during the winter of 1697 led to her being an easy mark for people looking for a scapegoat.

Moll was found a few days later, dead, frozen to a stone, now named the Moll Dyer’s rock. The rock was rediscovered and transported to the courthouse square several years ago.

You could be a Catholic in Maryland, but don’t even think about being a healer or, Heaven forbid, being “scoldy” or talking back to your husband. So, I wonder if scolding people for not going to church was acceptable. And what about scoldy men?

I think if I lived in early Maryland, I might just get dunked for even asking those questions out loud.

Everyday Life

Reading the transcribed documents in the Maryland archives is quite interesting, not just for witches, but to understand the drumbeat of everyday life.

For example, an October 28, 1672 list of residents, leaseholders, and freeholders shows within St. Clement’s Manor shows Thomas Notley, but not Hugh Benson, which of course, means that Hugh was a servant.

Citizens were mentioned or reprimanded for a variety of offenses in St. Clement’s Hundred, including

  • keeping a tippling house
  • a man’s dogs injuring another man’s hogs
  • creating an affray and shedding blood
  • annoying another by keeping hogs, a mare and foal
  • selling drink without a license at unlawful rates
  • reporting a stray horse
  • not showing up for court
  • unlawfully cutting timber
  • killing a hogg but not sharing with the “lord of the manor”

The next peek we get into the life of Hugh Benson is in 1682, nearly a dozen years after his arrival, when his unnamed daughter is mentioned in the will of Collins Mackenzie.

The Maryland Calendar of wills provides us with this tantalizing tidbit.

Who was Collins Mackenzie, and why did he leave something to the unnamed daughter of Hugh Benson? That daughter had to be quite young. Is there a relationship with either Hugh or his wife, Catherine?

Whatever he left Benson’s daughter had to be tangible, because in Collin’s estate payments, nothing was paid to either Benson or Trench, which, it turns out, was actually James French who was also transported by Notley and indentured to Luke Gardiner on St. Clement’s Island.

There’s Richard Gardner, spelled elsewhere as Gardiner, again.

Because Mackenzie didn’t name a daughter, this also suggests that Hugh Benson only had one daughter, but since it was a nuncupative (spoken) will, he could simply have been very ill and near death.

If that unnamed daughter is Mary Benson, and we have to assume it is, she married Bowling Speake (of Charles County, MD) sometime in the early 1790s and they purchased land from the Gardiner family. How are these families interlaced?

According to a 1741 lawsuit, Richard Gardiner sold land to Hugh Benson of St. Mary’s County, MD, sometime after 1681.

Your Committee further find that the said Richard Crackborne by his Deed bearing date the 17th day of November 1681 did Bargain and Sell the said Tract of Land to Richard Gardiner of Saint Marys County in Fee Your Committee also find that Richard Gardiner and Elizabeth his Wife of St. Marys County aforesaid did Convey to Hugh Benson of the same County Planter 100 Acres Part of the said Tract in Fee [p. 273]

The following paragraph states the location.

Your Committee likewise find that Mary Speake is the reputed Daughter and Heiress at Law of Hugh Benson and that she intermarried (as it is said) with Bowling Speak of Charles County and that the said Bowling Speak and the said Mary his Wife, by their deed Bearing date the 31st of March 1739 did Convey the said Parcell of Land unto the Petitioner Thomas [Spalding] in Fee All which deeds appear to Your Committee to be duly Executed Your Committee further find by the Information of W James Swann a Member of your House that the Land called Crackbornes Purchase mentioned by the Petitioners to be Granted is of greater Value than that Part of the Land the Petitioners pray to be enabled to dispose of called Seamour Town or known by the name of Leonards Town.

Leonard’s Town, now Leonardtown, was part way between Notley Hall and St Mary’s City, so located just about perfectly. Given that Hugh Benson was Thomas Notley’s servant, he probably traveled this route many times between Notley Hall, the docks at Colton’s Point at St. Clement, and St. Mary’s City on behalf of his master. That path runs right through the center of Leondard’s Town. Perhaps Hugh spent the night there on his journey which would have been too distant for one day.

Leonardtown remains small, with quite a bit of land remaining undeveloped.

Leonardtown is charming and quaint today, with its old jail, now serving as a museum and visitor center still standing beside the courthouse. The original jail was apparently across the street.

The cannon in the garden outside is from the original ship, the Ark, one of two that transported the first settlers to Maryland in 1634.

The early bayside settlements like Leonard’s Town were ports, with towns established dockside to enable loading, unloading, and transacting business.

Hugh Benson was a planter, meaning a farmer in the vernacular of the day.

By Sarah Stierch – Flickr: St. Mary’s City, Maryland, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13157964

Historical St. Mary’s City has reconstructed a typical 17th-century planter’s house based on their findings in more than 200 archaeological digs. The home of Hugh and his family probably looked very much like this, with an outside kitchen.

Or, if Hugh was a little more well-do-do, perhaps he built a home with fireplaces, 4 rooms, and two partial stories like 1700s-era St. Mary’s Manor West.

Or, maybe their home looked more like Resurrection Manor, built as early as 1660, but now demolished. Library of Congress photos, here.

This internal photo was taken after Resurrection Manor had survived for nearly 300 years. Fireplaces heated homes which were quite small by comparison to today’s structures. Many, if not most, residences had outside kitchens, but Katherine may have cooked in a fireplace like this, with a grate, cauldron and pothooks, especially in the winter.

By Kathleen Tyler Conklin – Flickr: Leonard Calvert in the State House, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32277068

A period actor playing the role of Leonard Calvert at the colonial statehouse in St. Mary’s City gives us a glimpse into how the people Hugh interacted with would have dressed.

Hugh, of course, was probably dressed in much less opulent attire.

When in St. Mary’s on business for or with Thomas Notley, Hugh may well have worshipped in the Catholic Church built in 1667, reconstructed today.

The original settlers purchased land from the Piscataway Indians with whom they lived and traded peacefully for many years. The Indians befriended and helped the early colonists, being eager to learn more about their advanced methods and metal tools, like guns which made hunting much easier.

I found listings for three Testamentary Proceedings involving Hugh Benson although I have not examined the folios:

  • 1682 – St. Mary’s Liber 12B, folio 309
  • 1687 – St. Mary’s Liber 13, folio 514 (his estate filed)
  • 1687 – St. Mary’s Liber 14, folio 43

Hugh Benson died in 1687 as a relatively young man, under 40, and probably suddenly, given that he had no will. What happened? Was there an accident?

On August 19, 1687, Katherine renounced administration of his estate to Richard Gardiner, who died not long thereafter in England. Gardiner was a fellow Catholic and Burgess.

In Gardiner’s estate proceedings, payment for a debt was received from Hugh Benson. Of course, that could have been an old debt, or given that the settlement was in 1696, that Hugh Benson could have been Hugh’s son.

The second to last mention of Hugh Benson was in 1694, although it could have been retrospectively:

Act for payment and assessing the publick charges of this province Acts of 1694 ch 32: Tobacco is paid: to Hugh Benson two hundred and Seaventy

There is a Hugh Benson who died in Stafford County, VA, unmarried, in November of 1699. There appear to be two Hugh Bensons in Stafford County during this time, as one was noted as a runaway from the service of John Doxsey in 1702.

Hugh Benson leaves us with several mysteries.

Katherine, then a widow, had at least one small child, Mary, to raise, and possibly more.

Katherine Remarries

Catherine or Katherine, widow of Hugh Benson, must have married Thomas Cooper, born around 1650, almost immediately after Hugh’s death. She would have been about 35 years old.

She had at least two more children with Cooper and possibly three.

Katherine was deceased 28 years later, by 1715, when Thomas Cooper made his will. She wasn’t named, and Thomas left all of his property to sons Thomas and Richard Cooper, both real and personal, jointly and equally.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?

Well, this is where things get complicated.

Who are Thomas Spalding and Catherine?

Thomas Cooper, Jr. appears to have been the oldest child. He married Mary Riley about 1712-1713, so he would probably have been born in the 1680s.

When Thomas Cooper Jr. died in 1722, he left, “To cousin — Cooper, 310 A. of “Crackbourn’s Purchase,” now owned with bro. Richard.” Also, “To dau. Katherine, personalty and all lands except dwell. plan. — during life of wife; at her decease, to pass to dau. afsd. She dying without issue, to cousin Thomas and hrs.” I think that 310acres should be 210 acres, but that’s not relevant to this discussion.

Is the Catherine married to Thomas Spalding the daughter of Thomas Cooper Jr., meaning the granddaughter of Hugh Benson’s wife, Katherine? It certainly appears so.  Note the mention, above of Crackbourn’s Purchase.

Catherine Cooper and Thomas Spalding appear to own the original 200 acres (or 210 acres) of Crackbourn’s Purchase in 1741.

By the Committee appointed to enquire into the Facts contained in the Petition of Thomas Spalding and Catherine his Wife June the 6. 1741

Your Committee find on Inspecting the Papers of the Petitioners that the Land called Crackbornes Purchase containing 200 Acres was Granted on the 24th day of October Anno Domini 1659 unto Richard Crackborne Assignee of Walter Peak and Peter Mills Assignees of Paul Simpson in Fee. Your Committee further find that the said Richard Crackborne by his Deed bearing date the 17th day of November 1681 did Bargain and Sell the said Tract of Land to Richard Gardiner of Saint Marys County in Fee Your Committee also find that Richard Gardiner and Elizabeth his Wife of St Marys County aforesaid did Convey to Hugh Benson of the same County Planter 100 Acres Part of the said Tract in Fee [p. 273] Your Committee likewise find that Mary Speake is the reputed Daughter and Heiress at Law of Hugh Benson and that she intermarried (as it is said) with Bowling Speak of Charles County and that the said Bowling Speak and the said Mary his Wife, by their deed Bearing date the 31st of March 1739 did Convey the said Parcell of Land unto the Petitioner Thomas in Fee All which deeds appear to Your Committee to be duly Executed Your Committee further find by the Information of W James Swann a Member of your House that the Land called Crackbornes Purchase mentioned by the Petitioners to be Granted is of greater Value than that Part of the Land the Petitioners pray to be enabled to dispose of called Seamour Town or known by the name of Leonards Town.

Does this suggest that Hugh’s widow, Catherine married her neighbor, Thomas Cooper, who literally lived next door on Crackborne’s Purchase? Meaning that Crackborne’s Purchase, divided at one time into two pieces, has now been reunited?

It certainly looks that way.

Catherine’s daughter Mary Benson who married Bowling Speak sold that tract of land to Catherine’s granddaughter, Katherine, through her deceased son, Thomas Cooper Jr.

Did you get that? It was a mouthful. I had to draw this out, above.

The St. Francis Xavier Cemetery

This also suggests quite strongly that Hugh Benson, Catherine, Thomas Cooper, and probably Thomas Cooper Jr. are all buried together here in the original St. Francis Xavier Cemetery on Newtowne Neck Road, where the original Catholic church was located.

Hugh Benson and Katherine’s daughter, Mary Benson, was born around 1675. Given that Hugh didn’t die until 1687, they assuredly had at least 6 more children, if not more. Those children would have been laid to rest here too, hopefully near their parents’ eternal watch.

The Chesapeake was never far away.

The cemetery is only 400 or 500 feet from the Bay, on either side, bordered by Saint Clements Bay to the left, and Breton Bay to the right. The present-day church, which, along with the restored manor house, originally dated from 1731, is about half a mile south.

The Chesapeake, her moods, her ports, estuaries, swamps and swamp-fevers shaped the lives of the immigrant, Hugh Benson and his wife, Catherine.

The brave and hearty souls who pulled up stakes and left the known for the unknown set the stage for the next many generations of descendants.

Life in Leonard’s Town

My friend, Maree found luscious details in the book, Origins of Clements-Spalding and Allied Families of Maryland and Kentucky.

In this excerpt, we verify that Thomas Spalding married Catharine Cooper, the child of Thomas Cooper, and by inference, his wife Catherine, who was the widow of Hugh Benson.

Thomas Cooper had willed his entire estate to his daughter, Catherine, named for her mother, of course.

However, Catherine Cooper wasn’t her mother’s only child or her only daughter. Mary Benson was Catherine Cooper’s half-sister, the child of Hugh Benson and Catherine. Mary Benson married Bowling Speake, and she too had to convey her portion of Crackburn’s Purchase.

Crackburn was where the mill was located, and where the town of Leonard’s Town, now Leonardtown, was laid out, which ties back to the 1739 deed where Bowling and Mary conveyed that land to Thomas Spalding, of course.

That 1741 court action literally says, “…Part of the Land the Petitioners pray to be enabled to dispose of called Seamour Town or known by the name of Leonards Town.” Mary Benson and her husband Bowling Speake had owned part of what would become Leonard’s Town, thanks to her father, Hugh Benson, who obtained that land about 1681ish.

The history of Leonardtown tells us that Leonard’s Town, an important port, began in the 1650s as “Newtown” or “Newtown Hundred,” but began being called Leonard’s Town shortly thereafter in honor of Leonard Calvert.

In the early years, “court” was held in various private homes in the area, one of which was possibly Hugh Benson’s, given that he owned part of the town.

In 1708, twenty-one years after Hugh Benson died, but seven years before Catherine’s second husband, Thomas Cooper died, a designated courthouse was ordered to be established, and Leonard’s Town was renamed Seymour Town in honor of the then-current governor of Maryland. However, two decades later, in 1728, the name reverted, and Leonard’s Town became the location of official business within the colony. Unfortunately, the St. Mary’s County courthouse burned in 1831, destroying the valuable records within, which is why the paucity of records today. No deeds, no marriage records, nothing.

In 1708, the Mayor of St. Mary’s City also ordered that 50 acres of land at the head of Britton’s Bay be divided into 100 lots, including one for the courthouse. This officially became Seymour Town, then Leonardtown and appears to be, at least in part, the land occupied and mentioned in the Bowling Speake and Mary Benson Speake 1739 deed to Thomas Spalding and Catherine.

Thank goodness that transaction was referred for evaluation because otherwise, we would never have known any of this.

A walking tour of Leonardtown is available, here.

Of course, I can’t discern acreage from this map, but we can see the courthouse location in the center of town. The courthouse was supposed to be on one lot, and lots would have been about half an acre each.

The mill mentioned would have probably been located on Town Run.

Or maybe the mill was on McIntosh Run literally on the other border of Leonardtown.

A small branch runs right through the western side of Leonardtown.

McIntosh Run is where McIntosh Park is located today. I’m guessing it’s a park because it floods. With the original deeds burned in that courthouse fire, there’s no way of really knowing exactly which land Hugh Benson owned.

William Spalding’s 1741 will, he left to his son, Benedict, a tenement of land called Mill Land on which my Water Mill stands.” He also left his “Watermill” to his wife and sons with a lot of land in Leonard’s Town. Judging from this, the mill was someplace within the town limits.

It was here, someplace here, that Hugh Benson lived with Catherine. Their 100 acres was twice the size of the town, and probably somehow abutted it, including part of the town itself.

Given that Hugh was noted as being from St. Clements, I suspect that his land might have been between Breton Bay, meaning Leonardtown, and Saint Clements Bay. We know they attended church just north of Newtowne Neck State Park.

It looks like present-day Maryland 243, Newtowne Neck Road, was the road out of Leonardtown, white, bordered in red above, to the west, so let’s take a drive. It’s 3 miles to Compton and 5 miles to the end of the road.

At one point, just outside town, the road runs right alongside McIntosh Run and crosses a branch.

Most of this area remains heavily treed, swampy, or both, but Society Hill Road splits off of Newtowne Road about halfway to Compton, and you can see the Bay from the end of the road there.

Hugh and Katherine would have glimpsed the bay every time they traveled this road to church.

Higher, farmable land is polka-dotted along the way, carved out of the woodlands.

Generally, the road, in the center of the peninsula, or “neck” as it’s called in the local vernacular, is the highest elevation.

It’s clear why the economy here was focused on trade and ports, not agriculture except for occasional corn fields, a rare orchard, and interspersed patches of tobacco. Animals, mostly hogs, grazed freely in the woodlands.

No matter where you were, the saltwater bay was never far away.

Fresh, non-brackish water had to be at a premium. Settlers needed to be far enough inland to live on a freshwater stream, and not in a swamp, but still close to the port.

There were probably few good options, and the best locations would have been snatched up first by the wealthy proprietors. It’s no wonder that mortality was so high. Yet, this was the land of opportunity, better than the oppression in England if you were Catholic or another “non-conformist” religion.

The Remaining Questions

Of course, there are many questions that remain, but a few stand out.

  • Did Hugh and Catherine Benson have two children, Mary and Hugh? Is the Hugh Benson mentioned in 1694 and 1696 their son, Hugh? If so, he would have had to have been born before 1673, which is just after Hugh Benson immigrated and while he was still an indentured servant.

That’s possible, especially if he arrived married, but it’s unlikely. Is there more to this story?

  • Are either of the two Hugh Bensons in Virginia the son of Hugh and Catherine? If so, what happened to that child’s land holding given that Hugh died intestate? Why wasn’t a guardian appointed for the child or children? Or did those records burn in the 1831 fire? Was his land relinquished before or when/if he died in Virginia?
  • Did Catherine have more than one surviving child with Thomas Cooper?
  • According to Thomas Cooper’s will, he had two sons, Thomas Cooper (Jr.) and Richard Cooper. Was Richard also the son of Catherine, or was Thomas married previously? I don’t see anything to indicate that Thomas Cooper Sr. had a previous marriage.

Dr. Carr estimates Richard Cooper’s birth at 1693.

  • Did Catherine, Hugh Benson’s widow, and Thomas Cooper have a third child, a daughter named Elizabeth who married James Wheatley? If so, it appears that Wheatley died relatively young and they had no children, unless Elizabeth remarried and disappeared from the records.

If Elizabeth Cooper who married James Wheatley was Katherine’s daughter, are there any descendants living today through all females to the current generation, which can be male? Those living people carry Catherine’s mitochondrial DNA. If that’s you, please reach out. I have a free DNA testing scholarship for you.

If you have answers, any information, or descend from Elizabeth Cooper and James Wheatley, I’d certainly love to hear from you!

Oh yes, and there’s one last burning question. Who was Catherine, wife of Hugh Benson and Thomas Cooper?


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Seats at the Table

It’s been a year. What a year.

Three years actually.

First, I hope you’re able to gather with family this Thanksgiving, and if not, I hope it’s by your choice.

For the past two holiday seasons, many families didn’t gather. Some did and paid a horrific price.

My immediate family didn’t gather, but groups of my more distant family did, and not everyone survived.

Aside from Covid, a word I shudder to even utter, time took its toll too.

So has the increasing hatefulness and vitrol at play in the US, and perhaps in other places too, which has irrecoverably fractured families.

Additionally, lots of people moved. I’ve actually been shocked how many, especially given that we spent months in the grip of pandemic that killed 6.6 million worldwide and over a million in the US, disabling millions more. Moving was difficult and more challenging than ever given the circumstances – yet more than 15 million households moved in the US alone according to address forwarding orders submitted to the USPS.

On the flip side, home office freed up many people who would not have previously been able to relocate.

Just looking at a handful of my colleagues, of a group of 6 people who work together regularly, four people moved, three across the country, and one person moved across the country twice.


Thanksgiving and holidays have changed for many, and maybe most, families.

Those who’ve moved will need to create new traditions and memories in new surroundings.

No more “over the river and through the woods,” because either grandma doesn’t live there anymore, or many of those chairs at that table are now empty.

There are four forever-empty chairs at my table, and yes, it has been a struggle – and that’s an understatement. If you’re struggling with this situation, regardless of why those places are vacant, let me share some thoughts and suggestions that might help. I welcome yours as well.

  • We can’t go back in time.
  • Enjoy and cherish the current moments, because they will be memories as soon as they are over.
  • Family is who we make it.
  • Empty chairs cause tears because the people who filled them enriched our lives. We were fortunate to have had them for however long.
  • Having loved deeply means grieving equally as deeply.
  • Grief is part of life. (Yea, that sucks!)
  • If your chairs are empty because of betrayal or divisiveness, understand that death occurs in many ways.
  • Anger is part of grief. It’s OK.
  • Time helps.

Sometimes when you’re in so much pain, it’s really difficult to do big things, or anything, so here are some tiny first steps.

“At Least…”

If you’re struggling to be grateful, try flipping that equation and begin a few statements with “At least…”.

  • I don’t have cancer.
  • I’m not disabled.
  • I don’t live in Ukraine.
  • My power isn’t out.
  • I don’t have 3 feet of snow.

What are you glad that you aren’t? With a little creativity, this could really make you laugh.

“At least I don’t have green ink on my face anymore.”

Your turn!

For a touch of humor, let your phone autofill the words after “At least.”

It’s the Little Things

Sometimes little things make such a big difference.

  • Someone helped me lift a heavy thing.
  • I love my cat/dog so much.
  • That baby at the store smiled at me and melted my heart.
  • My family member, even though they aren’t here, is healthy and happy wherever they are on life’s adventure.
  • I really enjoy watching the birds at the feeder (or fill in the blank.)
  • I’m looking forward to…
  • That sunset (or…) is really beautiful.
  • I love <favorite musician> singing <favorite song>

Might be a good time to queue up a few YouTube videos and songs and really listen to the lyrics, or simply close your eyes and cherish soothing voices. Maybe have a good cry, but not tears without end. You are not alone.

Let me repeat that.

You are not alone.

Peach Pie

Empty chairs are difficult and painful anytime, especially those “remembrance” days and holidays when the people who once sat there aren’t physically present. Past memories are a mixed blessing.

So wonderful that we have those memories. So heartbreaking at the same time. Sometimes we grieve lost possibilities and potential too – a future that never happened.

Other times, those memories transport their spirits to our heart and they slip in through the darkness.

Sometimes just looking at a peach pie near Thanksgiving makes me cry. But it also makes me laugh remembering Mom’s peach pie antics.

Mom loved peach pie. She became so frail in her last years that she really couldn’t handle days worth of prep for Thanksgiving, although she still desperately wanted to. We found a smorgasbord restaurant that served a wonderful Thanksgiving meal and created a “new” tradition, even though it wasn’t to last long.

On that final Thanksgiving, although of course we didn’t know it was, we arrived at our reservation time.

They seated us at a lovely table with a white tablecloth, set in a traditional, festive way. Mom spied the dessert table. Others of the family headed for the hot food line, but not Mom. Nope, Mom headed directly for dessert.

Hey, when you’re in your 80s, you can eat dessert first.

My brother asked her if she wanted “food’? She slipped right past him and made a beeline for the dessert table. Why waste time on anything else??!

Mom loved desserts, but especially chocolate and peach pie. We took this picture a month later during our last Christmas celebration together.

That Thanksgiving dessert table was full of luscious treats, all served and ready on individual plates, but there were only two slices of peach pie left.

Mom found both of them, retrieved them like buried treasure, and began making her way back through the maze of tables and people, carrying one plate in each hand.

Jim was afraid she’d fall, as she wasn’t terribly steady, so he had gone along to “assist” this tiny but mighty woman who wanted nothing to do with assistance. He tried to carry one of those plates with pie, but she was having none of that.

She sat back down at the table as everyone else arrived with plates piled high with Thanksgiving goodness. Not Mom. She had scored two pieces of peach pie and was happy as a clam with her trophies, beaming like a Cheshire cat.

Jim’s eyes started twinkling, and he reached his fork out to take a bite of the end of Mom’s peach pie.

She threatened to stab him, playfully, with her fork, and exclaimed in her shaky voice, “Don’t you dare.”

We all laughed. I don’t remember if she ever did eat any turkey, but I surely do remember laughing together and the peach pie.

And yes, she did eat both pieces.

Today, Jim and I shared that story with two unsuspecting “victims” who visited to help with something at the house. We all wound up sitting around the table together, eating peach pie, using Mom’s silverware, and laughing out loud. Those chairs weren’t vacant anymore. They were filled with smiles and laughter, seeded by Mom all these years later. Yes, she was with us.

You know, it’s hard to laugh and cry at the same time.

Trust me, we all really needed that. There are empty chairs at all of our tables this year.

I hope you can find a way to fill your heart, maybe around those tears.

Coping Strategies

Let me share with you what I’m doing this week.

  • The father of a local family that I met a few months ago has experienced a devastating medical issue. We made food because they can’t be visiting the hospital and preparing food at the same time. They are already in a difficult situation from an accident not even two years ago. I can help them, and I am.
  • We invited someone to join us who has recently moved and has no local family. I think we’re adding to the family, actually.
  • Instead of cooking in a house that’s, ummm, a disaster right now (don’t ask), we are supporting a local business by purchasing a “heat it up” Thanksgiving turkey meal.
  • We are choosing to make “lemonade” out of the situation by having a picnic with paper plates on a folding table, maybe outside. Also, did I mention peach pie?
  • I am working with someone to help with their fragile family member.
  • I assisted a cousin with a thorny genealogy challenge. Quick and easy for me but made a huge difference to them.
  • I submitted a friend’s photos to the new MyHeritage AI tool. They love them and it made them smile. Not just because the photos were wonderful, but because someone cared.

The theme here is that we feel better when we do things for others. It’s not about what “I’m” doing, it’s about doing something beneficial.

There was an old parable growing up on the farm about what to do when things are really crummy, and you’re feeling really sorry for yourself. Dad was not having that. Go over to the other side of the tracks, he said, where they have less than you do, and do something for someone over there. You’ll feel better for a multitude of reasons.

What Can You Do?

I can think of a few ideas, but I’m sure you can think of more.

  • What about a food bank or soup kitchen?
  • Maybe clean out a closet and donate to a shelter. That’s win-win.
  • Volunteer your time at a local animal shelter or rescue facility. They often need in-home fosters too.
  • Find a way to help someone feel valued or safe.
  • Visit people at nursing homes, specifically those with no family. Dementia patients may not realize you’re not family. To them, their family came to visit, and they will be overjoyed. (I view this as paying it forward or maybe karmic insurance.)

I’m Grateful For…

Looking past the immediate challenges and taking my focus off of empty chairs, I am so incredibly grateful for:

  • Special friends who help me by digging into really difficult challenges.
  • My sisters-of-heart who are always there. When blood family has walked away, they haven’t.
  • My quilt-sisters.
  • My wonderful “adopted” family around the world. You know who you are and every one of you is smiling now😊
  • My cousins who have become my family of choice.
  • My friends who have joined me, or maybe I joined them, side by side, proverbially walking together for awhile on our journeys.
  • Seeing a smile on the face of someone who hasn’t seen me for awhile.
  • Seeing someone I haven’t seen for awhile. (I can’t wait for RootsTech.)
  • Hugs, and people to hug.
  • Feeling joy and laughter.
  • For those who reach out and have reached out to help me so that I can, in turn, help others too.
  • Those who kicked my butt and told me I could. (I might not have been, ahem (clears throat), appropriately grateful in the moment.)

Love is Infinite 

While those chairs will never be filled with the same people again, they don’t have to remain empty either. Neither do our hearts.

You see, those chairs aren’t empty, they’re musical – filled by a continuum of love, from the past into the future.

Beings will fill those voids, and love will envelope you, wherever you are in your life’s journey. They are not gone, they are just a different, transformational, form of energy, and you are the sacred steward.

Happy Thanksgiving

DNA Black Friday is Here

Yes, I know it’s not Friday yet, but the DNA Black Friday sales have started, and sale dates are limited, so here we go.

These are the best prices I’ve ever seen at both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage. If you’ve been waiting to purchase a DNA test for that special someone, there’s never been a better time.

Remember, to jump-start your genetic genealogy, test close or targeted relatives in addition to yourself:

  • Parents, or if both parents are not available, full and half-siblings
  • If neither parents nor siblings are available, your siblings’ descendants
  • Grandparents or descendants of your grandparents – aunts, uncles, or their descendants
  • Cousins descended from great-grandparents or other known ancestors
  • Y and mitochondrial DNA descendants of specific, targeted ancestors

For yourself, you’ll want to fish in all the ponds by taking an autosomal test or uploading a DNA file to each of the four vendors. Upload/download instructions are available here.

Everyone can test their own mitochondrial DNA to learn about your mother’s direct matrilineal line, and males can test their Y-DNA to unveil information about their patrilineal or surname line. Women, you can test your father’s, brother’s, or paternal uncle’s Y-DNA.

I’ve written a DNA explainer article, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy, which you might find helpful. Please feel free to pass it on.

Vendor Offerings


Free shipping within the US for orders of $79 or more

FamilyTreeDNA is the only major testing company that offers multiple types of tests, meaning Y-DNA, mitochondrial and autosomal. You can also get your toes wet with introductory level tests for Y DNA (37 and 111 marker tests), or you can go for the big gun right away with the Big Y-700.

This means that if you’ve purchased tests in the past, you can upgrade now. Upgrade pricing is shown below. Click here to sign on to your account to purchase an upgrade or additional product.

At FamilyTreeDNA, by taking advantage of autosomal plus Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, you will get to know your ancestors in ways not possible elsewhere. You can even identify or track them using your myOrigins painted ethnicity segments.

FamilyTreeDNA divides your Family Finder matches maternal and paternally for you if you create or upload a tree and link known testers. How cool is this?!!!


The MyHeritage DNA test is on sale for $36, the best autosomal test price I’ve ever seen anyplace.

MyHeritage has a significant European presence and I find European matches at MyHeritage that aren’t anyplace else. MyHeritage utilizes user trees and DNA matches to construct Theories of Family Relativity that shows how you and your matches may be related.

Remember, you can upload the raw data file from the MyHeritage DNA test to both FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch for free.

Free shipping on 2 kits or more.

This sale ends at the end-of-day on Black Friday.

You can combine your DNA test with a MyHeritage records subscription with a free trial, here.


The AncestryDNA test is $59, here. With Ancestry’s super-size DNA database, you’re sure to get lots of matches and hints via ThruLines.

You can get free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

If you order an AncestryDNA test, you can upload the raw DNA file to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GEDmatch for free. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not accept uploads from other vendors.


The 23andMe Ancestry + Traits DNA test is $79, here. 23andMe is well known for its Ancestry Composition (ethnicity) results and one-of-a-kind genetic tree.

The 23andMe Ancestry + Traits + Health test is now $99, here.

You can get free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

If you order either of the 23andMe tests, you can upload the raw data file to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch for free. Unfortunately, 23andMe does not accept uploads from other vendors.

Can’t Wait!!

This is always my favorite time of the year because I know that beginning soon, we will all be receiving lots of new matches from people who purchased or received DNA tests during the holiday season.

  • What can you do to enhance your genealogy?
  • Have you ordered Y and mitochondrial DNA tests for yourself and people who carry the Y and mitochondrial DNA of your ancestors?
  • Are you in all of the autosomal databases?
  • Who are you ordering tests for?


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Thank you so much.

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Mary Benson (c1675–c1758) Heiress of Crackbornes Purchase in Leonard’s Town – 52 Ancestors #383

Mary Benson was born to Hugh Benson sometime after his 1671 immigration, probably between 1673 and 1678 in St. Clements’s Hundred. Her mother’s name was Catherine.

St. Clement’s Hundred was defined as St. Clements Island and 5 miles into the mainland of present-day Maryland.

Mary was married to Bowling Speake sometime before March 31, 1739, when they conveyed land that she inherited from her father to Thomas Spalding.

Bowling Speak was born in 1674, so it’s likely that Mary was born around the same time. She would have been about 65 years old in 1739.

Were it not for that deed, we would have no link to the identity of Mary’s father.

Archives of Maryland, Volume 42, Assembly Proceedings, May 26-June 22, 1741.
The Lower House. Page 212; Liber L. H. J., Page 272: (Saturday Morning June 6.
1741) By the Committee appointed to enquire into the Facts contained in the Petition of Thomas Spalding and Catherine his Wife June the 6. 1741

Your Committee find on Inspecting the Papers of the Petitioners that the Land called Crackbornes Purchase containing 200 Acres was Granted on the 24th day of October Anno Domini 1659 unto Richard Crackborne Assignee of Walter Peak and Peter Mills Assignees of Paul Simpson in Fee.

Your Committee further find that the said Richard Crackborne by his Deed bearing date the 17th day of November 1681 did Bargain and Sell the said Tract of Land to Richard Gardiner of Saint Marys County in Fee Your Committee also find that Richard Gardiner and Elizabeth his Wife of St. Marys County aforesaid did Convey to Hugh Benson of the same County Planter 100 Acres Part of the said Tract in Fee [p. 273]

Your Committee likewise find that Mary Speake is the reputed Daughter and Heiress at Law of Hugh Benson and that she intermarried (as it is said) with Bowling Speak of Charles County and that the said Bowling Speak and the said Mary his Wife, by their deed Bearing date the 31st of March 1739 did Convey the said Parcell of Land unto the Petitioner Thomas in Fee All which deeds appear to Your Committee to be duly Executed Your Committee further find by the Information of W James Swann a Member of your House that the Land called Crackbornes Purchase mentioned by the Petitioners to be Granted is of greater Value than that Part of the Land the Petitioners pray to be enabled to dispose of called Seamour Town or known by the name of Leonards Town
All which is humbly Submitted to the Consideration of the House
Signed p Order Richard Dorsey Q Com.

On page 252, Crackburns is mentioned again.

And Whereas the Land also lying at the Head of Britains Bay in Saint Marys County called Crackburns Purchase Containing One hundred Acres which he Conceived to be of much more Value than the other and is desirous the same may be settled to the same uses as the aforesaid Part of a Tract of Land…

These records tell us that this land was located at Leonard’s Town, today Leonardtown, at the head of Breton Bay, very close to, if not a part of, St. Clements.

Mary would have grown up here.

It’s possible that Mary and Bowling Speak lived at Crackborne’s Purchase, aka Leonard’s Town, after their marriage which probably occurred sometime between 1795 and 1798.

Mudd’s Rest

In 1708, Bowling and Mary purchased Mudd’s Rest from Barbara Mudd, a daughter of Thomas Mudd. Thomas’s first wife was Juliana Gardiner, daughter of Captain Richard Gardiner, who died in 1674. His second wife was Sarah Boarman. Bowling bought land in Boarman’s Manor and in Zachia Manor from Luke Gardiner, so these families were tightly intermingled. I’ve always wondered if Mary’s mother is a member of these early families but to be very clear, that’s pure speculation.

Unfortunately, early land and lease records are incomplete, and marriage records are nonexistent.

We know that Bowling and Mary had at least three children who were living when Bowling wrote his will in 1750.

Truth be told, they probably had several more children, assuming that they married about the time Mary was 20 years old, so roughly 1795. If she had her last child at age 43, and had one child every 18 months, she would have birthed approximately 15 children. If some babies died at birth, she may have had more.

While they were living in Leonard’s Town, they would have attended the original St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church established in 1661, located where the cemetery is today.

Clearly, Mary buried many children. At least some very likely rest here in tiny graves that are unmarked today, but would have been marked with small wooden crosses at the time.

After Bowling and Mary moved further north, their children were probably buried in the cemetery that became the Original St. Peter’s Cemetery on land owned by Bowling beginning in 1718.

St. Peter’s Church cemetery, then just known as the Upper Zachia chapel, was much closer to where they lived near Bryantown than St. Francis Xavier’s near Leonard’s Town.

It was 27 miles back to St. Xavier but only 6 to St. Peter’s which was then just a cabin surrounded by the cemetery that started with one burial beside the “church,” then grew. The “cabin,” perhaps someone’s home, would have been where services were held. Catholicism was illegal, so there were no official Catholic Churches, nor publicly-known services. Burials would probably have been small and quiet.

Based on the fact that Bowling and Mary purchased Mistake in 1718, where the old cemetery and the present-day church are located – Bowling and Mary’s land was the location where the early clandestine Catholic church was located. It’s also a possibility that the burials of their children were among the first in the early cemetery.

This is undoubtedly where Mary rests too, surrounded by her loved ones, buried on her son’s land.

Mudd’s Rest Location

Bowling and Mary were living in Mudd’s Rest after 1708. Where was Mudd’s Rest?

According to Mudd family researchers, they conclude that Thomas Mudd’s children were born in Port Tobacco, as was Bowling Speake, and that the land included in Mudd’s Rest was included with or near other land owned by Mudd at the southern end of Zachia Swamp, as can be seen here.

I circled this area on the map, above. You can see the southern portion of Zachia Swamp to the left.

This land driving north from Allen’s Fresh in the area where Mudd’s Rest was located is still a combination of forest, woodland, farmland, and modern-day homes. This road parallels and curves along Zachia Swamp to the west.

We don’t know when Bowling and Mary sold Mudd’s Rest, but in 1718, Bowling bought both “The Mistake,” land that would one day be inherited by his two sons, in addition to “Boarman’s Manor,” where he and Mary lived for the rest of their lives.

Boarman Manor

You can see Bowling’s Boarman land on the map above, with a closer view, below. The red pin marks the beginning of his land on Hunter’s Run.

In 1718, Bowling and Mary would have been about 44 years old. They would have had a young family – children from newborn or toddlers to maybe 20 or so. Their son, Thomas of Zachia, would have been 18 or 20 in 1718. Eventually, Thomas and his brother would inherit Mistake.

It looks like Bowling and Mary were trying to provide for their children by purchasing two tracts of land from the Gardiner family.

The Speake family was very closely allied with the Gardiners. I don’t know if that’s because of neighborly proximity, their Catholic faith coupled with the fact that the Gardiner family amassed in excess of 5000 acres of land, or if they were related through Mary’s unidentified mother.

We know almost nothing of Mary’s life on Boarman’s Manor.

Part of their land was tillable, part was forest, and part was swamp.

Archaeological excavations show that the early families interacted with the local Native people who may have lived in a village on their land.

Mary’s children would have grown up roaming the woods and learning to navigate the swamps.

The boys would have hunted and farmed, and the girls would have learned how to spin, weave, probably tend the garden, and of course, cook.

Life in Colonial Maryland

What was life like in Maryland just a few years after settlement in 1634 on St. Clement’s Island? According to the National Register of Historic Places registration for Port Tobacco:

According to contemporary descriptions, most of those lots maintained as private residences or inns and stores with living quarters above were usually fenced with paling or posts and rails for the better properties and wattle or brush fencing for others. Almost all of the lots included a small garden, a detached kitchen, a meat house and one or two smaller outbuildings. Lot sizes were a half-acre or less and a surprising number had as many as 7 or 8 buildings standing on them.

I would wager that this description of the homestead was probably similar for outlying plantations too. The more compact your buildings and homestead footprint, the more tillable land.

One building in Port Tobacco was 18X22 with a brick chimney.

One of the early homes in Port Tobacco known as Chimney House, for obvious reasons.

The largest and most opulent home was 46X34, or just over 1500 square feet. I wonder if inns were larger. Perhaps not, since men were expected to share beds with other male guests.

Within a generation, many of the original families had procured land further away. Port Tobacco was located on a swamp, stiflingly hot and humid in the summer. Waste disposal from both humans and animals was problematic due to the chronically low water table. Stagnant water is unhealthy in many ways.

It’s no wonder that when Bowling didn’t inherit his father’s land in Port Tobacco, he turned to farming. Bowling purchased Mudd’s Rest in 1708, then, described as a planter, bought Boarman’s Manor and Mistake at Zachia Manor in two separate transactions, 3-months apart, in 1718.

In 1743, when Bowling, again described as a planter, sold 250 acres of Mistake, Mary signed a release of dower.

Bowling’s 1750 Will

According to Bowling’s will, prepared in 1750, they had three living children. Bowling also remembered, by name, two grandchildren, although he and Mary unquestionably had several more:

  • Son Thomas (of Zachia) Speake to whom Bowling left part of Mistake where Thomas lived. Thomas was born about 1700 and married an unknown woman named Jane. They had 8 living children in 1755, including Edward, below.
  • Son William Speake to whom Bowling left part of Mistake with his dwelling place. William was born about 1716 and married Elizabeth Hagan, his sister’s husband’s cousin, and possibly a woman named Mary later in life. In 1779, he sold his portion of Mistake and was living in Frederick County, MD.
  • Granddaughter Ann Higdon to whom Bowling left “second choice of my beds an furniture my great chest one Dish & three plates one iron pot & Cattle and Sheep.” What we don’t know and can’t tell from this is which of Bowling’s children Ann Higdon was born to. We also don’t know what happened to Ann.
  • Daughter Mary Baggott to whom Bowling left cattle, sheep, one feather bed and furniture and one chest. Mary was born about 1710 and married John Baggott.
  • Grandson Edward Speake, son of Thomas Speak, to whom Bowling left “my Dwelling Plantation and also a small tract of land c(alled) the meadow also his first choice of the negroes and the first choice of my beds and fuz”

Men in colonial America didn’t write wills “just in case.” They wrote wills when they believed they were going to need them imminently. This tells us that Bowling was ill in 1750, and by inference, Mary was caring for him.

However, Bowling clearly recovered. In fact, so much so that in 1752, two years later, on March the first, he got himself in trouble.


Catholicism was outlawed in Maryland, and the Speake family was very clearly Catholic. We find Bowling in the court record in the Lower House of the Maryland judicial records:

The Lord Proprietary against Bowlen Speak} The said Bowlen Speak being bound by Recognizance for his Appearance here this Court, to answer of and concerning a Presentment by the Grand Jurors, for the Body of the Province of Maryland, against him found; for that he, on or about the first Day of March last, did, in a public Manner, drink the Pretenders Health, and good Success in his Proceedings; and being demanded whether he is guilty of the Premisses in the Presentment aforesaid mentioned, or not guilty, says he is guilty thereof, and submits to the Court’s Judgment thereon.

Bowling was fined 10 pounds of current money, but didn’t have it, so off to jail he went.


A historic survey of the Port Tobacco jail site identified CH-172, above, as the historic location.

The old jail was built in the 1860s on the location of an earlier jail, conveniently located behind the 1820s courthouse. In 1727, the county built a courthouse and jail on this 3-acre site adjacent Chandler’s Town that eventually became Port Tobacco.

In 1729, the county surveyor laid out the town. More than 100 lots were arranged along a grid of streets, lanes, and alleys, plus a marketplace. A number of already improved lots were incorporated, including one owned by Mary Speake, the widow of Bowling Speake’s brother, John. Mary, John’s widow, succeeded her husband as an innkeeper.

Although we don’t know exactly where the Speake Inn was located, we do know that John Speake, Bowling’s brother, was the most prosperous innkeeper in Portobacco. On May 12, 1717, for example, while establishing some specific property lines, the commissioners met at the “House of John Speake’s in Portobacco Towne” to inspect land records.

I can just see those men, in their colonial era attire of long-sleeved collared shirts, knee-breeches, long stockings, a waistcoat or vest, and black buckled shoes, wearing their powdered wigs, huddled around a table, with mugs of grog, of course, pouring over parchment papers.

Today, little remains of the original Portobacco Towne of more than 80 homes.

The red arrow points to the location of the jail, behind the courthouse.

I visited a few years ago, but I had no idea at the time that my ancestor was confined in that jail, even if it was for a relatively short time. I should have walked around back.

Today, only the courthouse and three historic homes remain of Port Tobacco.

The other homes lining the market square would probably have resembled these.

Today, the old brick courthouse functions as a museum.

The interior of the courthouse is restored in the style of a colonial courtroom. Bowling would have seen something like this, minus the contemporary people, of course.

Did Mary attend court with Bowling that fateful day? Was she watching? What about their children? Were they sitting with their mother? Women didn’t typically “attend court,” but maybe Mary did anyway.

Did Mary stare out the window at the jail with a sinking feeling as Bowling defiantly and perhaps a little too gleefully, with absolutely no remorse, pronounced that he was, indeed, guilty, and submitted to the court’s judgment thereon?

Did she know what was coming? She knew they didn’t have money to pay, and his fine wasn’t payable in tobacco. Actual coinage was required.

Was Mary frightened for her 72-year-old rather outspoken and unapologetic husband to be remanded to jail?

Were Catholics safe? What if he got into an argument? He clearly had no hesitation when it came to expressing his sentiments about what was, at that time, a highly controversial and political subject. Politics and religion, especially combined, are extremely volatile topics. A 72-year-old man wouldn’t be able to protect himself in jail.

Bowling’s friends pledged security that he would pay his fine and bailed him out, but apparently, the judge, obviously knowing Bowling, was not convinced that he would behave. His friends had to fork over 50 pounds to ensure his good behavior until the next court.

I’d wager that Mary, at home was MUCH harder on him than the judge. Maybe Bowling wished he were back in jail. Or maybe he went to Edward’s house, or Thomas’s, or William’s. Or maybe we went and cleaned the barn. At least until the next court when he had to show up with the money. How would Bowling have raised that money anyway?

Why did Bowling get into trouble?

The Pretender, of course, whose health Bowling was toasting, refers to Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” grandson of the deposed King Charles – a Catholic. The 1745 attempt of father and son to reclaim the throne from the Protestant monarchy is known as the Jacobite Rebellion. In other words, Bowling was very publicly proclaiming that he supported overthrowing the British King. Not a good idea.

Given that Bowling’s exclamation was public, and he drank to the Pretender’s health, it’s fairly obvious that he visited the local pub and maybe had a mite too much to drink. So, not only did he probably come home drunk, in his 70s, he also managed to get himself arrested, prosecuted, fined, and jailed.

Yep, I bet Bowling was in one HEAP of trouble with Mary.

I can just hear his children now, “Mom, PLEASE keep him at home!!!!”


In 1754, Bowling and Mary must have been feeling their age, and they sold part of both Boarman’s Manor and Mistake.

On July 23, 1755, Bowling was still transacting business. He sold 121 acres of land in Mistake to his son, Thomas of Zachia. Ten days later, Thomas wrote his will.

What happened?

As difficult as those early years must have been for Mary, burying three or four times as many children as survived, plus Bowling’s 1752 “indiscretion,” which landed him in “gaol,” 1755 had to have been the worst.

On September 13, two wills were probated, one following the other, on the same day. Mary had lost both Bowling and her son, Thomas of Zachia, between July 23 and early September. For all we know, they could have died within days or even hours of each other.

I can’t even begin to image the grief Mary experienced. It’s hard enough to lose a spouse, but to lose an adult child at the same time would have compounded that immeasurably. Not to mention that Mary had grieving grandchildren as well. Who would take care of them? How would they all survive?

Did William, her surviving son, build the coffins for his father and brother both? Were other people sick too? Were they buried side by side at St. Peter’s?

We know that Mary was living in both 1750 and 1755, because she is named as the executor of Bowling’s will. He described Mary as “my well-beloved wife” and left her life estate in his “dwelling plantation” and the rest of his personal estate. After that, it was to belong to their grandson, Edward Speake.

This bequeath to Edward is quite interesting. Edward was born to Thomas of Zachia about 1727. By 1750, Edward would have been in his early 20s – strong and marriage age.

In 1750, Bowling and Mary would have been in their mid-70s, quite aged for that time and place. I don’t know of course, but I’d wager that Edward was living with Bowling and Mary, or at least on their property, helping them and farming the plantation. Perhaps this bequeath was Bowling’s way of guaranteeing that there was someone nearby to help. After all, his two sons were living up on Mistake, six or seven miles distant.

I’m sure the idea was that Mary would continue to live on their home property and Edward would farm it and take care of things for Mary.

After that, it would be his.

Apparently, Edward didn’t love the farm quite as much as Bowling did.

Mary’s Death

Mary died sometime after Bowling’s estate inventory was filed, although, unfortunately, not detailed, on February 12, 1756. She probably died before June 17, 1758, when Edward sold 17 acres known as Speake’s Meadow adjoining the upper tract of Boarman’s Manor to Philip Edelen for 2000 pounds of tobacco. However, that conveyance may not be an outright sale. The Speak/e/s Family of Southern Maryland book reports that part of the original deed is missing, but it appears that Edward may have mortgaged this land, not sold it outright. The 17 acres remained in Edward’s name until 1769, when it appears in Philip Edelen’s name, suggesting that Edward may have defaulted on the loan.

Not to complicate matters, but It’s possible that Edward was able to take a mortgage on that land even though Mary was still living, since he clearly had a right to it after her death. By 1758, Mary would have been about 83 years old.

Mary may have died before 1758, though, because Edward is shown on the rent rolls for 1756-1758 as owning the 17 acres of Speake’s Meadow. It’s hard to know whether they would have recorded Mary as holder of the life estate, or the person who was actually working the land, paying the taxes and who would be the eventual owner in fee simple.

In 1760, Edward sold the remaining 159 acres of Boarman’s Reserve to Samuel Hanson, complete with “houses, gardens, orchard, fences and other improvements” for another 2000 pounds of crop tobacco. Mary was unquestionably deceased by this time.

I wonder at the disparity of 17 acres for 2000 pounds of tobacco, and 150 acres plus the rest of the farm for the same amount.

Having stood on this land, much of it is woodland and swamp, so perhaps this 17 acres of meadow was quite valuable, comparatively speaking.

No Mitochondrial Lineage

I think the high colonial mortality rate in Maryland, plus the various types of “swamp sickness,” have come home to roost.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to all of their children, but only passed on to the next generation by females.

To find Mary’s mitochondrial DNA, we either need to begin with her own female descendants or those of her mother or sisters.

  • Since we don’t know who Mary’s mother is, that avenue is not possible.
  • Mary Benson had no known sisters, so we’re striking out there too.
  • Mary Benson had one daughter, Mary Speake, her namesake who married John Baggott.
  • Mary Speake Baggott may have had more than two surviving children, but the only children we know of are John Bowling Baggott and Samuel Baggott, both living with their father and listed on the rent rolls after Mary’s death.

It’s possible that there are actually female lines, but we need to be able to identify and confirm them.

At this point in time, a Bible or maybe previously unknown letters or a family story is pretty much our only hope of identifying either Mary Benson’s mother, sisters (if she had any,) or additional children of her daughter, Mary Speake Baggot, assuming, of course, that she had more than two children who survived.

If you meet this criterion, please reach out. I have a DNA testing scholarship for you.

Mitochondrial DNA might well be the only remaining key we have available to unlock the identity of Mary Benson’s mother.


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Amazing Time-Machine at MyHeritage – Hot Diggity!!!!

Look at what MyHeritage has gone and done!

Yes, this is “me,” or rather the Cowgirl version of me that MyHeritage created using artificial intelligence (AI) in their new time machine.

Oh my gosh this is just so doggone much fun.

This literally comes under the category of “I am my ancestors.”

MyHeritage has just introduced a new time machine. You upload between 10 and 25 photos of yourself – and voila!

The AI technology places you in various vintages, and a few minutes later, take a look a the new you.

Or maybe an adventurous you.

I posted this on my social media account last night, VERY late, and my husband told me this morning that he needs to talk to me about what I was doing at the recent conference I attended.

These photos look just that real.

He hasn’t seen anything yet!

Astronaut me.

Punk-rocker me.

Flower child me. That’s it! I’m getting purple-streaked hair!

Which “me” shall I use for my social media profile? Maybe a new one every single day.

I’m uploading one of these as my profile photo at MyHeritage and elsewhere.

Thank you so much, MyHeritage!!!

You can have this much fun too – and it’s free.

Here are the categories I received, but MyHeritage fits your photo to the categories that are best suited. Other people have received different categories that I don’t have and vice versa.

This amazing feature is free, but I suspect MyHeritage places a limit on the number of free images that are generated without a subscription. I have a full subscription, so I’ll be experimenting with photos of family members. This might just make a fun holiday collage or maybe print these and use them as table place cards or gift package name tags. Wouldn’t that be fun!

Update: If you’re using the free version, meaning you’re not signed in as a member:

  • I suggest leaving that browser window open so you’ll know when the images are ready, in case you don’t receive the email.
  • Download the images if you like them, because if you don’t and need to do it later, you’ll need to pay the $9.95 for 20 themes which is 160 images.

If you need a subscription, you can subscribe with a 14-day free trial here. There’s far more there than just these cool photos, but today is officially “I am my ancestor day.”

Take your bad self over to MyHeritage and try the time machine, here. Which new you do you like best?


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Y DNA Genealogy Case Study: SNPs, STRs & Autosomal – Why the Big Y-700 Rocks!

An expanded version of this article, including the genealogical aspects written for the Speak family, is available here. There is significantly more DNA information and analysis in this article, including STR values and autosomal analysis which can sometimes augment Y DNA results.

In 2004, 18 years ago, I founded the Speak(e)(s) Family DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA in collaboration with the Speaks Family Association (SFA).

The goal of the Association broadly was to share research and to determine if, and how, the various Speak lines in America were related. The “rumor” was that the family was from England, but no one knew for sure. We didn’t even know who was actually “in” the family, or how many different families there might be.

The good news is that to answer these types of questions, you don’t need a huge study, and with today’s tools, you certainly don’t need 18 years. Don’t let that part scare you. In fact, any Speak(e)(s) man who takes a Y-DNA test today will have the answer plopped into his lap thanks to earlier testers.

When I established the Speaks DNA Project, our goal was stated, in part, as follows:

This project was begun to determine the various Speak(e)(s) lines around the world. According to family legend, the original ancestor came to England with William the Conqueror and his last name then was L’Espec. It was later spelled Speke and then the derivatives of Speake, Speak, Speakes, and Speaks carried by descendants today.

We knew there was a Thomas Speak (c1634-1681) who settled in St. Mary’s County, MD by 1661 and had two sons, John the InnKeeper or InnHolder (1665-1731) and Bowling (c1674-1755), named after his mother’s birth surname.

Fast forwarding two or three generations, my ancestor, Nicholas Speak or Speaks was born about 1782 and was first found in Washington County, Virginia in 1804 when he married Sarah Faires. That’s a long way from Maryland. Who was Nicholas? Who were his parents? How did Nicholas get to Washington County, Virginia? There aren’t any other Speaks men, or women, in Washington County. Was he dropped fully grown by the stork?

In 2005, I attended my first Speaks Family Association Convention and gave an introductory talk about Y-DNA. Speaks males volunteered to test.

By the 2006 Convention, we had 8 Y-DNA testers.

At first, everything was fine. Two testers each from Thomas the Immigrant through sons John and Bowling.

  • Thomas, Bowling and then two different sons. They matched.
  • Thomas, John, and his son Richard. They matched too.
  • All four men above match each other.

Everything’s good, right?

Not so fast…

Then, a father/son pair tested who were also supposed to descend from the Thomas, Bowling, and Thomas line. Thankfully, they matched each other, but they did NOT match the other descendants of Thomas the Immigrant.

Because we had multiple men through both of Thomas the Immigrant’s sons, we had confirmed the Y-DNA STR marker signature of Thomas – which means that the father/son pair had experienced a genetic disconnect, or, they were actually descended from a different Speak line.

That wasn’t all though. Two more men tested who believed they descended from Thomas the Immigrant through John and then Richard. They didn’t match each other, nor any of the other men either.

This was a difficult, painful situation, and not what was anticipated. Of course, I reviewed the results privately with the men involved before presenting them at the convention, and only did so with their permission.

In an effort to identify their genealogical lines, we discovered seven other mentions of early colonial Speak immigrants, including one named Thomas.

Over time, we would discover additional Y-DNA genetic Speak lines.

Bonus Cousin

Y-DNA also revealed an amazing new cousin, Henry, who didn’t know who his father was, but thanks to DNA, discovered he is a genetic Speaks AND identified his father.

In 2006, our Y-DNA haplogroup was known only as I1b1. We knew it was fairly rare and found in the rough Dinaric Alps border region between Bosnia and Croatia.

We weren’t wrong. We were just early. Our ancestors didn’t stop in the Alps.

Haplogroups have come a long way since that time.

Today, using the new maps in the Discover tool, the migration path into Europe-proper looks like this.

By the 2009 Convention, more Speaks men were taking Y-DNA tests, but we still had no idea where the Speaks line originated overseas.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail of Y-DNA testing is often a match with a man either from the “old country,” wherever that is, or someone who unquestionably knows where their ancestor is from. Through a match with them, other testers get to jump the pond too.

In early 2010, a man in New Zealand was interested in taking a Y-DNA test and knew where, in England, his ancestors originated.

A few weeks later, the New Zealand tester matched our Thomas Speaks, the Immigrant, line, which meant our ancestors might be from where his ancestors were from. Where was that?


Gisburn? Where the heck was Gisburn?


Gisburn is a tiny, ancient village in Lancashire, England located in the Ribble Valley on the old Roman road. It appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ghiseburne and is believed to have been established in the 9th century.

This was no longer speculation or unsourced oral history, but actual genetic evidence.

We knew that Thomas Speake, the Immigrant, was Catholic. Maryland was a safe haven for Catholics hoping to escape persecution in England.

Thomas was rumored to have been born to a John, but we had no idea where that rumor arose.

Was our Thomas born in Gisburn too?

Shortly, we discovered that St. Mary’s Church in Gisburn held 50 marked Speaks burials in addition to many unmarked graves.

Next, we discovered that the records of St. Mary’s and All Saints Church in Whalley, eleven miles from Gisburn, held pages and pages of Speak family records. The earliest Speak burial there was in 1540.

In 2011, the SFA Convention was held near Thomas and Bowlng Speak’s land in Charles County, Maryland. My Convention presentation contained a surprise – the information about our Gisburn match, and what we had found. A Y-DNA match, plus church records, and graves. How could that get better?

I showed this cemetery map from St. Mary’s Church in Gisburn, where our New Zealand cousin’s family was buried.

It felt like we were so excruciatingly close, but still so far away.

We knew unquestionably that we were in the neighborhood, but where was our Thomas born?

Who was his family?

I closed with this photo of St. Mary’s in Gisburn and famously said, “I don’t know about you, but I want to stand there.”

It was a throw-away comment, or so I thought, but as it turned out, it wasn’t.

2013 – The Trip Home


Two years later, our Convention was held in Lancashire, and indeed, I got to stand there.

So did our Speak cousin from New Zealand whose Y-DNA test bulldozed this brick wall for us. To be clear, had this ONE PERSON not tested, we would NOT have known where to dig for records, or where to visit.

St. Mary’s Church was surrounded by the cemetery, with many Speak stones. The church itself was built as a defensive structure sometime before 1135 with built-in arrowslits for archers in many locations, including the tower. Our family history was thick and rich here.

St. Mary’s Church in Whalley

Our next stop was St. Mary’s Church in Whalley, where Henry Speke was granted a lease in 1540.

This church is ancient, built in the 1200s, replacing an earlier church in the same location, and stunningly beautiful.

The little green men carved into the wooden choir seats are a wink and a nod to an earlier pagan era. Our ancestors would have known that era too.

In addition to the churches in Gisburn and Whalley, we visited St. Leonard’s Church in Downham which is a chapelry of the church in Whalley.


This church, in the shadow of Pendle Hill, proved to be quite important to our hunt for family.

Downham, on the north side of Pendle Hill was small then, and remains a crossroad village today with a population of about 150 people, including Twiston.

Twiston is located less than 3 miles away, yet it’s extremely remote, at the foot or perhaps on the side of Pendle Hill.

During our visit, Lord Clitheroe provided us with a transcription of the Downham church records wherein one Thomas Speak was baptized on January 1, 1633/34, born to Joannis, the Latin form of John, in nearby Twiston.

Is this Thomas our Thomas the Immigrant who was born about that same time? We still don’t know. There are clues but they are inconclusive and some conflict with each other.

Records in this area are incomplete. A substantial battle was fought in Whalley in 1643. Churches were often used for quartering soldiers and horses. Minister’s notes could well have been displaced, or books destroyed entirely. There could easily have been more than one Thomas born about this time.

Probate files show that in 1615, “John Speake of Twiston, husbandman” mentions his son William and William’s children, including John who was the administrator of his will. For John to be an administrator, he had to be age 21 or over, so born in 1594 or earlier. Some John Speak married Elizabeth Biesley at Whalley in 1622 and is believed to be the John Speak Sr. recorded in Downham Parish Registers.

The Whalley, Gisburn, and Twiston Speake families are closely connected. The difference may well be that our Thomas’s line remained secretly Catholic, so preferred the “uninhabited” areas of the remote Twiston countryside. Even today, Gisburn is described as being “rural, surrounded by hilly and relatively unpopulated areas.” And that’s Gisburn, with more than 500 residents. Downham is much smaller, about 20% of the size of Gisburn.

What do we know about Twiston?


Twiston is too small to even be called a hamlet. The original farm and corn mill was owned originally by Whalley Abbey at least since the 1300s and stands near an old lime kiln, probably in use since Roman times.

This is where you know the earth holds the DNA of your ancestors, and their blood watered the landscape.

When the Speak family lived here, it was considered a “wild and lawless region” by local authorities, probably due in part to its remoteness – not to mention the (ahem) rebellious nature of the inhabitants.

If you were a Catholic, living in a hotbed of “recussants,” and trying to be invisible, Twiston, nestled at the base of Pendle Hill would be a location where you might be able to successfully disappear among those of like mind.

Yes, of course, you’d show up, hold your nose, and baptize your baby in the Anglican church because you needed to, but then you would retreat into the deep hillside woodlands until another mandatory church appearance was required.

The road to Twiston was twisty, rock-lined, and extremely narrow, with rock walls on both sides. If only these ancient buildings and stone walls could speak, share their stories, and reveal their secrets.

Old documents, however, do provide some insight.

This document, originally penned in Latin, was provided by the Lancashire archives.

John Speak, in 1609, was a farmer, with a house (messauge), garden, orchard, 10 acres of farmland, 5 of meadow, and 10 acres of pasture.

Indeed, Twiston is where John Speak lived. If the Thomas born in Twiston to Joannis, Latin for John, in 1633 and baptized on January 1, 1633/34 in old St. Leonard’s Church in Downham is our Thomas, this is his birth location.

For our family, this is, indeed, hallowed ground.

Local Testers

Prior to our visit, we published small ads in local newspapers and contacted historical societies. We found several Speak(e)(s) families and invited them to dinner where the after-dinner speaker explained all about DNA testing. You probably can’t see them clearly, but there are numerous DNA kits lying on the table, just waiting for people to have a swab party.

Our guests brought their family histories, and one of those families traced their line to…you guessed it…Twiston.

Five men from separate Speak families tested. None of them knew of any connection between their families, and all presumed they were not related.

I carried those men’s DNA tests back in my hand luggage like the gold that they were.

They were wrong. All five men matched each other’s Y-DNA and our Thomas Speake line. We got busy connecting the dots genealogically, as best we could given the paucity of extant records.

  • Two of our men descended from Henry Speak born in 1650 who married Alice Hill and lived in Downham/Twiston.
  • Two of our men descended from John Speak born about 1540 who married Elina Singleton and lived in Whalley.
  • Two of our men, including our New Zealand tester, descend from John born sometime around 1700, probably in Gisburn where his son, James, was born about 1745.

We indeed confirmed that we had found our way “home” and that our Speake family has lived there a long time. But how long?

2022 DNA Analysis

Today, the Speaks family DNA Project has 146 members comprised of:

  • 105 autosomal testers
  • 32 Speak Y-DNA testers
  • 24 of whom are Thomas the Immigrant descendants
  • 8 Big Y testers

Over the years, we’ve added another goal. We need to determine HOW a man named Aaron Lucky Speaks is related to the rest of us.

Autosomal DNA confirms that Aaron Luckey is related, but we need more information.

Aaron Lucky is first found in 1787 purchasing land and on the 1790 Iredell County, NC census. We finally located a Y-DNA tester and confirmed that his paternal line is indeed the Lancashire Speaks line, but how?

After discovering that all 5 Lancashire Speaks men descend from the same family as Thomas the Immigrant, we spent a great deal of time trying to both sort them out, and tie the family lines together using STR 25-111 markers, with very limited success.

Can Y-DNA make that connection for us, even though the records can’t?

Yes, but we needed to upgrade several testers, preferably multiple people from each line to the Big Y-700 test.

The Y-DNA Block Tree

When men take or upgrade to a Big Y-700 DNA test, they receive the most detailed information possible, including all available (700+) STR markers plus the most refined haplogroup, including newly discovered mutations in their own test, placing them as a leaf on the very tip of their branch of the tree of mankind.

The only other men “in that branch neighborhood” are their closest relatives. Sometimes they match exactly and are sometimes separated by a single or few mutations. Testers with 30 or fewer mutations difference are shown on the Block Tree by name. Eight Speaks men have taken or upgraded to the Big Y test, providing information via matching that we desperately needed.

This Big Y block tree view shown below is from the perspective of a descendant of Nicholas Speaks (b1782) and includes the various mutations that define branches, shown as building blocks. Each person shown on the Block Tree is a match to the tester with 30 or fewer mutations difference.

Think of haplogroups as umbrellas. Each umbrella shelters and includes everything beneath it.

At the top of this block tree, we have one solid blue block that forms an umbrella over all three branches beneath it. The top mutation name is I-BY14004, which is the haplogroup name associated with that block.

We have determined that all of the Speak men descended from the Lancashire line are members of haplogroup I-BY14004 and therefore, fall under that umbrella. The other haplogroup names in the same block mean that as other men test, a new branch may split off beneath the I-BY14004 branch.

Next, let’s look at the blue block at far left.

The Lancashire men, meaning those who live there, plus our New Zealand tester, also carry additional mutations that define haplogroup I-BY14009, which means that our Thomas the Immigrant line split off from theirs before that mutation was formed.

They all have that mutation, and Thomas didn’t, but he has a mutation that they don’t. This is how the tree forms branches.

Thomas the Immigrant’s line has the mutation defining haplogroup I-FTA21638, forming an umbrella over both of Thomas the Immigrant’s sons – meaning descendants of both sons carry this mutation.

Bowling’s line is defined by haplogroup I-BY215064, but John’s line does not carry this mutation, so John’s descendants are NOT members of this haplogroup, which turns out to be quite important.

We are very fortunate that one of Thomas’s sons, Bowling, developed a mutation, because it allows us to differentiate between Bowling and his brother, John’s, descendants easily if testers take the Big Y test.

Those teal Private Variants are haplogroups-in-waiting, meaning that when someone else tests, and matches that variant, it will be named and become a haplogroup, splitting the tree in that location by forming a new branch.

Aaron Luckey Speak

As you can see, the descendants of Aaron Lucky Speak, bracketed in blue above, carry the Bowling line mutation, so Aaron Luckey descends from one of Bowling’s sons. That makes sense, especially since two of Bowling’s grandsons are also found in Iredell County during the same timeframe and are candidates to be Aaron Luckey’s father.

Here’s a different view of the Big Y testers along with STR Y-DNA testers in a spreadsheet that I maintain.

Thomas the Immigrant (tan band top row) is shown with son, Bowling, who carries haplogroup BY215064. Bowling’s descendants are tan too, near the bottom.

Thomas’s son, John the InnKeeper, shown in the blue bar does NOT have the BY215064 mutation that defines Bowling’s group.

However, the bright green Aaron Lucky line, disconnected at far right, does have the Bowling mutation, BY215064, so this places Aaron Luckey someplace beneath Bowling, meaning his descendant. We just don’t know where he fits yet. The key word is yet.

Can STR Markers Be Utilized for Lineage Grouping?

Sometimes we can utilize STR marker mutations for subgrouping within haplogroups, but in this case, we cannot because STR mutations in this family have:

  • Occurred independently in different lines
  • Potentially back mutated

Between both of these issues, STR mutations are inconsistent and, therefore, in this case, entirely unreliable. I have found this phenomenon repeatedly in DNA projects that I manage where the genealogy line of descent is known and documented.

Let’s analyze the STR mutations.

I’ve created a table based on our 26 Y-DNA testers. However, not everyone tested at 111 markers, so there is a mix.

You can view the Speak DNA Project results, here.

I’ve divided the testers into the same groupings indicated by genealogy combined with the Big Y SNP mutations, which do agree with each other. Those groups are:

  • The Lancaster men that never left, except for the New Zealand tester whose ancestor left just two generations ago. They all share a defining SNP which provides them with an identifying haplogroup that the American line does not have.
  • The Thomas the Immigrant line through son Bowling.
    • The Aaron Luckey line who descends, somehow, from Bowling.
  • The Thomas the Immigrant line through son John the InnKeeper.
  • Two men who have provided no genealogy

We already know that Aaron Luckey descends from Bowling, somehow, but I’m keeping them separate just in case STR values can be helpful.

Let’s look at a total of five STR markers where multiple descendants have experienced mutations and see if we can discern any message. The mutations in the bright yellow Lancashire groups on the project page are summarized and analyzed in the chart, below.

You read the chart below, as follows:

  • For marker DYS-19, the testers who have a value of 16 – then the numbers indicated the number of testers in that group with that value. The Lancaster group has 5, the Bowling group has 7, the Aaron Luckey group has 4, and so forth.
  • The next row, colored the same, shows the value of 17 for marker DYS19.
  • Rows for values of the same marker are colored the same.

This chart does not include several markers where there are one-offs, meaning one mutation in the entire group, or one in each of two different groups that are different from each other. This chart includes markers with mutations that occur in multiple descendants only.

If these mutations were predictive and could be used for lineage assignment, we would expect to see the same mutation only within one of the lines, descended from a common ancestor, consistently, and not scattered across multiple lines.

Let’s start our analysis with the only marker that may be consistently predictive in this group. Marker DYS389ii has an ancestral value of 28, We know this because that value is consistently found in all of the Speaks descendants. A value of 29 is ONLY found in the 4 descendants of Aaron Luckey, and the value of 29 is consistently found in all of his known descendants who have tested. Therefore, it could be predictive.

However, given the nature of STR mutations, it’s difficult to place a lot of confidence in STR-based lineage predictions. Let’s look at the other four markers.

  • Marker DYS19 has a value of 16 in every line, which would be the ancestral value. However, we also find a mutation of 17 in 1 of Bowling’s children, and in 2 of John the InnKeeper’s descendants. That can’t be lineage-defining.
  • Looking at the CDY a/b marker, we find one instance of 35/36, which is a one-off. I wouldn’t have included it if I wasn’t using the other two combinations as examples. The values of 36/36 are found in every line except for the one with no genealogy and only one person has tested at 111 markers. A value of 36/37 is found in only the Bowling line, but not the Aaron Luckey line. The MRCA, or most recent common ancestor between the Bowling descendants is his son, Thomas of Zachia. The best candidates for Aaron Luckey’s father are two of Thomas of Zachia’s sons, but his descendants have a hodgepodge mixture of the two values, so this, again, cannot be a lineage-defining marker.
  • Looking at DYS534, we see a 15 in one of Bowling’s descendants and in 4 of John the InnKeeper’s descendants. Obviously not lineage-specific. There’s a value of 16 in every line which would be ancestral.
  • A value of 33 at DYS710 is found in every lineage, so would be the ancestral value. The value of 34 is found once in each line except for Bowling, which precludes it from being lineage-defining.

Inconsistent lineage results is one of the best reasons to purchase or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test.

Unfortunately, STR placement and lineage determination can be very deceptive and lead genealogists astray. At one time, we didn’t have advanced tools like the Big Y, but today we do.

STR Tests Are Useful When…

To be clear, STR marker tests, meaning the 37 and 111 marker tests available for purchase today, ARE very useful for:

  • Matching other testers
  • Identifying surnames of interest
  • Ruling out a connection, meaning determining that you don’t match a particular line
  • Introductory testing with limited funds that provides matching, a high-level haplogroup, and additional tools. You can always upgrade to the Big Y-700 test.

However, the Big Y-700 is necessary to place groups of people reliably into lineages and determine relationships accurately.

In some cases, autosomal DNA is useful, but in this case, autosomal doesn’t augment Y-DNA due, in part, to record loss and incomplete genealogy in the generations following Thomas of Zachia.

Family Finder Autosomal Analysis

In total, we have the following total Family Finder testers whose genealogy is confirmed:

  • 8 Aaron Luckey
  • 6 Lancashire testers
  • 15 John the InnKeeper testers
  • 33 Bowling testers

An autosomal analysis shows that Aaron Luckey Speak’s descendants match each other (green to green) most closely than they match either of Thomas the Immigrant’s sons, Bowling (tan) or John’s (blue) descendants. We would expect Aaron Luckey’s descendants to match each other the most closely, of course.

The numbers in the cells are total matching centiMorgans/longest segment cM match.

Click on any image to enlarge

Aaron Luckey’s descendants don’t collectively match John or Bowling’s descendants more closely than the other group using centiMorgans as the comparison. Although they match more of Bowling’s descendants (21%) than John’s (13%). This too would be expected since we know Aaron Luckey descends from Bowling’s line, not John’s.

At best, Aaron Luckey’s descendants are 8 or 9 generations removed from a common ancestor with other descendants of Thomas of Zachia, making them 6th or 7th cousins, plus another couple of generations back to Thomas the Immigrant. We can’t differentiate genetically between sibling ancestors or cousin lines at this distance.

Furthermore, we have a large gap in known descendants beneath Thomas of Zachia, other than Charles Beckworth Speak’s son Nicholas’s line. We have at least that many other testers in the project who don’t can’t confirm their Speaks ancestral lineage.

Combining genetic and genealogy information, we know that both Charles Beckworth Speak and Thomas Bowling Speak, in yellow, are found in Iredell County, NC. The children of Thomas of Zachia, shown in purple, are born in the 1730s and any one of them could potentially be the father of Aaron Luckey.

The men in green, including William, Bowling’s other son, are also candidates to be Aaron Luckey’s ancestor, although the two yellow men are more likely due to geographic proximity. They are both found in Iredell County.

We don’t know anything about William’s children, if any, nor much about Edward. John settled in Kentucky. Nicholas (green) stayed in Maryland.

There may be an additional generation between Charles Beckworth Speak (yellow) and Nicholas (born 1782), also named Charles. There’s a lot of uncertainty in this part of the tree.

It seems that Aaron’s middle name of Lucky is likely to be very significant. Aaron Luckey’s descendants may be able to search their autosomal matches for a Luckey family, found in both Iredell County AND Maryland, which may assist with further identification and may help identify Aaron’s father.

If all of the Speak men who took STR tests would upgrade to the Big Y, it’s probable that more branches would be discovered through those Private Variants, and it’s very likely that Aaron Luckey could be much more accurately placed on the tree. Another Aaron Luckey Speak Big Y-700 DNA tester would be useful too.

Connecting the Genetic Dots in England

What can we discern about the Speak family in the US and in Lancashire?

Reaching back in time, before Thomas the Immigrant was born about 1633, what can we tell about the Speak family, how they are connected, and when?

The recently introduced Discover tool allows us to view Y-DNA haplogroups and when they were born, meaning when the haplogroup-defining mutation occurred.

The Time Tree shows the haplogroups, in black above the profile dots. The scientifically calculated approximate dates of when those haplogroups were “born,” meaning when those mutations occurred, are found across the top.

I’ve added genealogical information, in red, at right.

  • Reading from the bottom red dot, Bowling’s haplogroup was born about the year 1660. Bowling was indeed born in 1674, so that’s VERY close
  • Moving back in time, Thomas’s haplogroup was born about 1617, and Thomas himself was born about 1633, but his birth certainly could have been a few years earlier.
  • The Lancashire testers’ common haplogroup was born about 1636, and the earliest known ancestor of those men is Henry, born in Twiston in 1650.
  • The common Speak ancestor of BOTH the Lancashire line and the Thomas the Immigrant line was born about 1334. The earliest record of any Speak was Henry Speke, of Whalley, born before 1520.

The lines of Thomas the Immigrant and the Lancashire men diverged sometime between about 1334, when the umbrella mutation for all Speaks lines was born, and about 1617 when we know the mutation defining the Thomas the Immigrant line formed and split off from the Lancashire line.

But that’s not all.


As I panned out and viewed the block tree more broadly, I noticed something.

This is quite small and difficult to read, so let me explain. At far left is the branch for our Speaks men. The common ancestor of that group was born about 1334 CE, meaning “current era,” as we’ve discussed.

Continuing up the tree, we see that the next haplogroup umbrella occurs about 1009 CE, then the year 850 at the top is the next umbrella, encompassing everything beneath.

Looking to the right, the farthest right blocks date to 1109 CE, then 1318 CE, then progressing on down the tree branch to the bottom, I see one surname in three separate blocks.

What is that name?

Here, let me enlarge the chart for you!


The name is Standish, as in Myles Standish, the Pilgrim.

Miles is our relative, and even though he has a different surname, we share a common ancestor, probably before surnames were adopted. Our genetic branches divided about the year 1000.

The Discover tool also provides Notable Connections for each haplogroup, so I entered one of the Speaks haplogroups, and sure enough, the closest Speak Notable Connection is Myles Standish 1584-1656.

And look, there’s the Standish Pew in Chorley, another church that we visited during our Lancashire trip because family members of Thomas Speake’s Catholic wife, Elizabeth Bowling, are found in the Chorley church records.

Our common ancestor with the Standish line was born in about the year 850. Our line split off, as did the Standish line about the year 1000. That’s about 1000 years ago, or 30-40 generations.

Our family names are still found in the Chorley church records

Ancient Connections

The Discover tool also provides Ancient Connections from archaeological digs, by haplogroup.

Sure enough, there’s an ancient sample on the Time Tree named Heslerton 20641.

Checking the Discover Ancient Connections, the man named Heslerton 20641 is found in West Heslerton, Yorkshire, and lived about the year 450-650, based on carbon dating.

The mutation identifying the common ancestor between the Speak/Standish men and Heslerton occurred about 2450 BCE, or 4500 years ago. Twiston and West Heslerton are only 83 miles apart.

Where Are We?

What have we learned from the information discovered through genealogy combined with Big Y testing?

  • We found a Speek family in Whalley in 1385.
  • One of our Lancashire testers descends from a John born about 1540 in Whalley.
  • One of our Lancashire testers descends from Henry born about 1650 in Downham/Twiston
  • Thomas Speake was baptized in Downham and born in Twiston in 1733.
  • Our New Zealand tester’s ancestor was found in Gisburn, born about 1745.

All of these locations are within 15 miles of each other.

  • Chorley, where the Standish family is found in the 1500s is located 17 miles South of Whalley. Thomas Speake’s wife, Elizabeth Bowlings’ family is found in the Chorley church records.

What about the L’Espec origin myth?

  • The Speak family clearly did not arrive in 1066 with the Normans.
  • We have no Scandinavian DNA matches.
  • No place is the surname spelled L’Espec in any Lancashire regional records.
  • The Speak family is in the Whalley/Chorley area by 1000 when the Speak/Standish lines diverged
  • The common ancestor with the Standish family lived about the year 850, although that could have occurred elsewhere. Clearly, their common ancestor was in the Chorley/Whalley area by 1000 when their lines diverged.

The cemetery at Whalley includes Anglo-Saxon burials, circa 800-900. The Speak men, with no surname back then, greeted William the Conqueror and lived to tell the tale, along with their Standish cousins, of course. This, in essence, tells us that they were useful peasants, working the land and performing other labor tasks, and not landed gentry.

Little is known of Lancashire during this time, but we do know more generally that the Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic people, arrived in the 5th century when there was little else in this region.

Are our ancestors buried in these and other early Anglo-Saxon graves? I’d wager that the answer is yes. We are likely related one way or another to every family who lived in this region over many centuries.

Y-DNA connected the dots between recent cousins, connected them to their primary line in America, provided a lifeline back to Twiston, Whalley, and Gisburn, and then to the Anglo-Saxons – long before surnames.

Aaron Luckey Speak’s descendants now know that he descends, somehow, from Bowling, likely through one of two sons of Thomas of Zachia. They don’t have the entire answer yet, but they are within two generations, a lot closer than they were before.

And this, all of this, was a result of Big-Y DNA tests. We could not have accomplished any of this without Y-DNA testing.

Our ancestors are indeed speaking across the ages.

We found the road home, that path revealed by the DNA of our ancestors. You can find your road home too.


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Thomas Speake of Zachia (c1700-1755): Life and Death in Zachia Swamp – 52 Ancestors #382

Thomas Speake of Zachia was born about 1700, the son of Bowling Speake and Mary Benson. He was named after his grandfather, Thomas the Immigrant.

To understand Thomas’s life, we need to tell his story, at least partly, in reverse.

Thomas’s father, Bowling wrote his will on October 20, 1750, but he didn’t pass away for another five years.

Bowling left a life estate to his wife, Mary, but after her death, his plantation was to descend to Edward, Thomas’s son, along with another tract of land. Edward was also to receive first choice of enslaved persons owned by Bowling, and first choice of beds and furniture.

Bowling’s will was quite unusual, given that Bowling’s son, Thomas of Zachia (Edward’s father,) was living, as was Bowling’s other son, William.

Why was Bowling’s grandson Edward his primary heir and not sons Thomas or William? Why not Bowling’s other grandchildren?

Was there friction within the family?

Was Edward living with Bowling, helping his grandparents, perhaps? Bowling would have been 75 or 76. Was Edward a favorite grandchild?

Was Thomas ill? And what about William?

At that time, it was typical for men to marry about age 25, so if Edward was Thomas’s eldest son and was approximately 25 in 1750, and Thomas was 25 when he was born, that puts Thomas’s birth around 1700, or possibly before. Thomas could have been born as late as 1708 if Edward was 21 in 1750, and Thomas was 21 when he was born.

Thomas of Zachia

Bowling’s son, Thomas Speake is called Thomas of Zachia to differentiate him from other men by the same name, including his first cousin. He was listed by that name on the St. Mary’s County, Maryland 1750 rent rolls and that’s also how he refers to himself in his will.

To fully understand what was transpiring, we need to step back a generation.

Bowling Speake’s brother, John had inherited land from Thomas the Immigrant in Port Tobacco that included an inn, giving him the name of John the InnKeeper or InnHolder.

Bowling, on the other hand, not inheriting as the eldest son, had to fend for himself. He purchased, leased, and otherwise farmed various parcels further out, in the Manor of Zachia. These lands were swampy and much less productive than land near and in Port Tobacco. Sacaya, later Zachia was reported to have meant “dense thicket” in the Algonquian-Fox dialect of the Native people who hunted and camped there before white settlers arrived.

In an article about the Alvin family, we discover some interesting information about the lands of Zachia Manor, which would certainly include the Speak lands that abutted those lands.

“The lease was relatively cheap—Zachia Manor had the poorest soil of any of Lord Baltimore’s manors. And Lord Baltimore’s leases were on better terms than private landlords could afford to offer.”

Therefore tenants in Zachia Manor, also known as the Jourden Tract, tended to be relatively poor, and the land comparatively inexpensive.

Added to that, within a few years, the nutrients in the land would be depleted by continuous tobacco growth, requiring more land to produce as much tobacco. With multiple sons inheriting, productivity dropping, and less land available, the next frontier was quite inviting. Maryland was no longer a place of opportunity by the 1770s. There just wasn’t enough land to go around.

Thomas of Zachia was caught up in that transition generation.

Early Years

We know almost nothing of Thomas of Zachia’s early years, other than through his father, Bowling Speake.

We know the family was Catholic, so Thomas would have been baptized by a traveling priest, probably in his own father’s home.

We also know that Thomas inherited some of his father, Bowling’s, land.

Bowling’s Land – It’s Complicated

Over his lifetime, Bowling owned various tracts of land, and had one resurveyed, both losing part of the acreage and gaining adjacent acreage.

I told you it was complicated.

You can read about the Maryland land in detail, here and here. This article only deals with that land that involved Thomas of Zachia.

  • In 1718, Bowling bought 220 acres from Luke Gardiner in Charles County called Mistake, located on the northern boundary of Zachia Manor, for 5000 pounds of tobacco.

Thomas would have been 18 or 20 years old, or maybe older when his dad bought that land. Perhaps Bowling bought Mistake with the idea that his son, Thomas would work it. In Bowling’s will, 32 years later, he still lived on his land at Boarman’s Reserve at his death, so there’s no reason to think he ever lived on Mistake.

Part of me can just hear that original landowner, after maybe claiming that land, then having it surveyed and realizing just what he had, saying, “Wow, what a mistake.” And his wife, “Yep, that’s what we’ll call it, the mistake. Maybe you can sell it.”

  • In 1735, a resurvey of Mistake increased the size to 572 acres, more than doubling the total, although Bowling lost part of the original tract. Surveying was difficult in swampland.

The St. Peter’s Church 300th Anniversary book tells us that the land now occupied by St Peter’s Church includes 37 acres of Mistake where the church and school stand and another few acres between St. Peter’s Church Road and Poplar Hill Road where the present-day cemetery is located, pictured below.

  • In 1738, Bowling acquired Speaks Meadow which added another 17 acres.
  • The 1742 rent roll shows Bowling with a total of 869 acres, of which Mistake was 572 acres.
  • In March of 1744, Bowling sold 250 acres of Mistake where he’s described as a planter.

In this drawing contributed years ago by Jerry Draney, the original Mistake is in green, the resurveyed Mistake is in burgundy, and the St. Peter’s Church land is in yellow.

  • In February of 1754, Bowling sold 60 acres of Mistake to Philip Edelin and in December, 100 acres of Mistake to James Montgomery which are today still undeveloped swamp.
  • On July 23, 1755, Bowling deeded his son, Thomas Speake of Zachia, 125 acres of land that included the home where Thomas was living. Both men were clearly alive at this time.

However, the deed was not recorded until September 20, 1755, a week after Bowling’s will was probated on September 13, 1755. His will left:

  • Tract 1 – to Thomas of Zachia, 121 acres (parcels E and F on the map, below, also contributed by Jerry Draney)
  • Tract 2 – to William Speake, 202 acres (probably should have been 102), with his dwelling place (parcels C and D on the map)

Unfortunately, this map conflicts with the map, above, and the contributor is deceased. Using the St. Charles County GIS system, I can’t resolve these boundary lines. Typically I can see at least some of the original survey lines, but not this time.

These maps and some other information are from the comprehensive book, The Speak/e/s Family of Southern Maryland, which I highly recommend for any Speak researcher, published by the Speak Family Association, John Morris, Editor. While it doesn’t answer every question, the book provides a HUGE amount of wonderfully organized information.

So, does Thomas of Zachia have a total of 125+121 acres, or does he just have 121 (or 125) acres? Did Bowling simply deed Thomas the land he was going to inherit, or does Thomas actually own two parcels totaling 246 acres?

Thomas of Zachia’s Will

On August 2, 1755, just ten days after that deed was conveyed, Thomas wrote his own will.

Thomas willed his portion of his father’s land, as follows:

  • Tract 1 – to Thomas Bowling Speak and John Speak, 120 (sic) acres in Mistake to be divided equally between them the crossways and not the length unless they should so agree. Thomas Bowling was to have first choice. Parcels E and F on the map.
  • Tract 2 – to Charles Beckworth Speake and Nicholas Speaks, all the remaining part of that track called Speak’s Enlargement and the remaining part of Mistake containing together 90 acres after the decease of his wife, Jane. That land to be equally divided by a line drawn from Jordon’s Swamp to the opposite line, with Charles having first choice. There is no record of the disposition of this land.

This is clearly more land than Thomas had received in his father’s will. But it’s not equal to what was deeded to him plus what was willed to him. This only totals 210 acres, not 246.

Ironically, both Bowling and Thomas’s wills were probated on the same day, September 13, 1755, so they had died within days, or maybe even hours of each other. It’s likely that both of their deaths occurred after the prior court session, a month earlier.

My assumption was that Bowling deeded his son the land that he wllled to him, but now I don’t think that was the case.

There is no record of Thomas purchasing any land. Bowling deeded Thomas 125 acres and then willed him 121 acres, although Bowling wrote his will in 1750, before he deeded the land to Thomas. That totals 246 acres.

However, a month later, Thomas leaves a total of 210 acres to his heirs.

Something, someplace, is missing. Like 36 acres.

However, this wasn’t Thomas’s first confusing land transaction. Nor Bowling’s.


We know that Thomas was married before August 28, 1734, when he and his wife, Jane, conveyed two tracts of land in St. Mary’s County to George Plater. One was called Pope’s and contained 200 acres, and the other was Mount Clipsaw, containing 68 acres and adjoined the first parcel.

Thomas Speake and Jane to George Plater. Liber P.L. #8 p.284-286. Indenture 28 Aug 1724 / recorded 28 Apr 1724 between Thomas Speake of Charles County, planter and Jane his wife to George Plater, Esq. of St. Mary’s Co for 18 lbs 15 shillings current money, tract called Pope’s whereon John Pope formerly dwelt near Potomac River at the mouth of a creek called Baker’s Creek in CC. 200 acres. Also land called Mount Clipsaw, 68 acres which land was conveyed by Thomas George Plater to a certain Barton Smoot of Charles County.

We have no idea where Thomas and Jane obtained this land, but it was located near the Potomac River at the mouth of Baker’s Creek. John Pope had previously lived on Pope’s and, according to the rent rolls, Plater had owned both tracts before that and conveyed them to Barton Smoot in April 1724.

This probably accounts for the persistent rumors that Jane was a Smoot, but to date, there is no evidence to support that. There is no Jane listed in either Barton Smooth’s will, nor that of his father.

You may be noticing a persistent theme that the St. Charles County early property records are incomplete.

The Catholic Church

Thomas and Jane were probably married by a visiting priest in the fledgling mission church on Upper Zacchia Swamp that was founded in 1700. That “church” may very well have been in his own father’s home.

Jesuit Priests from St. Ignatius Church at St. Thomas Manor, 20 miles distant, visited the area occasionally on horseback to minister to the needs of the faithful and would ring a bell that they carried in their saddlebag to announce to everyone within earshot that a priest had arrived, and services would be held.

In 1692, Maryland barred Catholics from all civil rights, establishing the Church of England as the official religion. However, the Upper Zachia Parish was established in 1700, located near the headwaters of Upper Zachia Swamp. In 1704, it became illegal to practice Catholicism openly, so churches were officially closed. Priests then disguised themselves as peddlers, and of course, there was no more bell-ringing to announce services, although chalices disguised as bells were hung from the sides of their horses. Catholics worshiped in small, private chapels or private homes. Religious freedom would not be secured again until 1775.

This chalice, housed at St. Ignatius Church was carried by the priest and would have been used for communion. Bowling and Thomas both would have taken communion from this very cup.

Additionally, the priest from St. Ignatius carried a “relic of the true cross” in a silver and glass case which he wore around his neck. This relic was a piece of wood that is supposed to be part of the cross upon which Christ was crucified that was brought back from the Holy Land during the Crusades.

In the photo, above, I’m holding both, knowing that very likely four generations of my ancestors took communion and drank from this chalice and marveled at this relic.

Church services were held either in a log cabin, or after 1704, in the home of fellow Catholics, such as Bowling.

The original St. Peter’s cemetery is found on Bowling’s land. Many unmarked graves are located in the open, grassy space.

The name of St. Peter’s was conferred after the Revolutionary War when Catholicism could once again be practiced openly.

The land once owned by Bowling, then by his sons, was donated to the Catholic church by Thomas Reeves in 1825, and a church building was built in 1860 where the current St. Peter’s Church stands. However,  Reeve’s Chapel stood across the road from the old cemetery. In 1941, the current St. Peter’s Church was built in the current location, a couple of miles away. The old church, Reeves Chapel, shown in a painting, above, was demolished in 1972.

Thomas Reeves (1753-1825) and his wife, Elizabeth Edelen (1755-1840) are buried in the St. Peter’s Cemetery across the road.

Elizabeth’s parents were Philip Edelen and Jane Gardiner. Bowling sold his Boarman Manor land to Philip Edelen, and Thomas of Zachia’s son, Edward sold the land he inherited from his grandfather to Edelen as well.

It’s worth noting that Bowling purchased his land in Boarman Manor in 1718 from Mary Gardiner, and Mistake on Zachia Swamp in 1718 from Luke Gardiner whose wife was Mary Boarman. This may or may not be significant genealogically. These families were connected one way or another – perhaps only through these purchases, or perhaps more.

It’s certainly possible that the lands of Upper Zachia Swamp, six or seven miles on north of where Bowling lived, was the next location of available, unsettled land.

Zachia, now Zekiah Swamp is the dominant feature of this landscape, and the lives of the people who lived here.

It remains the largest and densest hardwood swamp in Maryland, meandering some 21 miles through Charles and Prince George’s counties.

This very remote area even has its own urban legend – the Goat Man, a strange hairy man-creature with horns who has been “spied” off and on for decades and maybe centuries. He is reported to hack his victims to death while bellowing like Satan.

Clearly, Bowling hadn’t heard that tale before he purchased!

Zachia Manor

In December of 1749, Thomas leased Lot 69 of Zachia Manor, owned by the Lord Proprietor.

According to an old map, this was likely at the northern end, probably close to the land that Bowling purchased, near or even abutting the blue stars.

Lot 69 is not shown on the map, but probably beside or close to Ignatius Baggett.



Zachia Swamp also known as Jourdan’s Swamp or Jordan’s Run, marked with red arrows on this topo map, runs from the St. Peter’s Church at the top, where Bowling, then Thomas owned land, to the Wicomico River at the bottom of the map which then feeds into the Potomac.

Zachia Manor ran right along that swamp. Bourman’s Manor where Thomas may have been born, and where Bowling lived is marked with a red star, and the Zachia Manor/Zachia Swamp land, with blue stars.

Thomas’s three-life lease for Lot 69 meant it was in effect until as long as any of the three people named were alive. In this case, that would be, presumably Thomas, Jane, and John. In 1768, the proprietor conducted a survey of the Manor and indicated that two of the three were still living, Jane, age 54, and John, age 35. Clearly, Jane would have had to have been a decade older to have been married before 1724.

On the 1750 and 1753 rent rolls, Thomas of Zachia is noted with 100 acres, plus 20 acres, of Mistake. In 1754, the parcels were combined.

In 1755, Bowling conveyed 125 acres of Mistake to Thomas where he lived, presumably the land Thomas was already paying taxes on.

Bowling Speake to Thomas Speake. Liber A #1 ½, p.388. 23 Jul 1755 / 20 Sep 1755. Bowling Speake of CC, planter. For the love and affection for my son, Thomas Speake, 125 acres of land being part of a tract of land called Mistake, where said Thomas Speake’s dwelling place now is and at that end of Mistake next to Speake’s Enlargment, lying in CC. Signed Bowling Speake. Wit: Smith Middleton and John Pigion Vincent.

Thomas also received 121 acres of Mistake in his father’s will.

I’ve drawn the approximate location of Thomas’s land based on Jerry’s earlier map. The 121 acres accounted for in Thomas’s will is shown in the red triangle, with Thomas of Zachia’s dwelling place in the top 60 acres chosen by his son, Thomas Bowling Speake.

The bottom 60 acres was inherited by Thomas of Zachia’s son, John.

However, there’s another 90 acres that are included somehow in Mistake and Speak’s Enlargement that I can’t account for. Basil’s original land isn’t entirely accounted for either, so I just don’t know.

I created this spreadsheet to track Basil and Thomas of Zachia’s land, but some transactions are clearly missing. Suffice it to say that Thomas owned another 90 acres of land adjacent the portion of Mistake that he willed to his sons.

It may also be worth noting that Mudd Road is nearby, just west of this land, and was owned by the Mudd Family in the mid-1800s. Dr. Samuel Mudd conspired with John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin who became lost in Zachia Swamp after attempting to escape through the Swamp after being treated by Mudd.

If you crossed the swamp behind the Mudd home, you would have been on the land that had belonged to Bowling, then Thomas of Zachia and his brother, John. 

You can view a YouTube video of Zachia Swamp behind the Mudd farm, here.

Bowling bought land from the Mudd family in the early 1700s. These families are all found down by Bourman Manor, and then a few miles further north in Zachia.

Poplar Hill Road, running east to west, Gardiner Road running south, then Piney Church Road running west, then angling north, traverses Bowling’s land and probably Thomas’s. Piney Church Road is now the Gardiner Mine Site and is inaccessible from either end.

This area is still extremely dense and unpopulated, and I really don’t know how Thomas or either of his sons would have been able to eek a living out of this triangle of land. It’s evident from the aerial that some has been cleared and is being farmed today, but not much.

Historical documents indicate that plantations were set out in three-to-ten-acre plots for growing tobacco, the major source of revenue and currency in colonial Maryland. Access to the bay was essential to be able to transport and sell one’s produce.

Perhaps this is why this parcel was named Mistake, although if Thomas enslaved two people, plus a poor pregnant convict, clearly he was engaged in some type of farming that required labor. It’s also evident from his estate inventory that they were living at a subsistence level.

It’s possible that the map reconstruction is incorrect and this portion of Mistake is closer to St. Peter’s Church. Jerry, the individual who did the original map work is deceased now, and his two maps conflict somewhat with one another.

Regardless, we know positively that we are very close.

The Original St. Peter’s Cemetery

One big hint is the location of the original St. Peter’s Cemetery at the intersection of Poplar Hill Road and Gardiner Road.

One thing is for sure – Thomas is assuredly buried here. His father, Bowling probably is as well. Catholics would have wanted to be buried in consecrated ground.

The family would have buried two men within days. Thomas’s mother lost her husband and her son. Thomas’s children, their father, and grandfather. It would have been a time of great sorrow.

The earliest stones here date from the 1820s and the most recent burial was in 2017.

The Original St. Peter’s Cemetery is at the intersection of Gardner Road and Poplar Hill Road, on Bowling’s land.

Thomas’s portion of his father’s land was south on Gardiner Road. Just turn right at this corner.

This was definitely Bowling’s land, but we may not be able to see far enough to view Thomas’s land.

That’s likely Thomas’s land in the distance. I’d love to know where his homestead was located.

Unfortunately, the Google Street View vehicle didn’t drive down those side roads.

Thomas’s Death

It’s unclear whether Bowling or his son, Thomas died first. Their wills were probated the same day. Thomas’s was filed first, which may not mean anything.

We know for sure they were both living in July.

  • July 23, 1755 – Bowling deeded land to Thomas
  • August 2, 1755 – Thomas of Zachia wrote his will

Thomas was clearly unwell by August 2nd, just days later. I hope they didn’t infect one another on July 23rd.

  • September 13, 1755 – Wills of both Bowling and Thomas were probated

In the Name of God Amen, I Thomas Speake of Zachia of Charles County in the province of Maryland being weak in body but of perfect sense and memory thanks be to almighty God for it do make & ordain this my last will and testament in Manner & form following:

FIRST my soul unto the hands of God who gave it & my body to the Dirt from whence it was taken to be buried at the Discretion of my Executer herein after named;

Also I give & bequeath to my loving wife Jane Speake my Dwelling plantation on whereon I now live during her natural life together with all that tract or parcel of land called Speakes Enlargement during her natural life also all my personal Estate as negroes crattles & cattle household furniture and plantation utensils of all sorts whatsoever except one Dun Mare;

Also I give & bequeath to my son Edward Speake five English Shillings;

Also I give & bequeath to my two sons Thomas Bowling Speake & John Speake one hundred and twenty acres of land to them & their heirs & assigns forever the said land to begin at the second course or line of a tract of land called Mistake & to run with the courses of the said land as they are laid out for me in the said tract of land called Mistake & at the end of the course next to Jordan Swamp take in part of a tract of land called Speakes Enlargement with one line & from the last end of that line to run with one straight line to their beginning and then to divide it equally between them the cross way & not the length way unless they should so agree & my son Thomas Bowling Speake to have the first choices provided that they nor either of them or any person or persons by or through their means may not disturb or molest my aforesaid wife Jane Speake from occupying and abiding on that part of the said land on which tract of my Dwelling plantation now is;

Also I give and bequeath to my two sons Charles Beckworth Speake & Nicholas Speake all the remaining part of that tract of land called Speakes Enlargement & my remaining tract of that tract called Mistake containing both together ninety acres to them & their heirs and assigns forever after the Decease of my wife Jane Speake to be equally divided between them by a line drawn from Jordan Swamp to the opposite line & my son Charles Beckworth Speake to have first choice;

Also I give to my daughter Elizabeth Ann Mary Smith the wife of Peter Smith that tenement whereon they now live for the space of five years & no longer provided they keep but one labouring hand (as we commonly call it, threon) at one time besides their two own slaves.

Also I give & bequeath all my personal estate aforementioned after the decease of my wife Jane Speake to be equally divided among my two sons Charles Beckworth Speake & Nicholas Speake and my three daughters Elizabeth Ann Mary Smith the wife of Peter Smith, Ann Speake & Eleanor Speake

I do ordain constitute & appoint my said loving wife Jane Speake to be the sole executrix of this my last will & testament. In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand & affixed my seal the second day of August in the Years of our Lord One Thousand seven hundred & fifty five.

Signed sealed published & declared by the said Thomas Speake to be his last will & testament in the presence of us.

Edwd X Miles
John Baggot
James Smith
Thomas X Speake seal

John Baggott witnessed his will, and Ignatius Baggett leased Lot 67 and 68 of Zachia Manor.

On the back of the foregoing will was endorsed the following probate

To wit: Maryland for 13th September 1755 Edward Miles John Baggot and James Smith the three subscribing witnesses to the within will who being duly and solemnly sworn on the holy Evangelists of almighty God does depose & say that they saw Thomas Speake the Testator sign & seal the within Will and heard him publish & declare the same to be his last will & testament and at the time his so doing was to the best of their appurtunicions of sound & disposing mind & memory and that the severally subscribed as witnesses to the said will in the presence of the Testator and at his Request which probate was taken in the presence of Edward Speakes heir at Law who did no object to the same.

7 1/2 Lides Sworn before Dan. Jenifer DC of Chas.Cty.

[Will Book 29, p. 544]

Thomas signed with an X, although he may have been too ill to sign his name.

It was startling to turn the page and see his father’s will, written into the book the same day.

Thomas only left Edward five shillings, but if you look as Bowling’s will, you’ll see why. Bowling left his grandson a substantial inheritance, and apparently, Thomas knew that. Edward already had his share, so his father remembered him in his will, but left the balance to his other children.

I hate to even ask, but what happened to Thomas’s daughters? Unfortunately, the St. Ignatius Catholic records burned in a church fire, and county marriage records don’t exist until the mid-1800s, so we may never know. The marriage records for Thomas of Zachia’s sons perished too.

Thomas’s Inventory

Fortunately, Thomas’s estate had an inventory, but for some reason, his father’s did not, or at least it wasn’t recorded.

An inventory of Thomas’s estate was taken on February 2, 1756 and included:

  • One young negro man
  • One old negro man
  • One servant woman, a convict, bigg with child 3.25 years due
  • One feather bed and sorry? covering, bedstead and ?
  • 30 pounds of good feathers
  • 45 pounds of old feathers
  • One servant’s bed of hen feathers
  • One bedstead and some sorry bed covering
  • Two mares, four cowes and four yearlings
  • Seven yews and 1 yearling a ?
  • 12 shoats and 1 sow
  • 40 barrels of indian corn
  • 4 bushels of corne beens
  • 20 bushels of wheat
  • 23 pounds of old puter (Pewter)
  • 5 pounds of old broken puter
  • 1 old gun and hale part of a pair of shoot molor?
  • One pr pincher shoe hammer, 3 pegging aules and two lathes
  • One pair coopers compasses and small parcels of carpenter tools
  • Small parcel of old tin
  • Three horn bells, one old box iron and heaters
  • One small looking glass, one wore out ?, wore out sifter
  • One broken King sever? And a small parcel of stone ware
  • Six wore out cape books, some old books
  • 1 very small gilt trunk
  • Three sides of sole leather and a dog skin
  • 513 pounds of corn fed pork
  • 17 hogs gutt fatt
  • 6 old hundred gallon sider casks
  • 8 bushels of oates
  • One old frying pan and parcel of planters tooles
  • 2 iron wedges and 8 pounds old iron
  • The 8th part of a wore out saine and rope
  • 1 large old chest
  • Wearing apparel
  • A parcel of old lumber
  • 1 old tobaco box, three glass bottles,
  • 54 pounds pott?
  • 3 pounds of wrought iron
  • 1 small grind stone and a ? of old ? lanyards

Errors excepted James Keetch, ? Darnall

Some of this document is very difficult to read.

It’s worth noting that there is no Bible, which I found unusual.

The hundred-gallon “sider casks” tell us that Thomas had apple trees and of course, pressed cider. Maybe hard cider.

There’s no tobacco, which suggests his land was planted in corn, beans and wheat. This is very unusual for this region, but tobacco is back-breakingly labor intensive.

There are lots of old, worn-out, and broken items.

Someone was making shoes. Were some of those shoes made out of dog skin?

Cooper and carpentry tools are in evidence too, although it’s impossible to know if those items were for farmstead use or if Thomas and/or his enslaved people were providing these services for neighbors. They might have been making cider casks.

The highest value items are, in order:

  • Young negro man – 55 pounds
  • Old negro man – 45 pounds
  • 40 barrels of Indian Corn – 20 pounds
  • Two mares, 4 cowes and 4 yearlings – 14 pounds
  • The female servant with more than three years left to serve was only 4 pounds, the same as the feather bed, bedstead and covering or 20 bushels of wheat.

The fact that Thomas owned humans hurts my heart. I wish we knew their names, but they are effectively lost to history.

I’m curious how Thomas came to be the master of a female convict servant. Was she deported while pregnant, or did she become pregnant after arrival?

I hope, really, really hope that the servant’s bed of hen feathers was where this woman slept.

What happened to her and her child? Whose child was it? What was she convicted of, and where?

According to the Journal of American Studies in the article, Convict Runaways in Maryland, 1745-1775:

“The existence of convicts in Virginia and Maryland stemmed from the provisions of the Transportation Act passed by the British parliament in 1718. This stated that felons found guilty of non-capital crimes against property could be transported to America for seven years while the smaller number of criminals convicted on capital charges could have their death sentence commuted to banishment for either fourteen years or life. Between 1718 and 1775, when the traffic ended with the approach of war, more than 90 percent of the 50,000 convicts shipped across the Atlantic from the British Isles were sold by contractors to settlers in the Chesapeake, where there was a continuous demand for cheap, white, bonded labour. Though many convicts were people who had resorted to petty theft in hard times rather than habitual criminals, they were often viewed with jaundiced eyes in the Chesapeake as purveyors of crime, disease and corruption. They also had to endure, along with slaves and indentured servants, the everyday reality of lower-class life in colonial America: the exploitation of unfree labour. It is therefore not surprising that many convicts, like other dependent labourers, tried to free themselves from bondage by escaping from their owners.”

If the woman was convicted for 7 years, she would have arrived in 1752 and become pregnant in Maryland. Indentured servants weren’t allowed to marry, so it’s unlikely that convicts were permitted to marry either. Furthermore, if an indentured servant had a child, years were generally added to their servitude for the “bother” to their master. I wrote about Enforced Bastardry in Colonial America, here.

Of course, this also begs the question of whose child she was carrying.

And did either of them survive?

What happened to those two enslaved men? How old was “old” in this context?

Death in the Chesapeake

I’m fascinated by the fact that Thomas died within days of his father. Is there a story here?

Life expectancy in the Chesapeake was a full decade shorter than in New England.


The Chesapeake region was swampy and the residents battled malaria, dysentery, and typhoid.

Average life expectancy from 1650-1700 was 41 years, and from 1700-1745 was 43 years.

Both dysentery and typhoid killed fairly quickly. Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease can torture its host for a long period before death, is almost always fatal if untreated, and thrives in the heat. Many people die of complications. Those who survive can become infected again. The cause of malaria wasn’t understood until 1897, having been attributed to “bad air” or miasma. The colonists had no idea why they got sick, nor how to protect themselves.

Of course, malaria is caused by bites of infected mosquitos, but so is yellow fever. The death rate from yellow fever is so high that those not-yet-infected often had to work day and night to bury the dead during an outbreak.

Due to the low water table creating stagnant water, risk of human waste contamination, the cause of both dysentery and typhoid, was significant.

Typhoid was more common in hot months and anyone unfortunate enough to get both typhoid and dysentery at the same time simply wasn’t going to survive. The hallmark of both was “bloody flux” accompanied by fever, often high fever, followed by severe dehydration and systemic organ shutdown.

Nearly half of the indentured servants in the Chesapeake died before finishing their contract. Colonists began to learn that the area was unhealthy, and their children moved toward the Piedmont.

Given that Bowling and Thomas lived six or seven miles apart, they wouldn’t have been sickened by the same contaminated water supply, unless they were visiting with each other. However, smallpox was a recurrent, contagious, epidemic that would affect many people within a region.

We haven’t even mentioned consumption, known as tuberculosis today, but it seems that many people would have died of something else before they had the opportunity to contract a disease that would kill them slowly.

So, what killed Basil at about age 81 years of age, and his son Thomas at about 55, within days of each other, but not the wife of either man?

Spouses share water supplies, so the women would have contracted dysentery or typhoid as well. Of course, they could have survived.

Spouses also shared close living quarters, not to mention drinking water from the same gourd dipper, for example. If one person had something contagious, every other person in the household could be expected to contract it.

My guess would be malaria, also known as ague or marsh fever due to its association with swamps, and because it’s not contagious from person to person.

After all, Bowling and Thomas both lived along the length of Zachia Swamp. They died in the summer. Mosquitos would have been rampant. And their wives didn’t die.

Zekiah Swamp Run is literally the name of the intertwined, braided stream system snaking through Thomas of Zachia’s land.

It’s ironic that his own nickname may hold the clue to his demise.

All things considered, Bowling was exceptionally lucky to live double the local life expectancy of 41 or 43 years, and Thomas outlived that by a decade or so as well.

Such was life in 1755 in Zachia Manor, aka Zachia Swamp.


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Native American: Is She or Isn’t She?

Many people have an oral history that a specific female ancestor is Native American.

Autosomal DNA results may or may not show some percentage of Native American ancestry. If your results DO include a percentage of Native American, you still need to figure out which ancestors were Native. Where did that piece of your genetic heritage come from?

If your results don’t include Native ancestry, that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a Native Ancestor. Sometimes you just didn’t inherit a discernable segment of DNA from that ancestor, or maybe the vendor you tested with didn’t pick that up.

Be sure to upload your raw DNA file to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage for free to gain another perspective. Here’s my free step-by-step guide for downloading and uploading your DNA files from and to all the major vendors.

FamilyTreeDNA provides painted segment information as well that shows you which segments are Native American.

One of my challenges is that I do have Native American autosomal DNA segments. Determining where they came from has been challenging, although the ethnicity chromosome painting at FamilyTreeDNA has been very useful in confirming the source of those segments.

Is there a way to augment autosomal results and be more specific and directed in my search? Can I focus on an individual ancestor? Especially females who are particularly difficult to research, given name changes in each generation?

Yes, you can.

Chasing the Truth

Sometimes, especially historically, when a female ancestor’s genealogy wasn’t known, people presumed that they must have been Native American. I’ve come across this several times now.

The good news is that using mitochondrial DNA, you can find out conclusively if you test someone who descends from that woman through all females to the current generation, which can be male.

I had Native American oral history connected to two ancestors, both of whom I was able to confirm or refute by finding a cousin who inherited that ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA and agreed to test. Women give their mitochondrial DNA to both sexes of their children, but only daughters pass it on. In the current generation, males or females can test.

I also found an unexpected ancestor who was Native. I had no oral history about her – so you just never know what you’ll discover.

Sarah Faires

Oral history in some descendant families indicated that Sarah Faires’s was Native American, possibly because her ancestors were unknown. There was a supposition that “she must have been Native.”

We were able to obtain the mitochondrial DNA of Sarah whose haplogroup turned out to be H49a1, so clearly not Native.

If Sarah’s direct maternal line (her mother, her mother, her mother, on up her tree) had been Native American, she would have fallen into subclades of haplogroup A, B, C, D or X, although not all of those subclades are Native.

You can view the entire list of Native American mitochondrial DNA haplogroups, here and you can view H49a1 on the public mitochondrial haplotree, here.

H49a1 is most frequently found in Germany, followed by Sweden, England and Denmark.

Elizabeth Vannoy

My father’s grandmother, Elizabeth Vannoy, was reported to be Cherokee, both orally and in several letters between family members.

One of my first genealogy goals was to prove that history, but I wound up eventually doing just the opposite.

Elizabeth Vannoy’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is J1c2c, not Native.

Haplogroup J1c2c is found most often in England, France, Sweden and Hungary.

I was able to connect Elizabeth to her parents. Then, eventually, thanks to mitochondrial DNA, working with a cousin, we connected another four maternal generations conclusively, and I’m still working on the fifth generation.

Anne Marie Rimbault

My cousin had no idea that her ancestor, Anne Marie, born about 1631, in Acadia, wife of Rene Rimbault, was Native American when she tested her mitochondrial DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA results explained why Anne Marie’s parents had never been identified in the French records. She was Native American – a member of the Mi’kmaq tribe that intermarried with the French men in the Acadian settlement, proven by her A2f1a haplogroup.

Haplogroup A2f1a is shown on the mitochondrial haplotree as First Nations in Canada and Native American in the US, plus one French flag reflecting a tester who only knew that her ancestor was French-Canadian and believed she had come from France.

Her mitochondrial DNA matches are scattered across the Northern US and Canada, but her closest matches are found in the Acadian and French-Canadian communities.

Is She, or Isn’t She?

Testing your own mitochondrial DNA if you think your direct maternal ancestor may be Native will unquestionably answer that question. Finding a mitochondrial DNA candidate for each of your ancestral lines will reveal which ancestor is Native, or you can target test to see if any specific ancestor is Native.

Unlike autosomal DNA, mitochondrial DNA never loses its potency and doesn’t mix with the DNA of the father. The segments aren’t divided in each generation and don’t wash out over time.

Do you have oral history about female Native American ancestors? Do you have ancestors whose parents are unknown? Mitochondrial DNA testing will resolve that question, plus provide matching with other testers. You don’t know what you don’t know.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to find your Native American ancestors, you might enjoy my book, DNA for Native American Genealogy. There’s lots of information there, including search tips, ancient DNA, maps and known tribes by haplogroup.

Do you have female ancestors who might be Native American?


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