Pandemic Journal: “Rosie the Mask Crafter” & Conquering Fear

As we look back, from our privileged position today in a safe home doing genealogy, we think that participating in a historic event or time might have been fun. Exhilarating or exciting, perhaps, or both.

When you’re in that historical moment where life changes in the blink of an eye, as we are today, and you don’t know who will see the other side, or what the other side looks like, it’s not fun or exciting in a good way. It’s flat out terrifying.

Our Ancestors Did It

We are doing today what our ancestors did before us. We are persevering and putting one foot in front of the other, doing what we can with what we have in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. They were resourceful, and so are we.

Bravery is not the absence of fear, it’s working through the fear, in spite of fear and doing something productive. Sometimes that “something” becomes our legacy.

It’s Your Turn

As one of the army of mask-makers isolated in her home says, “It’s up to me to be the history maker. Our lives are a culmination of the choices we make and the chances we take.”

That woman, still anonymous, is now and will be forevermore known simply as “Rosie, the Mask Crafter.”

Pandemic Rosie.png

An entire army of sewists, many of them quilters, are sewing masks, every day, all day, coordinating requests, delivering supplies and completed masks where they are needed across the country. The dozens made in our homes added together combine into rivers of hundreds that become thousands and then tens of thousands, but the need never abates.

Still, we cut and sew and pick up and deliver, day and night, and we will until either the virus is defeated, or the manufacturing industry can ramp up enough to meet the demand.

Thousands of us are members of social media coordination efforts that sprang up overnight to answer the call. Not only can we save others by staying home, we can help to protect our brave front line fighters in this war to the death – our health care providers who never signed up to fight battles. Yet, there they are every single day, trying to save us and themselves in a war zone that has been transformed from something that seemed perfectly normal just a couple weeks ago to a Hell scene straight from the apocalypse.

Someone posted “Rosie the Mask Crafter’s” picture, iconically posing by her sewing machine, a pandemic version of Rosie the Riveter who represents an entire generation of women who stepped up in 1943 during WWII to fill the manufacturing void.

Pandemic Rosie Riveter

Thank you to “Rosie” for permission to use her photo.

Then, a couple days later, this…from group member, professional artist, Camilla Webster:

Thank you to the member who shared a photo of “Rosie, The Mask Crafter.”

I painted her today for all of you in memory of my friend Maria who passed away this weekend of COVID-19.

Keep up the great work!

I salute all of you! ❤️✨🙌

Pandemic Rosie painting

Rosie, The Mask Crafter, Copyright @ Camilla Webster Inc 2020 ❤️ – Thank you to Camilla for permission to use her painting.

I have to tell you, when you know someone who is sick or dies from this monster, this gets real – real fast. When your friend’s spouse is a doctor or nurse ON the Covid floor, doesn’t have enough PPE and they ask you for help protecting their loved one – it gets real, very real in a heartbeat. Just like it did for Camilla when her friend died.

Suddenly, you’re not sewing, you’re driving your tank through the night to create the defenses our medical warriors need so the masks can be overnighted the next morning. They are the front lines, but we have their backs as much as possible. If they can do that, we can certainly do this from the safety of our seclusion – a luxury they aren’t afforded.

And on and on we sew – as the streams of sirens scream, delivering the flood of critically ill people to hospitals across our nation as city after city becomes overwhelmed.

You May Need Masks for Your Family – You Can Do This!!

If you are willing to make masks for front line medical workers or others in need, such as nurses aids, public servants or other essential workers, there are numerous groups on social media coordinating by state and county. Search for terms like “mask” or “face mask warriors.” Call your local quilt shops, hospitals, police department, sheriff or EMS facilities to see if they are aware of local need in places like nursing homes or medical offices.

I’ve provided the pattern I use here, along with pictures of how I’m making the masks.

As the pandemic worsens, it appears that the CDC may recommend wearing face masks when we go out in public, not only to prevent picking up the virus, but from spreading it if we are infected but not symptomatic. Even if you’re not sewing for donation, you may want to make some for your own family. Men are sewing just same as women – everyone can do this, even if you’ve never sewn before.

The frightening thing is, we are nowhere near the peak yet. So, I want to share something else with you today.

It’s OK to Be Afraid

It’s alright to be afraid.

I posted a link to the article, The Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief on my Facebook page. I’ve tried very hard to stay positive, but that’s not always possible, especially since I have family on that front line.

I feel like this isn’t just a temporary situation, but a fundamental change – a paradigm shift in life as we know it. Not only do we not know who will be on the other side, we don’t know what “the other side” looks like.

After I posted the link, I discovered that two of my cousins expressed their feelings. One said she is angry, and one said she is afraid. We discussed this, together, and a few more people chimed in. It felt good to share what we are all feeling and admit that we can’t be cheerful and upbeat all of the time. It was comforting to know we are not alone and that yes, we are grieving.

This situation exacerbates other life events that are already saddening – like deaths of family and pets when we can’t travel, and funerals that can’t happen at all. It isolates us when we most need to be together and hug our family – but we can’t. We risk their very lives, and others, if we don’t continue to isolate. This is particularly difficult when dealing with the critically ill, knowing we may not see them again and we’re missing our last opportunity, or when dealing with elderly or other people who can’t understand WHY we’re not there.

We don’t always, always have to put on the smiling face, the mask of our own that says, “it’s going to be alright,” because truthfully, we don’t know whether it will be or not. Yet, we all say that to each other as reassurance, a form of whistling while walking past the cemetery in the dark.

But here’s the thing. I don’t know if I’ll survive this, or if all of my family will – but I have a choice today. I’m inconvenienced and afraid, but I’m also able to fight and I promise you, I will fight until my dying breath whether it’s sooner or later. By making masks, by still doing for others as I can, by teaching and writing these articles, by honoring my ancestors and by fighting for those who desperately need help, both human and animal – I will fight on.

I may be frightened, but I’m not down and I’m not out – and I’m trying to make sure others aren’t either. I’m absolutely determined, committed and steadfast in my perseverance – even if we are all whistling while walking in the dark. Keep on walking, one step at a time! We are walking together – virtually – if not in person.

Five Things

If you’re not sewing masks, and even those of us who are can’t do that 24X7, here are 5 things you can do that will distract you and lift your spirits.

  1. The VGA (Virtual Genealogy Association) Entertainment Show free video is here, minus the music which had to be removed because it might have been a copyright violation to play or sing those songs.
  2. Legacy Family Tree Webinars is having a free genealogy webinar every single day in the month of April, here or you can subscribe for free unlimited access to everything, here.
  3. MyHeritage is making the photo colorization tool free, here, and all US census records are free here or you can try a free trial subscription to all the records, here. DNA tests are also on sale for $39, here.
  4. If you’ve DNA tested at any of the companies and contacted people in the past who haven’t answered, now’s a great time to check for new matches (don’t forget Y and mitochondrial DNA) and reach out because many people are safely tucked away at home. What better time to do some genealogy and reach out to others?
  5. Here’s a list of free educational videos and more than half a million National Archives records that you can use if you’re schooling your children at home, or maybe you’re interested yourself. Wait, you could assign genealogy research as homework! YES! Now THAT, that is a silver lining!

Stay “Rosie Strong.” You got this!

Pandemic Rosie strong.jpg

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Triangulation in Action at DNAPainter

Recently, I published the article, Hitting a Genealogy Home Run Using Your Double-Sided Two-Faced Chromosomes While Avoiding Imposters. The “Home Run” article explains why you want to use a chromosome browser, what you’re seeing and what it means to you.

This article, and the rest in the “Triangulation in Action” series introduces triangulation at FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, GedMatch and DNAPainter, explaining how to use triangulation to confirm descent from a common ancestor. You may want to read the introductory article first.

This first section, “What is Triangulation” is a generic tutorial. If you don’t need the tutorial, skip to the “Transfers” or “Triangulation at DNAPainter” section.

What is Triangulation?

Think of triangulation as a three-legged stool – a triangle. Triangulation requires three things:

  1. At least three (not closely related) people must match
  2. On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA and
  3. Descend from a common ancestor

Triangulation is the foundation of confirming descent from a common ancestor, and thereby assigning a specific segment to that ancestor. Without triangulation, you might just have a match to someone else by chance. You can confirm mathematical triangulation, numbers 1 and 2, above, without knowing the identity of the common ancestor.

Reasonably sized segments are generally considered to be 7cM or above on chromosomes 1-22 and 15cM or above for the X chromosome.

Boundaries

Triangulation means that all three, or more, people much match on a common segment. However, what you’re likely to see is that some people don’t match on the entire segment, meaning more or less than others as demonstrated in the following examples.

FTDNA Triangulation boundaries

You can see that I match 5 different cousins who I know descend from my father’s side on chromosome 15 above. “I” am the grey background against which everyone else is being compared.

I triangulate with these matches in different ways, forming multiple triangulation groups that I’ve discussed individually, below.

Triangulation Group 1

FTDNA triangulation 1

Group 1 – On the left group of matches, above, I triangulate with the blue, red and orange person on the amount of DNA that is common between all of them, shown in the black box. This is triangulation group 1.

Triangulation Group 2

FTDNA triangulation 2

Group 2 – However, if you look just at the blue and orange triangulated matches bracketed in green, I triangulate on slightly more. This group excludes the red person because their beginning point is not the same, or even close. This is triangulation group 2.

Triangulation Group 3 and 4

FTDNA triang 3

Group 3 – In the right group of matches, there are two large triangulation groups. Triangulation group 3 includes the common portions of blue, red, teal and orange matches.

Group 4 – Triangulation group 4 is the skinny group at right and includes the common portion of the blue, teal and dark blue matches.

Triangulation Groups 5 and 6

FTDNA triang 5

Group 5 – There are also two more triangulation groups. The larger green bracketed group includes only the blue and teal people because their end locations are to the right of the end locations of the red and orange matches. This is triangulation group 5.

Group 6 – The smaller green bracketed group includes only the blue and teal person because their start locations are before the dark blue person. This is triangulation group 6.

There’s actually one more triangulation group. Can you see it?

Triangulation Group 7

FTDNA triang 7

Group 7 – The tan group includes the red, teal and orange matches but only the areas where they all overlap. This excludes the top blue match because their start location is different. Triangulation group 7 only extends to the end of the red and orange matches, because those are the same locations, while the teal match extends further to the right. That extension is excluded, of course.

Slight Variations

Matches with only slight start and end differences are probably descended from the same ancestor, but we can’t say that for sure (at this point) so we only include actual mathematically matching segments in a triangulation group.

You can see that triangulation groups often overlap because group members share more or less DNA with each other. Normally we don’t bother to number the groups – we just look at the alignment. I numbered them for illustration purposes.

Shared or In-Common-With Matching

Triangulation is not the same thing as a 3-way shared “in-common-with” match. You may share DNA with those two people, but on entirely different segments from entirely different ancestors. If those other two people match each other, it can be on a segment where you don’t match either of them, and thanks to an ancestor that they share who isn’t in your line at all. Shared matches are a great hint, especially in addition to other information, but shared matches don’t necessarily mean triangulation although it’s a great place to start looking.

I have shared matches where I match one person on my maternal side, one on my paternal side, and they match each other through a completely different ancestor on an entirely different segment. However, we don’t triangulate because we don’t all match each other on the SAME segment of DNA. Yes, it can be confusing.

Just remember, each of your segments, and matches, has its own individual history.

Imputation Can Affect Matching

Over the years the chips on which our DNA is processed at the vendors have changed. Each new generation of chips tests a different number of markers, and sometimes different markers – with the overlaps between the entire suite of chips being less than optimal.

I can verify that most vendors use imputation to level the playing field, and even though two vendors have never verified that fact, I’m relatively certain that they all do. That’s the only way they could match to their own prior “only somewhat compatible” chip versions.

The net-net of this is that you may see some differences in matching segments at different vendors, even when you’re comparing the same people. Imputation generally “fills in the blanks,” but doesn’t create large swatches of non-existent DNA. I wrote about the concept of imputation here.

What I’d like for you to take away from this discussion is to be focused on the big picture – if and how people triangulate which is the function important to genealogy. Not if the start and end segments are exactly the same.

Triangulation Solutions

All vendors except Ancestry offer some type of triangulation.

If you and your Ancestry matches have uploaded to GedMatch, Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage, you can triangulate with them there. Otherwise, you can’t triangulate Ancestry results, so encourage your Ancestry matches to transfer.

I wrote more specifically about triangulation here and here.

Transfer your results in order to obtain the maximum number of matches possible. Every vendor has people in their data base that haven’t tested elsewhere.

Transfers

Have you tested family members, especially everyone in the older generations? You can transfer their kits from Ancestry or 23andMe if they’ve tested there to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch.

Here’s how to transfer:

Now that we’ve reviewed triangulation at each vendor; FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch, let’s looking at utilizing triangulation at DNAPainter.

Triangulation at DNAPainter

Once you identify your ancestral segments with matches, or using triangulation, you can paint them on your maternal or paternal chromosomes utilizing DNAPainter.

The great aspect of DNAPainter is that you don’t have to triangulate in order to use DNAPainter. Just identifying matches as maternal or paternal allows you to visually see where on your maternal or paternal chromosomes your matches fall, in essence triangulating groups for you.

DNAPainter assigns colors to each ancestor and shows your match names, which I’ve disabled in this example for privacy. I’ve also optionally painted my ethnicity segments from 23andMe, which I discussed in this article.

Triangulation DNAPainter chr 22.png

Above, on chromosome 22, I’ve painted matches that I know descend from either my mother’s (pink) or father’s (blue) side. At DNAPainter, I DO have both a maternal and paternal chromosome, but they are only useful AFTER I figure out which side of my family a match comes from, or if I paint my Family Matching bucketed maternal and paternal matches in an upload file from Family Tree DNA. I wrote instructions for how to do that, here. The combination of Family Matching and DNAPainter is awesome!

Looking at the graphic above, I know that three separate people who match me descend from the bright pink ancestor on my maternal chromosome; Curtis Lore and his wife. I’ve assigned Curtis the bright pink color, and now every match that I paint assigned to Curtis and his wife is colored pink.

One person descends from Curtis’s parents, Anthony Lore and his wife Rachel Hill who I’ve assigned as green.

Until someone else matches me and descends either from Anthony Lore’s parents or Rachel Hill’s parents on this green segment, I won’t know which of those two ancestors, or both, provided (pieces of) that segment to me.

Anthony Lore and Rachel Hill are my great-great-grandparents and Curtis Lore is their son. Even if I only have 2 matches on this segment, one pink and one green, I would know that the green portion of my maternal chromosome 22 is attributed to Anthony and Rachel which means I inherited that green segment from my pink ancestor, Curtis Lore.

In order to determine the source of the two pink triangulated matches at far right, I’ll need to wait until someone from either Curtis’s line or his wife Nora Kirsch’s line match me on that same segment.

We build these groups of triangulated segments slowly, creating in essence a timeline on our chromosomes. It seems like it’s taking forever, but four generations distance with 2 separate triangulated segments really isn’t bad at all!

At DNAPainter, triangulation is as simple as painting your identified matches, either individually, one by one, or using the group import features. I would only recommend utilizing that feature at Family Tree DNA where their Family Matching software divides your matches into maternal and paternal, allowing DNAPainter to paint them on the correct chromosome. Otherwise, the segments are painted, but you can’t tell which side, maternal or paternal, they come from, so I don’t find painting all matches useful without some way to differentiate between maternal and paternal. After all, the point and power of a chromosome browser is to determine how each person is related, from which side, and from which ancestor.

In the article, DNAPainter Instructions and Resources, I compiled my various articles about the many ways to use DNAPainter, including an introduction.

Transfer

Be sure to test at or transfer to each vendor who provides segment information. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not, but you can transfer your ancestry results to Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch, each of which has unique features that the others don’t have. Transferring and matching is free at each vendor.

I wrote transfer instructions for each vendor, here.

Then, paint and triangulate all in one step at DNAPainter.

Have fun!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

The Shared cM Project Version 4 Released

Version 4 of the Shared cM Project has been released, utilizing over 60,000 known relationship results submitted by genealogists. The Shared cM Project was begun in 2015 by Blaine Bettinger in order to crowd-source the actual number of shared centiMorgans, cMs, of variously related people who match each through autosomal DNA testing.

Obviously, in order to contribute to the Shared cM Project and participate, you must know how you are related to your matches. You can read about the earlier versions of the project, here.

The Shared cM Project has been very useful for genealogists attempting to determine potential relationships of unknown testers, in particular, because sometimes what we “expect” to see based on academic predictions and models isn’t actually what happens.

Of course, the flip side of that is that sometimes people who contribute relationships don’t understand or report relationships accurately; specifically relationships such as “half,” and “removed.” Nonetheless, with enough data, these reporting errors become statistical outliers. You can participate by contributing your known relationship data through the portal, here.

Blaine’s blog about the new V4 version is here and the full 56-page pdf paper about the results and methodology is here. If you want to understand how the project works, not only is this paper essential reading, it’s a wonderful educational source.

DNAPainter

By far, the most common usage of The Shared cM Project results is the interactive tool created at DNAPainter by Jonny Perl.

V4 DNAPainter

The Shared cM Project tools are found under the Tools and WATO tab, here.

V4 DNAPainter shared

Click on Shared cM Tool when navigating from the main DNAPainter page.

V4 DNAPainter complete chart

You’ll see the updated V4 relationship chart, with the field to enter the amount of shared cMs between you and a match above the chart, shown partially above.

V4 DNAPainter result

Selecting a cM number at random, I entered 1300. The results show the probabilities of various relationships between two people who match at 1300 cMs.

V4 DNAPainter table

1300 shared cMs can be any of the relationships shown, above. The grey, faded background relationships are not candidates at 1300 cMs, according to V4 of the Shared cM Project.

V4 DNAPainter histogram

A new feature added by Jonny provides the ability to click on a relationship and view the histogram from The Shared cM Project showing the submitted relationship amounts. For aunt/uncle at 1300 cMs, 26 people reported that matching amount. The most common amount of shared DNA was 1800 for that relationship category.

You can read Jonny’s latest blog introducing these new features, here.

Thanks to all of the 60,000+ contributors, Blaine and Jonny who made this possible.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Fun Genealogy Activities for Trying Times

My mother used to say that patience is a virtue.

patience stones.jpg

I’m afraid I’m not naturally a very virtuous person, at least not where patience is concerned. I don’t seem to take after my ancestor, Patience Brewster (1600-1634.) Perhaps those “patience” genes didn’t make it to my generation. Or maybe Patience wasn’t very patient herself.

Not only does patience not come naturally to me, it’s more difficult for everyone during stressful times. People are anxious, nerves are frazzled and tempers are short. Have you noticed that recently?

I guess you could say that what we’ve been enduring, in terms of both health issues and/or preparation for the Covid-19 virus along with the economic rollercoaster – not to mention the associated politics, is stress-inducing.

patience stress.png

Let’s see:

  • Worry about a slow-motion epidemic steamrollering the population as it wraps around the world – check.
  • Worry about family members – check.
  • Worry about TP, hand sanitizer, food, medication and other supplies – check.
  • Worry about jobs and income – check.
  • Worry about retirement accounts and medical bills – check.
  • Worry about long-term ramifications – check.

Nope, no stress here. What about you?

And yes, I’m intentionally understated, hoping to at least garner a smile.

Once you’ve stocked up on what you need and decided to stay home out of harm’s way – or more to the point, out of germ’s way – how can you feel more patient and less stressed?

I have some suggestions!

patience stress relief.png

The Feel Better Recipe

First, just accept that once you’ve done what you can do to help yourself, which includes minimizing exposure – there’s little else that you can do. I wrote about symptoms and precautions, here. The best thing you can do is wash, stay home and remain vigilant.

If someone you know or love doesn’t understand why we need to limit or eliminate social interaction at this point, here’s an article that explains how NOT to be stupid, as well as an article here about what flattening the curve means and why social distancing is our only prayer at this point to potentially avoid disaster. We are all in this together and we all have a powerful role to play – just by staying at home.

Educating and encouraging others to take precautionary steps might help, but worrying isn’t going to help anything because you can’t affect much beyond your own sphere of influence. As much as we wish we could affect the virus itself, or increase the testing supply, or influence good decision-making by others, we generally can’t.

What can we do, aside from sharing precautionary information and hoping that we are “heard?”

We can try to release the worry.

patience zen.png

If you sit there thinking about releasing the worry, which means you’re focused on worrying – that’s probably not going to be very productive.

Neither is drinking your entire supply of Jack Daniels in one sitting – not the least of which is because you may need that as hand sanitizer down the road a bit. Oh, wait, hand sanitizer is supposed to be more than 60% alcohol, which would be 120 proof. Never mind, go ahead and drink the Jack Daniels😊

What you really need is a distraction. Preferably a beneficial distraction that won’t give you a hangover. Not like my distraction this past month when the washing machine flooded through the floor into the basement including my office below. No, not that kind of distraction.

Some folks can “escape the world,” in a sense, by watching TV, but I’m not one of those people. I need to engage my mind with some sort of structure and I want to feel like I’m accomplishing something. If you’re a “TV” person, you’re probably watching TV now and not reading this anyway – so I’m guessing that’s not my readership audience, by and large.

Beneficial Distractions

Here are 20 wonderful ideas for fun and useful things to do – and guess what – they aren’t all genealogy related. Let’s start with something that will make you feel wonderful.

labyrinth

  1. Take a walk – outside, but not around other people. Your body and mind will thank you. Your body likes to move and exercise generates beneficial feel-good endorphins, reducing anxiety. Remember to take hand sanitizer with you and open doors by pushing with your arm or hip, if possible. Also, if you need to get fuel for your vehicle, take disposable gloves to handle the pump. Disinfectant, soap and water is your friend – maybe your best friend right now.

patience books.png

  1. Read a book. Escapism, pure and simple. I have a stack of books just waiting. If you don’t, you can download e-books to your Kindle or iPad or phone directly from Amazon without going anyplace or have books delivered directly to your door. Try Libby Copeland’s The Lost Family, which you can order here. It’s dynamite. (My brother and my story are featured, which I wrote about here.) If you’d like DNA education, you can order Diahan Southard’s brand new book, Your DNA Guide: Step by Step Plans, here. I haven’t read Diahan’s book, but I’m familiar with the quality of her work and don’t have any hesitation about recommending it. (Let me know what you think.) And hey, you don’t even need hand sanitizer for this!

patience check box.png

  1. Check your DNA matches at all the vendors where you’ve tested. If you don’t check daily, now would be a good time to catch up. Not just autosomal matches, but also Y and mitochondrial at Family Tree DNA. Those tests often get overlooked. Maybe some of your matches have updated their trees or earliest known ancestor information.

patience tree.png

  1. Speaking of trees, update your trees on the three DNA/genealogy sites that support trees: FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and Ancestry. Keeping your tree up to date through at least the 8th generation (including their children) enables the companies to more easily connect the dots for their helpful tools like Phased Family Matching aka bucketing at FamilyTreeDNA, Theories of Family Relativity aka TOFR at MyHeritage and ThruLines at Ancestry.

patience connect.png

  1. Connect your known matches to their appropriate place on your tree at Family Tree DNA, as illustrated above. This provides fuel for Family Tree DNA to be able to designate your matches as maternal or paternal, even if your mother and father haven’t tested. In this case, I’ve connected my first cousin once removed who matches me in her proper location in my tree. People who match my cousin and I both are assigned to my maternal bucket.

patience y dna.pngpatience mtdna.png

  1. Order or upgrade a Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA test or a Family Finder autosomal test for you or a family member at Family Tree DNA. Upgrades, shown above, are easy if the tester has already taken at least one test, because DNA is banked at the lab for future orders. You don’t have to go anyplace to do this and DNA testing results and benefits last forever. Your DNA works for you 24x7x365.

patience join project.png

patience projects.png

  1. Join a free project at FamilyTreeDNA. Those can be surname projects, haplogroup projects, regional projects such as Acadian AmeriIndian and other interest topics like American Indian. You can search or browse for projects of interest and collaborate with others. Projects are managed by volunteer administrators who obviously have an interest in the project’s topic.

patience match.png

  1. At each of the vendors, find your highest autosomal match whom you cannot place as a relative. Work on their line via tree construction and then utilizing clustering using Genetic Affairs. I wrote about Genetic Affairs, an amazing tool, here, which you can try for free.

patience familysearch wiki.png

patience claiborne.png

  1. Check the FamilySearch WIKI for your genealogy locations by googling “Claiborne County, Tennessee FamilySearch wiki” where you substitute the location of where you are searching for “Claiborne County, Tennessee.” FamilySearch is free and the WIKI includes resources outside of FamilySearch itself, including paid and other free sites.

patience familysearch records.png

  1. While you’re at it, if you haven’t already, create a FamilySearch account and create or upload a tree to FamilySearch. It will be connected to branches of existing trees to create one large worldwide tree. Yes, you’ll be frustrated in some cases because there are incorrect ancestors sometimes listed in the “big tree” – BUT – there are procedures in place to remediate that situation. The important aspect is that FamilySearch, which is free, provides hints and resources not available any other place for some ancestors. Not long ago, I found a detailed estate packet that I had no idea existed – for a female ancestor no less. You can search at FamilySearch for ancestors, genealogies, records and in other ways. New records become available often.  This will keep you occupied for days, I promise!

Patience Journal.png

  1. Begin a Novel Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic journal. Think of your descendants 100 years in the future. Wouldn’t you like to know what your great-grandparents were doing during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic? Or even their siblings or neighbors, because that was likely similar to what your ancestors were doing as well. You don’t have to write much daily – just write. Not just facts, but how you feel as well. Are you afraid, concerned specifically about someone? What’s going on with you – in your mind? That’s the part of you that your descendants will long to know a century from now.

Quilt rose

  1. Create something with your hands. I made a quilt this week for an ailing friend, unrelated to this epidemic. No, I didn’t “have time” to do that, but I made time because this quilt is important, and I know they need the “get well’’” wishes and love that quilt will wrap them in. It always feels good to do something for someone else.

patience gardening.jpg

  1. Garden, or in my case, that equates to pulling weeds. Not only is weeding productive, you can work off frustration by thinking about someone or something that upsets you as you yank those weeds out by their roots. Of course, that means you’ll have to first decide what is, and is not, a weed😊. That could be the toughest part.

patience smart matches.png

  1. At MyHeritage, you can use Irish records for free this month, plus try a free subscription, here in order to access all the rest of the millions of records available at MyHeritage. Check for Smart Matches for ancestors, shown above, and confirm that they are accurate, meaning that the ancestor the other person has in their tree is the same person as you have in your tree – even if they aren’t exactly identical. You don’t need to import any of their information, and I would suggest that you don’t without reviewing every piece of information individually. Confirming Smart Matches helps MyHeritage build Theories of Family Relativity – not to mention you may discover additional information about your ancestors. While you’re checking Smart Matches, who ARE those other people with your grandmother in their tree. Are they relatives who might have information that you don’t? This is a good opportunity to reach out. And what are those 12 pending record matches? Inquiring minds want to know. Let’s check.
patience newspapers

Click to enlarge.

  1. Check either NewsPapers.com or the Newspaper collection at MyHeritage, or both, systematically, for each ancestor. You never know what juicy tidbits you might discover about your ancestors. Often, things “forgotten” by families are the informative morsels you’ll want to know and are hidden in those local news articles. These newsy community newspapers bring the life and times of our ancestors to light in ways nothing else can. Wait, what? My Brethren ancestor, Hiram Ferverda, pleaded guilty to something??? I’d better read this article!

patience interview.png

  1. Interview your relatives. Make a list of questions you’d like for them to answer about themselves and the most distant common ancestors that they knew, or knew about. You can conduct interviews without being physically together via the phone or Skype or Facetime. Document what was said for the future, in writing, and possibly by recording as well. After someone has passed, hearing their voice again is priceless.

Upload download

  1. Transfer your DNA file to vendors that accept transfers, getting more bang for your testing dollars by finding more matches. 23andMe and Ancestry don’t accept transfers.  At MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA, transfers are free and so is matching, but advanced tools require a small unlock fee. I wrote a step-by-step series about how to transfer, here. Each article includes instructions for transferring from or to Ancestry, MyHeritage, 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA. Don’t forget to upload to GedMatch for additional tools.

patience brick wall.jpg

  1. Focus on your most irritating brick wall and review what records you do, and don’t have that could be relevant. That would include local, county, state and federal records, tax lists, census, church records and minutes and local histories if they exist. Have you called the local library and asked about vertical files or other researchers? What about state archive resources? Don’t forget activities like google searches. Have you utilized all possible DNA clues, including Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, if applicable? How about third-party tools like Genetic Affairs and DNAgedcom?

patience DNApainter.png

  1. Try DNAPainter, for free. Painting your chromosomes and walking those segments back in time to your ancestors from whom they descended is so much fun. Not to mention you can integrate ethnicity and now traits, too. I’ve written instructions for using using DNAPainter in a variety of ways, here.

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  1. Expand your education by watching webinars at Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Many are free and a yearly subscription is very reasonable. Take a look, here.

patience bucket.png

  1. Spring cleaning your house or desk. Ewww – cleaning – the activity that is never done and begins undoing itself immediately after you’ve finished? Makes any of the above 20 activities sound wonderful by comparison, right? I agree, so pick one and let’s get started!

Let me know what you find. Write about your search activities and discoveries in your Pandemic journal too.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Free Webinar: 3 Case Studies and How I Solved Them

I recorded my latest webinar live yesterday for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, but Murphy interfered a bit in the last 5 minutes or so. The great news is that we re-recorded that portion and it’s fixed seamlessly for your (free until March 10th) viewing pleasure.

This webinar utilizes historical and genealogical records, autosomal, Y or mitochondrial DNA, sometimes in combination with each other, to solve various cases. I use the features available at the major vendors plus third-party tools as well – whatever is needed to address the situation at hand.

Which resources I use, when, depends on what I have to work with and where I seek to go – kind of like following clues on a treasure map – except this treasure trove I’m unearthing is my ancestors!

You’re not going to believe how much information, and how many generations were revealed in the mitochondrial DNA case. This was a GOLD MINE!

3 Case Studies and How I Solved Them is free until March 10th by clicking here. This is a wonderful opportunity if you didn’t get to watch live or had viewing issues. Just scroll down to the very first webinar in the library.

Legacy Tree 3 case studies.png

After March 10th, you’ll need a subscription which you can purchase, here by clicking on the subscribe link in the upper right hand corner of the Legacy Family Tree Webinar  page.

Legacy Tree subscribe.png

If you want to order any of the tests mentioned in the webinar, they are available at the following links:

Instructions for transferring from vendors to either FamilyTreeDNA or My Heritage are found here. I recommend transferring to or between both. In other words, make sure you are in all 4 of the major testing databases. You never know where that critically important match is going to be found.

Need an autosomal testing and transfer strategy to minimize costs and mazimize results? Click here.

Enjoy and Share the Love

You can always forward my articles to friends or share by posting links on social media. Who do you know that might be interested?

_____________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

RootsTech 2020: It’s a Wrap

Before sharing photos and details about the last three days at RootsTech, I want to provide some general observations.

I expected the attendance to be down this year because of the concern about the Novel Corona Virus. There was a lot of hand-washing and sanitizer, but no hand-wringing.

I don’t think attendance was lagging at all. In fact, this show was larger, based on how my feet feel and general crowd observation than ever before. People appeared to be more engaged too.

According to RootsTech personnel, 4 major vendors pulled out the week before the show opened; 23andMe, LivingDNA, FindMyPast and a book vendor.

I doubt there’s much of a refund policy, so surely something happened in these cases. If you recall, LivingDNA and FindMyPast have a business relationship. 23andMe just laid off a number of people, but then again, so did Ancestry but you’d never know it based on the size of their booth and staffing here.

Family Search has really stepped up their game to modernize, capture stories, scan books and otherwise make genealogy interesting and attractive to everyone.

We got spoiled last year with the big DNA announcements at RootsTech, but nothing of that magnitude was announced this year. That’s not to say there weren’t vendor announcements, there were.

FamilyTreeDNA announced:

  • Their myOrigins Version 3.0 which is significantly updated by adding several worldwide populations, increasing the number from 24 to 90. I wrote about these features here.
  • Adding a myOrigins chromosome browser painted view. I am SOOO excited about this because it makes ethnicity actually useful for genealogy because we can compare specific ethnicity segments with genealogical matches. I can hardly wait.

RootsTech 2020 Sunny Paul

Sunny Morton with Family Tree Magazine interviewing Dr. Paul Maier, FamilyTreeDNA’s population geneticist. You can see the painted chromosome view on the screen behind Dr. Maier.

  • Providing, after initial release, a downloadable ethnicity estimate segment file.
  • Sponsorship of The Million Mito Project, a joint collaborative citizen science project to rewrite the mitochondrial tree of womankind includes team members Dr. Miguel Vilar, Lead Scientist of the National Geographic Genographic Project, Dr. Paul Maier, Population Geneticist at FamilyTreeDNA, Goran Runfeldt, Head of Research and Development at FamilyTreeDNA, and me, DNAeXplain, scientist, genetic genealogist, National Geographic Genographic Affiliate Researcher.

RootsTech 2020 Million Mito

I was honored to make The Million Mito Project announcement Saturday morning, but it was hard for me to contain my enthusiasm until Saturday. This initiative is super-exciting and I’ll be writing about the project, and how you can participate, as soon as I get home and recover just a bit.

  • Michael Sager, aka Mr. Big Y, announced additions to the Y Tree of Mankind in the Demo Theater, including a particularly impressive haplogroup D split.

Rootstech 2020 Sager

RootsTech 2020 Sager 2

RootsTech 2020 Sager hap d

In case anyone is counting, as of last week, the Y tree has 26,600+ named branches and over half a million detected (private variant) SNPs at FamilyTreeDNA waiting for additional testers to be placed on the tree. All I can say is WOW!!! In 2010, a decade ago, there were only 441 Y DNA branches on the entire Y tree. The Y tree has shot up from a twig to an evergreen. I think it’s actually a Sequoia and we just don’t know how large it’s going to grow to be.

RootsTech 2020 FTDNA booth

FamilyTreeDNA stepped up their game with a way-cool new booth that incorporated a lovely presentation area, greatly improved, which featured several guest presenters throughout the conference, including Judy Russell, below.

RootsTech 2020 Judy Russell

Yes, in case anyone is wondering, I DID ask permission to take Judy’s picture, AND to publish it in my article. Just sayin’😊

MyHeritage announced their new photo colorization, MyHeritage in Color, just before RootsTech. I wrote about it, here. At RootsTech MyHeritage had more announcements, including:

  • Enhancements coming soon to the photo colorization program. It was interesting to learn that the colorization project went live in less than 2 months from inception and resulted from an internal “hack-a-thon,” which in the technology industry is a fun think-tank sort of marathon endeavor where ideas flow freely in a competitive environment. Today, over a million photos have been colorized. People LOVE this feature.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage booth

One of their booth giveaways was a magnet – of your colorized ancestor’s photo. Conference attendees emailed the photo to a special email address and came by the booth a few minutes later to retrieve their photo magnet.

The photos on the board in front, above, are the colorized photos waiting for their family to pick them up. How fun!!!

  • Fan View for family trees which isn’t just a chart, but dynamic in that you can click on any person and they become the “center.” You can also add to your tree from this view.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage fan tree

One of the views is a colorful fan. If you sign on to your MyHeritage account, you’ll be asked if you’d like to see the new fan view. You can read about the new tree features on their blog, here.

  • The release of a MASSIVE 100-year US city directory digitization project that’s more than just imaging and indexing. If you’ve every used city directories, the unique abbreviations in each one will drive you batty. MyHeritage has solved that problem by providing the images, plus the “translation.” They’ve also used artificial intelligence to understand how to search further, incorporating things like spouse, address and more to provide you with not just one year or directory, but linear information that might allow you to infer the death of a spouse, for example. You can read their blog article, here.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage city directories

The MyHeritage booth incorporated a very cool feature this year about the Mayflower. Truthfully, I was quite surprised, because the Mayflower is a US thing. MyHeritage is working with folks in Leiden, Netherlands, where some Mayflower family members remained while others continued to what would become Plymouth Colony to prove the connection.

Rootstech 2020 MyHeritage Mayflower virtual

MyHeritage constructed a 3D area where you can sail with the Pilgrims.

I didn’t realize at first, but the chair swivels and as you move, your view in the 3D “goggles” changes to the direction on board the ship where you are looking.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage Mayflower virtual 2

The voyage in 1620 was utterly miserable – very rough with a great deal of illness. They did a good job of portraying that, but not “too much” if you get my drift. What you do feel is the utter smallness of the ship in the immense angry ocean.

I wonder how many descendants “sailed with their ancestors” on the virtual Mayflower. Do you have Mayflower ancestors? Mine are William Brewster, his wife, Mary and daughter, Patience along with Stephen Hopkins and his son, Gyles.

Ancestry’s only announcements were:

  • That they are “making things better” by listening and implementing improvements in the DNA area. I’ll forego any commentary because it would be based on their failure to listen and act (for years) about the absence of segment information and a chromosome browser. You’ve guessed it, that’s not mentioned.
  • That the WWII young man Draft Registration cards are now complete and online. Truthfully, I had no idea that the collection I was using online wasn’t complete, which I actually find very upsetting. Ancestry, assuming you actually are listening, how about warning people when they are using a partially complete collection, meaning what portion is and is not complete.
  • Listing content record additions planned for 2020 including the NYC birth index and other state and international records, some of which promise to be very useful. I wonder which states the statewide digitization projects pertain to and what that means, exactly.

OK, now we’re done with vendor announcements, so let’s just take a walk around the expo hall and see who and what we find. We might run into some people you know!

Walking Around

I sandwiched my walking around in-between my sessions. Not only did I present two RootsTech classes, but hosted the ToolMaker Meetup, attended two dinners, two lunches, announced The Million Mito Project, did two booth talks, one for FamilyTreeDNA and one for WikiTree, and I think something else I’ve forgotten about. Plus, all the planned and chance meetings which were absolutely wonderful.

Oh yes, and I attended a couple of sessions myself as an attendee and a few in the vendors booths too.

The great thing, or at least I think its great, is that most of the major vendors also have booth educational learning opportunities with presentation areas at their booths. Unfortunately, there is no centralized area where you can find out which booths have sessions, on what topics, when. Ditto for the Demo Theater.

Of course, that means booth presentations are also competing for your time with the regular sessions – so sometimes it’s really difficult to decide. It’s sort of like you’re awash in education for 4 days and you just can’t absorb enough. By Saturday, you’re physically and emotionally exhausted and you can’t absorb another iota, nor can you walk another step. But then you see someone you know and the pain in your feet is momentarily forgotten.

Please note that there were lots of other people that I saw and we literally passed, hugged and waved, or we were so engrossed in conversation that I didn’t realize until later that I had failed to take the photo. So apologies to all of those people.

RootsTech 2020 Amy Mags

I gave a presentation in the WikiTree booth about how to incorporate WikiTree into your 52 Ancestor stories, both as a research tool and as a way to bait the hook for cousins. Not to mention seeing if someone has already tested for Y or mtDNA, or candidates to do so.

That’s Amy Johnson Crow who started the 52 Ancestors challenge years ago, on the left and Mags Gaulden who writes at Grandma’s Genes and is a WikiTree volunteer (not to mention MitoY DNA.) Amy couldn’t stay for the presentation, so of course, I picked on her in her absence! I suspect her ears were burning. All in a good way of course.

RootsTech 2020 Kevin Borland

Kevin Borland of Borland Genetics, swabbing at the Family Tree DNA  booth, I hope for The Million Mito Project.

RootsTech 2020 Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz with MyHeritage at the blogger dinner. How about that advertising on his laptop lid. I need to do that with DNAexplain. Wonder where I can get one of those decals custom made.

RootsTech 2020 Hasani

Hasani Carter who I know from Facebook and who I discovered volunteering in a booth at RootsTech. I love to see younger people getting involved and to meet people in person. Love your dreads, Hasani.

RootsTech 2020 Randy Seaver

Cousin Randy Seaver who writes at Genea-Musings, daily, and has for YEARS. Believe it or not, he has published more than 13,000 articles, according to the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Dear Myrtle at RootsTech. What an incredible legacy.

If you don’t already subscribe (it’s free), you’re missing out. By the way, I discovered Randy was my cousin when I read one of his 52 Ancestors articles, recognizing that his ancestor and my ancestor had the same surname in the same place. He knew the connection. Those articles really work. Thanks Randy – it was so good to see you again.

RootsTech 2020 univ dundee

The University of Dundee booth, with Sylvia Valentine and Pat Whatley, was really fun.  As part of their history and genealogy curriculum (you an earn certificates, bachelors and masters degrees,) they teach paleography, which, in case you are unaware is the official word for deciphering “ancient handwriting.” You didn’t know that’s what you’d been doing did you?

RootsTech 2020 paleography

They provided ink and quills for people to try their own hand.

RootsTech 2020 Paleography 2

The end of the feather quill pen is uneven and scratchy. Pieces separate and splatter ink. You can’t “write,” you draw the letters very, very carefully and slowly. I must say, my “signature” is more legible than normal.

Rootstech 2020 scribe

I now have a lot more empathy for those scribes. It’s probably a good thing that early records are no worse than they are.

RootsTech 2020 Gilad Japhet

Gilad Japhet at the MyHeritage luncheon. I have attended other vendor sponsored (but paid by the attendee) lunches at RootsTech in the past and found them disappointing, especially for the cost. Now MyHeritage is the only sponsored lunch that I attend and I always enjoy it immensely. Yes, I arrived early and sat dead center in front.

I also have a confession to make – I was so very excited about being contacted by Mary Tan Hai’s son that I was finishing colorizing the photos part of the time while Gilad was talking. (I did warn him so he didn’t think I was being rude.) But it’s HIS fault because he made these doggone photos so wonderful – and let’s just say time was short to get the photos to Mary’s family. You can read this amazing story, here.

Gilad always shares part of his own personal family story, and this time was no different. He shared that his mother is turning 85 soon and that the family, meaning her children and grandchildren all teamed up to make her a lovely video. Trust me, it was and made us all smile.

I’m so grateful for a genealogy company run by a genealogist. Speaking of that, Gilad’s mother was a MyHeritage board member in the beginning. That beginning also included a story about how the MyHeritage name came to be, and how Gilad managed to purchase the domain for an unwilling seller. Once again, by proxy, his mother entered into the picture. If you have the opportunity to hear Gilad speak – do – you won’t be disappointed. You’ll hear him speak for sure if you attend MyHeritage LIVE in Tel Aviv this October.

RootsTech 2020 Paul Woodbury

Paul Woodbury who works for Legacy Tree Genealogists, has a degree in both family history and genetics from BYU. He’s standing with Scott Fisher (left). Paul’s an excellent researcher and the only way you can put him to work on your brick wall is through Legacy Tree Genealogists. If you contact them for a quote, tell them I referred you for a $50 discount.

Rootstech 2020 Toolmaker meetup

From The ToolMaker’s Meetup, at far left, Jonny Pearl of DNAPainter, behind me, Dana Leeds who created The Leeds Method, and at right, Rob Warthen, the man behind DNAGedcom. Thanks to Michelle Patient for the photo.

RootsTech 2020 Toolmaker meetup 2

The meetup was well received and afforded people an opportunity to meet and greet, ask questions and provide input.

RootsTech 2020 Campbell baby

In fact, we’re working on recruiting the next generation. I have to say, my “grandma” kicked in and I desperately wanted to hold this beautiful baby girl. What a lovely family. Of course, when I noticed the family name is Campbell, we had a discussion of a different nature, especially since my cousin, Kevin Campbell and I were getting ready to have lunch. We will soon find out if Heidi’s husband is our relative, which makes her and her daughter our relative too!

Rootstech 2020 Kevin Campbell

It was so much fun to sit and develop a research plan with Kevin Campbell. We’re related, somehow on the Campbell line – we just have to sort out when and where.

Bless Your Heart

The photo I cherish most from RootsTech 2020 is the one that’s not pictured here.

A very special gentleman told me, when I asked if we could take a picture together, after he paid me the lovely compliment of saying that my session was the best one he had ever attended, that he doesn’t “do pictures.” Not in years, literally. I thought he was kidding at first, but he was deadly seriously.

The next day, I saw him again a couple of times and we shares stories. Our lives are very different, yet they still intersected in amazing ways. I feel like I’ve known him forever.

Then on the last day, he attended my Million Mito presentation and afterwards came up and told me a new story. How he had changed his mind, and what prompted the change of heart. Now we have a wonderful, lovely photo together which I will cherish all the more because I know how special it is – and how wonderful that makes me feel.

To my friend – you know who you are – thank you! You have blessed my heart. Bless yours😊

The Show Floor

I think I actually got all the way through the show floor, but I’m not positive. In some cases, the “rows” weren’t straight or had dead ends due to large booths, and it was possible to miss an area. I didn’t get to every booth I wanted to. Some were busy, some I simply forgot to take photos.

RootsTech 2020 everything

You can literally find almost anything.

I focused on booths related to genetic genealogy, but not exclusively.

RootsTech 2020 DNAPainter

Jonny Perl and the DNAPainter booth. I’ve written lots of articles, here, about using DNAPainter, one of my very favorite tools.

RootsTech 2020 Rootstech store

The RootsTech store was doing a brisk business.

RootsTech 2020 DNA basics

The RootsTech show area itself had a DNA Basics area which I thought was brilliant in its simplicity.

Inheritance is show by jellybeans.

Rootstech 2020 dNA beans

Put a cup under the outlet and pull the lever.

Rootstech 2020 beans in cup

How many of which color you receive in your cup is random, although you get exactly the same number from the maternal and paternal side.

Now you know I wanted to count these, don’t you?

Rootstech 2020 JellyGenes

And they are of course, called, “JellyGenes.” Those must be deletions still laying in the bin.

RootsTech 2020 Wikitree

WikiTree booth and volunteers. I love WikiTree – it’s “one great tree” is not perfect but these are the people, along with countless others that inject the “quality” into the process.

RootsTech 2020 MitoYDNA

MitoYDNA with Kevin Borland standing in front of the sign.

RootsTech 2020 Crossley

This amazing artist whose name I didn’t get. I was just so struck by her work, painting her ancestor from the picture on her phone.

RootsTech 2020 painter

I wish I was this talented. I would love to have some of my ancestor’s painted. Hmm….

Rootstech 2020 GeneaCreations

Jeanette at GeneaCreations makes double helix zipper pulls, along with lots of other DNA bling, and things not so blingy for men. These are just SOOO cool.

RootsTech 2020 zipper pull

I particularly love my “What’s Your Haplogroup” t-shirt and my own haplogroup t-shirt. Yes, she does custom work. What’s your haplogroup? You can see those goodies here.

Around the corner, I found CelebrateDNA.

RootsTech 2020 Celebrate DNA

Is that a Viking wearing a DNA t-shirt?

Rootstech 2020 day of the dead

CelebrateDNA has some very cool “Day of the Dead” bags, t-shirts and mouse pads, in addition to their other DNA t-shirts. I bought an “Every day is Day of the Dead for Genealogists” mouse pad which will live permanently in my technology travel bag. You can see their other goodies, here.

RootsTech 2020 skeleton

Hey, I think I found a relative. Can we DNA test to see?

Rootstech 2020 Mayflower replica

The Mayflower Society had a fun booth with a replica model ship.

RootsTech 2020 Mayflower passengers

Along with the list of passengers perched on a barrel of the type that likely held food or water for the Pilgrims.

RootsTech 2020 Webinar Marathon

Legacy Family Tree Webinars is going to have a 24-hour Genealogy Webinar Marathon March 12-13. So, who is going to stay up for this?Iit’s free and just take a look at the speakers, and topics, here. I’m guessing lots of people will take advantage of this opportunity. You can also subscribe for more webinars, here.

On March 4th, I’m presenting a FREE webinar, “3 Genealogy DNA Case Studies and How I Solved Them,” so sign up and join in!

Rootstech 2020 street art

Food at RootsTech falls into two categories. Anything purchased in the convention center meaning something to stave off starvation, and some restaurant with friends – the emphasis being on friends.

A small group went for pizza one evening when we were too exhausted to do anything else. Outside I found this interesting street art – and inside Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana I had the best Margarita Pizza I think I’ve ever had.

Then, as if I wasn’t already stuffed to the gills, attached through a doorway in the wall is Capo Gelateria Italiana, creators of artisan gelato. I’ve died and gone to heaven. Seriously, it’s a good thing I don’t live here.

Rootstech 2020 gelatto

Who says you can’t eat ice cold gelato in the dead of winter, outside waiting for the Uber, even if your insides are literally shivering and shaking!! It was that good.

This absolutely MUST BE a RootsTech tradition.

Rootstech 2020 ribbons

That’s it for RootsTech 2020. Hope you’ve enjoyed coming along on this virtual journey and that you’ve found something interesting, perhaps a new hint or tool to utilize.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons

If you’re involved in genetic genealogy, you’ve probably noticed the recent announcements by both 23andMe and Ancestry relative to workforce layoffs as a result of declining sales.

Layoffs

In January, 23andMe announced that it was laying off 100 people which equated to 14% of its staff.

Following suit, Ancestry this week announced that they are laying off 100 people, 6% of their work force. They discuss their way forward, here.

One shift of this type can be a blip, but two tends to attract attention because it *could* indicate a trend. Accordingly, several articles have been written about possible reasons why this might be occurring. You can read what TechCrunch says here, Business Insider here, and The Verge, here.

Depending on who you talk to and that person’s perspective, the downturn is being attributed to:

  • Market Saturation
  • No Repeat Sales
  • Privacy Concerns
  • FAD Over

Ok, So What’s Happening?

Between Ancestry and 23andMe alone, more than 26 million DNA tests have been sold, without counting the original DNA testing company, FamilyTreeDNA along with MyHeritage who probably have another 4 or 5 million between them.

Let’s say that’s a total of 30 million people in DNA databases that offer matching. The total population of the US is estimated to be about 329 million, including children, which means that one person in 10 or 11 people in the US has now tested. Of course, DNA testing reaches worldwide, but it’s an interesting comparison indicating how widespread DNA testing has become overall.

This slowing of new sales shouldn’t really surprise anyone. In July 2019, Illumina, the chip maker who supplies equipment and supplies to the majority of the consumer DNA testing industry said that the market was softening after a drop in their 2019 second quarter revenue.

Also last year, Ancestry and MyHeritage both announced health products, a move which would potentially generate a repeat sale from someone who has already tested their DNA for genealogy purposes. I suspected at the time this might be either a pre-emptive strike, or in response to slowed sales.

In November 2019, Family Tree DNA announced an extensive high-end health test through Tovana which tests the entire Exome, the portion of our DNA useful for medical and health analysis.

In a sense, this health focus too is trendy, but moves away from genealogy into an untapped area.

23andMe who, according to their website, has obtained $791 million in venture capital or equity funding has always been focused on medical research. In July of 2018 GlaxoSmithKline infused $300 million into 23andMe in exchange for access to DNA results of their 5 million customers who have opted-in to medical research, according to Genengnews. If you divide the 300 million investment by 5 million opted-in customers, 23andMe received $60 per DNA kit.

That 5 million number is low though, based on other statements by 23andMe which suggests they have 10 million total customers, 80% of which opt-in for medical research. That would be a total of 8 million DNA results available to investors.

Divide $791 million by 8 million kits and 23andMe, over the years, has received roughly $99 for each customer who has opted in to research.

We know who Ancestry has partnered with for research, but not how much Ancestry has received.

There’s very big money, huge money, in collaborating with Big Pharma and others. Given the revenue potential, it’s amazing that the other two vendors, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, haven’t followed suit, but they haven’t.

Additionally, in January, 23andMe sold the rights to a new drug it developed in-house as a potential treatment for inflammatory diseases for a reported (but unconfirmed by 23andMe) $5 million.

It’s ironic that two companies who just announced layoffs are the two who have partnered to sell access to their opted-in customers’ DNA results.

My Thoughts

I’ve been asked several times about my thoughts on this shift within the industry. I have refrained from saying much, because I think there has been way too much “hair on fire” clickbait reporting that is fanning the flames of fear, not only in the customer base, but in general.

I am sharing my thoughts, and while they are not entirely positive, in that there is clearly room for improvement, I want to emphasize that I am very upbeat about this industry as a whole, and this article ends very positively with suggestions for exactly that – so please read through.

Regardless of why, fewer new people are testing which of course results in fewer sales, and fewer new matches for us.

My suspicion is that each of the 4 reasons given above is accurate to some extent, and the cumulative effect plus a couple of other factors is the reason we’re seeing the downturn.

Let’s take a look at each one.

Market Saturation

Indeed, we’ve come a very long way from the time when DNA was a verboten topic on the old RootsWeb mailing lists and boards.

Early DNA adopters back then were accused of “cheating,” and worse. Our posts were deleted immediately. How times have changed!

As the technology matured, 23andMe began offering autosomal testing accompanied by cousin matching.

Ancestry initially stepped into the market with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, but ultimately destroyed that database which included Y and mitochondrial DNA results from Relative Genetics, a company they had previously acquired. People in those databases, as well as who had irreplaceable samples in Sorenson, which Ancestry also purchased and subsequently took offline permanently have never forgotten.

Those genealogists have probably since tested at Ancestry, but they may be more inclined to test the rest of their family at places like Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage who have chromosome browsers and tools that support more serious researchers.

I think a contributing factor is that fewer “serious genealogists” are coming up in the ranks. The perception that all you need to do is enter a couple of generations and click on a few leaves, and you’re “done” misleads people as to the complexity and work involved in genealogical research. Not to mention how many of those hints are inaccurate and require analysis.

Having said that, I view each one of these people who are encouraged for the first time by an ad, even if it is misleading in its simplicity, as a potential candidate. We were all baby genealogists once, and some of us stayed for reasons known only to us. Maybe we have the genealogy gene😊

But yes, I would agree that the majority, by far, of serious genealogists have already tested someplace. What they have not done universally is transferred from 23andMe and Ancestry to the other companies that can help them, such as MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch. If they had, the customer numbers at those companies would be higher. We all need to fish in every pond.

Advertising and Ethnicity

The DNA ads over the last few years have focused almost exclusively on ethnicity – the least reliable aspect of genetic genealogy – but also the “easiest” to understand if a customer takes their ethnicity percentages at face value. And of course, every consumer that purchases a test as a result of one of these ads does exactly that – spits or swabs, mails and opens their results to see what they “are” – full of excited anticipation.

Many people have absolutely no idea there’s more, like cousin matching – and many probably wouldn’t care.

The buying public who purchases due to these ads are clearly not early adopters, and most likely are not genealogists. One can hope that at least a few of them get hooked as a result, or at least enter a minimal tree.

Unfortunately, of the two companies experiencing layoffs, only Ancestry supports trees. Genealogy revolves around trees, pure and simple.

23andMe has literally had years to do so and has refused to natively support trees. Their FamilySearch link is not the same as supporting trees and tree matching. Their attempt at creating a genetic tree is laudable and has potential, but it’s not something that can be translated into a genealogical benefit for most people. I’m guessing that there aren’t any genealogists working for 23andMe, or they aren’t “heard” amid the vervre surrounding medical research.

All told, I’m not surprised that the two companies who are experiencing the layoffs are the two companies whose ads we saw most often focused on ethnicity, especially Ancestry. Who can forget the infamous kilt/leiderhosen ad that Ancestry ran? I still cringe.

Many people who test for ethnicity never sign on again – especially if they are unhappy with the results.

Ancestry and 23andMe spent a lot on ad campaigns, ramped up for the resulting sales, but now the ads are less effective, so not being run as much or at all. Sales are down. Who’s to say which came first, the chicken (fewer ads) or the egg (lower sales.)

This leads us to the next topic, add on sales.

No Repeat Sales

DNA testing, unless you have something else to offer customers is being positioned as a “one and done” sale, meaning that it’s a single purchase with no potential for additional revenue. While that’s offered as a reason for the downturn, it’s not exactly true for DNA test sales.

Ancestry clearly encourages customers to subscribe to their records database by withholding access to some DNA features without a subscription. For Ancestry, DNA is the bait for a yearly repeat sale of a subscription. Genealogists subscribe, of course, but people who aren’t genealogists don’t see the benefit.

Ancestry does not allow transfers into their database, which would provide for additional revenue opportunity. I suspect the reason is twofold. First, they want the direct testing revenue, but perhaps more importantly, in order to sell their customer’s DNA who have agreed to participate in research, or partner with research firms, those customers need to have tested on Ancestry’s custom chip. This holds true for 23andMe as well.

Through the 23andMe financial information in the earlier section, it’s clear that while the consumer only pays a one time fee to test, multiple research companies will pay over and over for access to that compiled consumer information.

Ancestry and 23andMe have the product, your opted-in DNA test that you paid for, and they can sell it over and over again. Hopefully, this revenue stream helps to fund development of genetic genealogical tools.

MyHeritage also provides access to advanced DNA tools by selling a subscription to their records database after a free trial. MyHeritage has integrated their DNA testing with genealogical records to provide their advanced Theories of Family Relativity tool, a huge boon to genealogists.

While Family Tree DNA doesn’t have a genealogical records database like Ancestry and MyHeritage, they provide Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing, in addition to the autosomal Family Finder test. If more people tested Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, more genealogical walls would fall due to the unique inheritance path and the fact that neither Y nor mitochondrial DNA is admixed with DNA from the other parent.

Generally, only genealogists know about and are going to order Y DNA and mtDNA tests, or sponsor others to take them to learn more about their ancestral lines. These tests don’t provide yearly revenue like an ongoing subscription, but at least the fact that Family Tree DNA offers three different tests does provide the potential for at least some additional sales.

Both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA encourage uploads, and neither sell, lease or share your DNA for medical testing. You can find upload instructions, here.

In summary of this section, all of the DNA testing companies do have some sort of additional (potential) revenue stream from DNA testing, so it’s not exactly “one and done.”

Health Testing Products

As for health testing, 23andMe has always offered some level of health information for their customers. Health and research has always been their primary focus. Health and genealogy was originally bundled into one test. Today, DNA ancestry tests with the health option at 23andMe cost more than a genealogy-only test and are two separate products.

MyHeritage also offers a genealogy only DNA test and a genealogy plus health DNA test.

In 2019, both Ancestry and MyHeritage added health testing to their menu as upgrades for existing customers.

In November 2019, FamilyTreeDNA announced an alliance with Tovana for their customers to order a full exome grade medical test and accompanying report. I recently received mine and am still reviewing the results – they are extensive.

It’s clear that all four companies see at least some level of consumer interest in health and traits as a lucrative next step.

Medical Research and DNA Sales

Both Ancestry and 23andMe are pursuing and have invested in relationships with research institutions or Big Pharma. I have concerns with how this is handled. You may not.

I’m supportive of medical research, but I’m concerned that most people have no idea of the magnitude and scope of the contracts between Ancestry and 23andMe with Big Pharma and others, in part, because the details are not public. Customers may also not be aware of exactly what they are opting in to, what it means or where their DNA/DNA results are going.

As a consumer, I want to know where my DNA is, who is using it, and for what purpose. I don’t want my DNA to wind up being used for a nefarious purpose or something I don’t approve of. Think Uighurs in China by way of example. BGI Genetics, headquartered in China but with an Americas division and facilities in Silicon Valley has been a major research institute for years. I want to know what my DNA is being used for, and by whom. The fact that the companies won’t provide their customers with that information makes me makes me immediately wonder why not.

I would like to be able to opt-in for specific studies, not blindly for every use that is profitable to the company involved, all without my knowledge. No blank checks. For example, I opted out of 23andMe research when they patented the technology for designer babies.

Furthermore, I feel that if someone is going to profit from my DNA, it should be me since I paid for the sequencing. At minimum, a person whose DNA is used in these studies should receive some guarantee that they will be provided with any drug in which their DNA is used for development, in particular if their insurance doesn’t pay and they cannot afford the drug.

Drug prices have risen exponentially in the US recently, with many people no longer able to afford their medications. For example, the price of insulin has tripled over the last decade, causing people to ration or cut back on their insulin, if not go without altogether. It would be the greatest of ironies if the very people whose DNA was sold and used to create a drug had no access to it.

Of course, Ancestry and 23andMe are not required to inform consumers of which studies their DNA or DNA results are used for, so we don’t know. Always read all of the terms and conditions, and all links when authorizing anything.

Both companies indicate that your DNA results are anonymized before being shared, but we now know that’s not really possible anymore, because it’s relatively easy to re-identify someone. This is exactly how adoptees identify their biological parents through genetic matches. Dr. Yaniv Erlich reported in the journal Science November 2018 that more than 60% of Europeans could be reidentified through a genealogy database of only 1.28 million individuals.

I think greater transparency and a change in policy favoring the consumer would go a long way to instilling more confidence in the outside research relationships that both Ancestry and 23andMe pursue and maintain. It would probably increase their participation level as well if people could select the research initiatives to which they want to contribute their DNA.

Privacy Concerns

The news has been full of articles about genetic privacy, especially in the months since the Golden State Killer case was solved. That was only April 2018, but it seems like eons ago.

Unfortunately, much of what has been widely reported is inaccurate. For example, no company has ever thrown the data base open for the FBI or anyone to rummage through like a closet full of clothes. However, headlines and commentary like that attract outrage and hundreds of thousands of clicks. In the news and media industry, “it’s all about eyeballs.”

In one case, an article I interviewed for extensively in an educational capacity was written accurately, but the headline was awful. The journalist in question replied that the editors write the headlines, not the reporters.

One instance of this type of issue would be pretty insignificant, but the news in this vein hasn’t abated, always simmering just below the surface waiting for something to fan the flames. Outrage sells.

For the most part, those within the genealogy community at least attempt to sort out what is accurate reporting and what is not, but those people are the ones who have already tested.

People outside the genealogy community just know that they’ve now seen repeated headlines reporting that their genetic privacy either has been, could be or might be breached, and they are suspicious and leery. I would be too. They have no idea what that actually means, what is actually occurring, where, or that they are probably far more at risk on social media sites.

These people are not genealogists, and now they look at ads and think to themselves, “yes, I’d like to do that, but…”

And they never go any further.

People are frightened and simply disconnect from the topic – without testing.

If, as a consumer, you see several articles or posts saying that <fill in car model> is really bad, when you consider a purchase, even if you initially like that model, you’ll remember all of those negative messages. You may never realize that the source was the competition which would cause you to interpret those negative comments in a completely different light.

I think that some of the well-intentioned statements made by companies to reassure their existing and potential customers have actually done more harm than good by reinforcing that there’s a widespread issue. “You’re safe with us” can easily be interpreted as, “there’s something to be afraid of.”

Added to that is the sensitive topic of adoptee and unknown parent searches.

Reunion stories are wonderfully touching, and we all love them, but you seldom see the other side of the coin. Not every story has a happy ending, and many don’t. Not every parent wants to be found for a variety of reasons. If you’re the child and don’t want to find your parents, don’t test, but it doesn’t work the other way around. A parent can often be identified by their relatives’ DNA matches to their child.

While most news coverage reflects positive adoptee reunion outcomes, that’s not universal, and almost every family has a few lurking skeletons. People know that. Some people are fearful of what they might discover about themselves or family members and are correspondingly resistant to DNA testing. Realizing you might discover that your father isn’t your biological father if you DNA test gives people pause. It’s a devastating discovery and some folks decide they’d rather not take that chance, even though they believe it’s not possible.

The genealogical search techniques for identifying unknown parents or close relatives and the technique used by law enforcement to identify unknown people, either bodies or perpetrators is exactly the same. If you are in one of the databases, who you match can provide a very big hint to someone hunting for the identify of an unknown person.

People who are not genealogists, adoptees or parents seeking to find children placed for adoption may be becoming less comfortable with this idea in general.

Of course, the ability for law enforcement to upload kits to GedMatch/Verogen and Family Tree DNA, under specific controlled conditions, has itself been an explosive and divisive topic within and outside of the genealogy community since April 2018.

These law enforcement kits are either cold case remains of victims, known as “Does,” or body fluids from the scenes of violent crimes, such as rape, murder and potentially child abduction and aggravated assault. To date, since the Golden State Killer identification, numerous cases have produced a “solve.” ISOGG, a volunteer organization, maintains a page of known cases solved, here.

GEDmatch encourages people to opt-in for law-enforcement matching, meaning that their kit can be seen as a match to kits uploaded by law enforcement agencies or companies working on behalf of law enforcement agencies. If a customer doesn’t opt-in, their kit can’t be seen as a match to a law enforcement kit.

Family Tree DNA initially opted-out all EU kits from law enforcement matching, due to GDPR, and provides the option for their customers to opt-out of law-enforcement matching.

Neither MyHeritage, Ancestry nor 23andMe cooperate with law enforcment under any circumstances and have stated that they will actively resist all subpoenaes in court.

ISOGG provides a FAQ on Investigative Genetic Genealogy, here.

The two sides of the argument have rather publicly waged war on each other in an ongoing battle to convince people of the merits of their side of the equation, including working with news organizations.

Unfortunately, this topic is akin to arguing over politics. No one changes their mind, and everyone winds up mad.

Notice I’m not linking any articles here, not even my own. I do not want to fan these flames, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the topic of law enforcement usage itself, the on-going public genetic genealogy community war and resulting media coverage together have very probably contributed to the lagging sales. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that while a great division of opinion exists, and many people are opposed, there are also many people who are extremely supportive.

All of this, combined, intentionally or not, has introduced FUD, fear, uncertainty and doubt – a very old disinformation “sales technique.”

In a sense, for consumers, this has been like watching pigs mud-wrestle.

As my dad used to say, “Never mud-wrestle with a pig. The pig enjoys it, you get muddy and the spectators can’t tell the difference.” The spectators in this case vote with their lack of spending and no one is a winner.

DNA Testing Was A FAD

Another theory is that genealogy DNA testing was just a FAD whose time has come and gone. I think the FAD was ethnicity testing, and that chicken has come home to roost.

Both 23andMe and Ancestry clearly geared up for testers attracted by their very successful ads. I was just recently on a cruise, and multiple times I heard people at another table discussing their ethnicity results from some unnamed company. They introduced the topic by saying, “I did my DNA.”

The discussion was almost always the same. Someone said that they thought their ethnicity was pretty accurate, someone else said theirs was awful, and the discussion went from there. Not one time did anyone ever mention a company name, DNA matching or any other functionality. I’m not even sure they understood there are different DNA testing companies.

If I was a novice listening-in, based on that discussion, I would have learned to doubt the accuracy of “doing my DNA.”

If most of the people who purchased ethnicity tests understood in advance that ethnicity testing truly is “just an estimate,” they probably wouldn’t have purchased in the first place. If they understood the limitations and had properly set expectations, perhaps they would not have been as unhappy and disenchanted with their results. I realize that’s not very good marketing, but I think that chicken coming home to roost is a very big part of what we’re seeing now.

The media has played this up too, with stories about how the ethnicity of identical twins doesn’t match. If people bother to read more than the headline, and IF it’s a reasonably accurate article, they’ll come to understand why and how that might occur. If not, what they’ll take away is that DNA testing is wrong and unreliable. So don’t bother.

Furthermore, most people don’t understand that ethnicity testing and cousin matching are two entirely different aspects of a DNA test. The “accuracy” of ethnicity is not related to the accuracy of cousin matching, but once someone questions the credibility of DNA testing – their lack of confidence is universal.

I would agree, the FAD is over – meaning lots of people testing primarily for ethnicity. I think the marketing challenge going forward is to show people that DNA testing can be useful for other things – and to make that easy.

Ethnicity was the low hanging fruit and it’s been picked.

Slowed Growth – Not Dead in the Water

The rate of growth has slowed. This does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that genetic genealogy or DNA testing is dead in the water. DNA fishes for us 365x24x7.

For example, just today, I received a message from 23andMe that 75 new relatives have joined 23andMe. I also received match notifications from Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage.  Hey – calorie-free treats!!!

These new matches are nothing to sneeze at. I remember when I was thrilled over ONE new match.

I have well over 100,000 matches if you combine my matches at the four vendors.

Without advanced tools like triangulation, Phased Family Matching, Theories of Family Relativity, ThruLines, DNAPainter, DNAgedcom and Genetic Affairs, I’d have absolutely no prayer of grouping and processing this number of matches for genealogy.

Even if I received no new matches for the next year, I’d still not be finished analyzing the autosomal matches I already have.

This Too Shall Pass

At least I hope it will.

I think people will still test, but the market has corrected. This level of testing is probably the “new normal.”

Neither Ancestry or 23andMe are spending the big ad dollars – or at least not as big.

In order for DNA testing companies to entice customers into purchasing subscriptions or add-on products, tools need to be developed or enhanced that encourage customers to return to the site over and over. This could come in the form of additional results or functionality calculated on their behalf.

That “on their behalf” point is important. Vendors need to focus on making DNA fun, and productive, not work. New tools, especially in the last year or two, have taken a big step in that direction. Make the customer wonder every day what gift is waiting for him or her that wasn’t there yesterday. Make DNA useful and fun!

I would call this “DNA crack.” 😊

Cooking Up DNA Crack!

In order to assist the vendors, I’ve compiled one general suggestion plus what I would consider to be the “Big 3 Wish List” for each of their DNA products in term of features or improvements that would encourage customers to either use or return to their sites. (You’re welcome.)

I don’t want this to appear negative, so I’ve also included the things I like most about each vendor.

If you have something to add, please feel free to comment in a positive fashion.

Family Tree DNA

I Love: Y and Mitochondrial DNA, Phased Family Matching, and DNA projects

General Suggestion – Fix chronic site loading issues which discourage customers

  • Tree Matching – fix the current issues with trees and implement tree matching for DNA matches
  • Triangulation – including by match group and segment
  • Clustering – some form of genetic networks

MyHeritage

I Love: Theories of Family Relativity, triangulation, wide variety of filters, SmartMatches and Record Matches

General – Clarify confusing subscription options in comparative grid format

  • Triangulation by group and segment
  • View DNA matches by ancestor
  • Improved Ethnicity

Ancestry

I Love: Database size, ThruLines, record and DNA hints (green leaves)

General – Focus on the customers’ needs and repeated requests

  • Accept uploads
  • Chromosome Browser (yes, I know this is a dead horse, but that doesn’t change the need)
  • Triangulation (dead horse’s brother)

23andMe

I Love: Triangulation, Ethnicity quality, ethnicity segments identified, painted and available for download

General – Focus on genealogy tools if you’re going to sell a genealogy test

  • Implement individual customer trees – not Family Search
  • Remove 2000 match limit (which is functionally less after 23andMe hides the people not opted into matching)
  • DNA + Tree Matching

Summary

In summary, we, as consumers need to maintain our composure, assuring others that no one’s hair is on fire and the sky really is not falling. We need to calmly educate as opposed to frighten.

Just the facts.

Other approaches don’t serve us in the end. Frightening people away may “win” the argumentative battle of the day, but we all lose the war if people are no longer willing to test.

This is much like a lifeboat – we all succeed together, or we all lose.

Everybody row!

As genealogists, we need to:

  • Focus on verifying ancestors and solving genealogy challenges
  • Sharing those victories with others, including family members
  • Encourage our relatives to test, and transfer so that their testing investment provides as much benefit as possible
  • Offer to help relatives with the various options on each vendor’s platform
  • Share the joy

People share exciting good news with others, especially on Facebook and social media platforms, and feel personally invested when you share new results with them. Collaboration bonds people.

A positive attitude, balanced perspective and excitement about common ancestors goes a very, very long was in terms of encouraging others.

We have more matches now than ever before, along with more and better tools. Matches are still rolling in, every single day.

New announcements are expected at Rootstech in a couple short weeks.

There’s so much opportunity and work to do.

The sky is not falling. It rained a bit.

The seas may have been stormy, but as a genealogist, the sun is out and a rising tide lifts us all.

Rising tide

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DNAPainter: Painting “Bucketed” Family Tree DNA Maternal and Paternal Family Finder Matches in One Fell Swoop

DNAPainter has done it again, providing genealogists with a wonderful tool that facilitates separating your matches into maternal and paternal categories so that they can be painted on the proper chromosome – in one fell swoop no less.

Of course, the entire purpose of painting your chromosomes is to identify segments that descend from specific ancestors in order to push those lines back further in time genealogically. Identifying segments, confirming and breaking down brick walls is the name of the game.

DNA Painter New Import Tool

The new DNAPainter tool relies on Family Tree DNA’s Phased Family Matching which assigns your matches to maternal and paternal buckets. On your match list, at the top, you’ll see the following which indicates how many matches you have in total and how many people are assigned to each bucket.

DNAPainter FF import.png

Note that these are individual matches, not total matching segments – that number would be higher.

In order for Family Tree DNA to create bucketed matches for you, you’ll need to:

  • Either create a tree or upload a GEDCOM file
  • Attach your DNA kit to “you” in your tree
  • Attach all 4th cousins and closer with whom you match to their proper location on your tree

Yes, it appears that Family Tree DNA is now using 4th cousins, not just third cousins and closer, which provides for additional bucketed matches.

How reliable is bucketing?

Quite. Occasionally one of two issues arise which becomes evident if you actually compare the matches’ segments to the parent with whom they are bucketed:

  • One or more of your matches’ segments do match you and your parent, but additionally, one or more segments match you, but not your parent
  • The X chromosome is particularly susceptible to this issue, especially with lower cM matches
  • Occasionally, a match that is large enough to be bucketed isn’t, likely because no known, linked cousin shares that segment

Getting Started

Get started by creating or uploading your tree at Family Tree DNA.

DNAPainter mytree.png

After uploading your GEDCOM file or creating your tree at Family Tree DNA, click on the “matches” icon at the top of the tree to link yourself and your relatives to their proper places on your tree. Your matches will show in the box below the helix icon.

DNAPainter FF matches.png

I created an example “twin” for myself to use for teaching purposes by uploading a file from Ancestry, so I’m going to attach that person to my tree as my “Evil Twin.” (Under normal circumstances, I do not recommend uploading duplicate files of anyone.)

DNAPainter FF matches link.png

Just drag and drop the person on your match list on top of their place on the tree.

DNAPainter Ff sister.png

Here I am as my sister, Example Adoptee.

I’ve wished for a very, very long time that there was a way to obtain a list of segment matches sorted by maternal and paternal bucket without having to perform spreadsheet gymnastics, and now there is, at DNAPainter.

DNAPainter does the heavy-lifting so you don’t have to.

What Does DNAPainter Do with Bucketed Matches?

When you are finished uploading two files at DNAPainter, you’ll have:

  • Maternal groups of triangulated matches
  • Paternal groups of triangulated matches
  • Matches that could not be assigned based on the bucketing. Some (but not all) of these matches will be identical by chance – typically roughly 15-20% of your match list. You can read about identical by chance, here.

I’ll walk you through the painting process step by step.

First, you need to be sure your relatives are connected to your tree at Family Tree DNA so that you have matches assigned to your maternal and paternal buckets. The more relatives you connect, per the instructions in the previous section, the more matching people will be able to be placed into maternal or paternal buckets.

Painting Bucketed Matches at DNAPainter

I wrote basic articles about how to use DNAPainter here. If you’re unfamiliar with how to use DNAPainter or it’s new to you, now would be a good time to read those articles. This next section assumes that you’re using DNAPainter. If not, go ahead, register, and set up a profile. One profile is free for everyone, but multiple profiles require a subscription.

First, make a duplicate of the profile that you’re working with. This DNAPainter upload tool is in beta.

DNAPainter duplicate profile.png

Since I’m teaching and experimenting, I am using a fresh, new profile for this experiment. If it works successfully, I’ll duplicate my working profile, just in case something goes wrong or doesn’t generate the results I expect, and repeat these steps there.

Second, at Family Tree DNA, Download a fresh copy of your complete matching segment file. This “Download Segments” link is found at the top right of the chromosome browser page.

DNAPainter ff download segments.png

Third, download your matches at the bottom left of the actual matches page. This file hold information about your matches, such as which ones are bucketed, but no segment information. That’s in the other file.

DNAPainter csv.png

Name both of these files something you can easily identify and that tells them apart. I called the first one “Segments” in front of the file name and the second one “Matches” in front of the file name.

Fourth, at DNAPainter, you’ll need to import your entire downloaded segment file that you just downloaded from Family Tree DNA. I exclude segments under 7cM because they are about 50% identical by chance.

DNAPainter import instructions

click to enlarge

Select the segment file you just named and click on import.

DNAPainter both.png

At this point, your chromosomes at DNAPainter will look like this, assuming you’re using a new profile with nothing else painted.

Let’s expand chromosome 1 and see what it looks like.

DNAPainter chr 1 both.png

Note that all segments are painted over both chromosomes, meaning both the maternal and paternal copies of chromosome 1, partially shown above, because at this point, DNAPainter can’t tell which people match on the maternal and which people match on the paternal sides. The second “matches” file from Family Tree DNA has not yet been imported into DNAPainter, which tells DNAPainter which matches are on the maternal and which are on the paternal chromosomes.

If you’re not workign with a new profile, then you’ll also see the segments you’ve already painted. DNAPainter attempts to NOT paint segments that appear to have previously been painted.

Fifth, at DNAPainter, click on the “Import mat/pat info from ftDNA” link on the left which will provide you with a page to import the matches file information. This is the file that has maternal and paternal sides specified for bucketed matches. DNAPainter needs both the segment file, which you already imported, and the matches file.

DNAPainter import bucket

click to enlarge

After the second import, the “matches” file, my matches are magically redistributed onto their appropriate chromosomes based on the maternal and paternal bucketing information.

I love this tool!

At this point, you will have three groups of matches, assuming you have people assigned to your maternal and paternal buckets.

  • A “Shared” group for people who are related to both of your parents, or who aren’t designated as a bucketed match to either parent
  • Maternal group (pink chromosome)
  • Paternal group (blue chromosome)

It’s Soup!!!

I’m so excited. Now my matches are divided into maternal and paternal chromosome groups.

DNAPainter import complete.png

Just so you know, I changed the colors of my legend at DNAPainter using “edit group,” because all three groups were shades of pink after the import and I wanted to be able to see the difference clearly.

DNAPainter legend.png

Your Painted Chromosomes

Let’s take a look at what we have.

DNAPainter both, mat, pat.png

There’s still pink showing, meaning undetermined, which gets painted over both the maternal and paternal chromosomes, but there’s also a lot of magenta (maternal) and blue (paternal) showing now too as a result of bucketing.

Let’s look at chromosome 1.

DNAPainter chr 1 all.png

This detail, which is actually a summary, shows that the bucketed maternal (magenta) and paternal (blue) matches have actually covered most of the chromosome. There are still a few areas without coverage, but not many.

For a genealogist, this is beautiful!!!

How many matches were painted?

DNAPainter paternal total.png

DNAPainter maternal total.png

Expanding chromosome 1, and scrolling to the maternal portion, I can now see that I have several painted maternal segments, and almost the entire chromosome is covered.

Here’s the exciting part!

DNAPainter ch1 1 mat expanded.png

I stared the relatives I know, on the painting, above and on the pedigree chart, below. The green group descends through Hiram Ferverda and Eva Miller, the yellow group through Antoine Lore and Rachel Hill. The blue group is Acadian, upstream of Antoine Lore.

DNAPainter maternal pedigree.png

Those ancestors are shown by star color on my pedigree chart.

I can now focus on the genealogies of the other unstarred people to see if their genealogy can push those segments back further in time to older ancestors.

On my Dad’s side, the first part of chromosome 1 is equally as exciting.

DNAPainter chr 1 pat expanded.png

The yellow star only pushed this triangulated group back only to my grandparents, but the green star is from a cousin descended from my great-grandparents. The red star matches are even more exciting, because my common ancestor with Lawson is my brick wall – Marcus Younger and his wife, Susanna, surname unknown, parents of Mary Younger.

DNAPainter paternal pedigree.png

I need to really focus hard on this cluster of 12 people because THEIR common ancestors in their trees may well provide the key I need to push back another generation – through the brick wall. That is, after all, the goal of genetic genealogy.

Woohoooo!

Manual Spreadsheet Compare

Because I decided to torture myself one mid-winter day, and night, I wanted to see how much difference there is between the bucketed matches that I just painted and actual matches that I’ve identified by downloading my parents’ segment match files and mine and comparing them manually against each other. I removed any matches in my file that were not matches to my parent, in addition to me, then painted the rest.

I’ll import the resulting manual spreadsheet into the same experimental DNAPainter profile so we can view matches that were NOT painted previously. DNAPainter does not paint matches previously painted, if it can tell the difference. Since both of these files are from downloads, without the name of the matches being in any way modified, DNAPainter should be able to recognize everyone and only paint new segment matches.

Please note here that the PERSON unquestionably belongs bucketed to the parental side in question, but not all SEGMENTS necessarily match you and your parent. Some will not, and those are the segments that I removed from my spreadsheet.

DNAPainter manual spreadsheet example.png

Here’s a made-up example where I’ve combined my matches and my mother’s matches in one spreadsheet in order to facilitate this comparison. I colored my Mom’s matches green so they are easy to see when comparing to my own, then sorting by the match name.

Person 1 matches me and Mom both, at 10 cM on chromosome 1. Person 1 is assigned to my maternal side due to the matches above 9 cM, the lowest threshold at Family Tree DNA for bucketing.

In this example, we can see that Person 1 matches me and Mom (colored green), both, on the segment on chromosome 1. That match, bracketed by red, is a valid, phased, match and should be painted.

However, Person 1 also matches me, but NOT Mom on chromosome 2. Because Person 1 is bucketed to mother, this segment on chromosome 2 will also be painted to my maternal chromosome 2 using the DNAPainter import. The only way to sort this out is to do the comparison manually.

The same holds true for the X match shown. The two segments shown in red should NOT be painted, but they will be unless you are willing to compare you and your parents’ matches manually, you will just have to evaluate segments individually when you see that you’re working in a cluster where matches have been assigned through the mass import tool.

If you choose to compare the spreadsheets manually to assure that you’re not painting segments like the red ones above, DNAPainter provides instructions for you to create your own mass upload template, which is what I did after removing any segment matches of people that were not “in common” between me and mother on the same chromosomal segment, like the red ones, above.

Please note that if you delete the erroneous segments and later reimport your bucketed matches, they will appear again. I’m more inclined to leave them, making a note.

I did not do a manual comparison of my father’s side of the tree after discovering just how little difference was found on my mother’s side, and how much effort was involved in the manual comparison.

Creating a Mass Upload Template and File

DNAPainter custom mass upload.png

The instructions for creating your own mass upload file are provided by DNAPainter – please follow them exactly.

In my case, after doing the manual spreadsheet compare with my mother, only a total of 18 new segments were imported that were not previously identified by bucketing.

Three of those segments were over 15cM, but the rest were smaller. I expected there would be more. Family Tree DNA is clearly doing a great job with maternal and paternal bucketing assignments, but they can’t do it without known relatives that have also tested and are linked to your tree. The very small discrepancy is likely due to matches with cousins that I have not been able to link on my tree.

The great news is that because DNAPainter recognizes already-painted segments, I can repeat this anytime and just paint the new segments, without worrying about duplicates.

  • The information above pertains to segments that should have been painted, but weren’t.
  • The information below pertains to segments that were painted, but should not have been.

I did not keep track of how many segments I deleted that would have erroneously been painted. There were certainly more than 18, but not an overwhelming number. Enough though to let me know to be careful and confirm the segment match individually before using any of the mass uploaded matches for hypothesis or conclusions.

Given that this experiment went well, I created a copy of my “real” profile in order to do the same import and see what discoveries are waiting!

Before and After

Before I did the imports into my “real” file (after making a copy, of course,) I had painted 82% of my DNA using 1700 segments. Of course, each one of those segments in my original profile is identified with an ancestor, even if they aren’t very far back in time.

Although I didn’t paint matches in common with my mother before this mass import, each of my matches in common with my mother are in common with one or the other of my maternal grandparents – and by using other known matches I can likely push the identity of those segments further back in time.

Status Percent Segments Painted
Before mass Phased Family Match bucketed import 82 1700
After mass Phased Family Match bucketed import 88 7123
After additional manual matches with my mother added 88 7141

While I did receive 18 additional matching segments by utilizing the manually intensive spreadsheet matching and removal process, I did not receive enough more matches to justify the hours and hours of work. I won’t be doing that anymore with Family Tree DNA files since they have so graciously provided bucketing and DNAPainter can leverage that functionality.

Those hours will be much better spent focusing on unraveling the ancestors whose stories are told in clusters of triangulated matches.

I Love The Import Tool, But It’s Not Perfect

Keep in mind that the X chromosome needs a match of approximately twice the size of a regular chromosome to be as reliable. In other words, a 14 cM threshold for the X chromosome is roughly equivalent to a 7 cM match for any other chromosome. Said another way, a 7 cM match on the X is about equal to a 3.5 cM match on any other chromosome.

X matches are not created equal.

The SNP density on the X chromosome is about half that of the other chromosomes, making it virtually impossible to use the same matching criteria. I don’t encourage using matches of less than 500 SNPs unless you know you’re in a triangulated group and WITH at least a few larger, proven matches on that segment of the X chromosome.

Having said that, X matches, due to their unique inheritance path can persist for many generations and be extremely useful. You can read about working with the X chromosome here and here.

I noticed when I was comparing segments in the manual spreadsheet that I had to remove many X matches with people who had identical matches on other chromosomes with me and my mother. In other words, just because they matched my mother and me exactly on one chromosome, that phasing did not, by default, extend to matching on other segments.

I checked my manually curated file and discovered that I had a total of seven X matches that should have been, and were, painted because they matched me and Mom both.

DNAPainter X spreadsheet example.png

However, there were many that didn’t match me and Mom both, matching only me, that were painted because that person was bucketed (assigned) to my maternal side because a different segment phased to mother correctly.

On the X chromosome, here’s what happened.

DNAPainter maternal X.png

You can see that a lot more than 7 bright red matches were painted – 26 more to be exact. That’s because if an individual is bucketed on your maternal or paternal side, it’s presumed that all of the matching segments come from the same ancestor and are legitimate, meaning identical by descent and not by chance. They aren’t. Every single segment has an inheritance path and story of its own – and just because one segment triangulates does NOT mean that other segments that match that person will triangulate as well.

The X chromosome is the worst case scenario of course, because these 7 cM segments are actually as reliable as roughly 3.5 cM segments on any other chromosome, which is to say that more than 50% of them will be incorrect. However, some will be accurate and those will match me and mother both. 21% of the X matches to people who phased and triangulated on other chromosomes were accurate – 79% were not. Thankfully, we have phasing, bucketing and tools like this to be able to tell the difference so we can utilize the 21% that are accurate. No one wants to throw the baby out with the bath water, nor do we want to chase after phantoms.

Keep in mind that Phased Family Matching, like any other tool, is just that, a tool and needs some level of critical analysis.

Every Segment Has Its Own Story

We know that every single DNA segment has an independent inheritance path and story of its own. (Yes, I’ve said that several time now because it’s critically important so that you don’t wind up barking up the wrong tree, literally, pardon the pun.)

In the graphic above of my painted X chromosome matches, only the six matches with green stars are on the hand-curated match list. One had already been painted previously. The balance of the bright red matches were a part of the mass import and need to be deleted. Additionally, one of the accurate matches did not upload for some reason, so I’ll add that one manually.

I suggest that you go ahead and paint your bucketed segments, but understand that you may have a red herring or two in your crop of painted segment matches.

As you begin to work with these clusters of matches, check your matching segments with your parents (or other family members who were used in bucketing) and make sure that all the segments that have been painted by bulk upload actually match on all of the same segments.

If you have a parent that tested, there is no need to see if you and your match match other relatives on that same side. If your match does not match you and your parent on some significant overlapping portion of that same segment, the match is invalid. DNA does not “skip generations.”

If you don’t have a parent that has tested, your known relatives are your salvation, and the key to bucketed matches.

The great news is that you can easily see that a bulk match was painted from the coloring of the batch import. As you discover the relevant genealogy and confirm that all segments actually match your parent (or another family member, if you don’t have parents to test,) move the matching person to the appropriately colored ancestral group.

I further recommend that you hand curate the X chromosome using a spreadsheet. The nature of the X makes depending on phased matching too risky, especially with a tool like DNAPainter that can’t differentiate between a legitimate and non-legitimate match. The X chromosome matches are extraordinarily valuable because they can be useful in ways that other chromosomes can’t be due to the X’s unique inheritance path.

What About You?

If you don’t have your DNA at Family Tree DNA and you have tested elsewhere, you can transfer your DNA file for free, allowing you to see your matches and use many of the Family Tree DNA tools. However, to access the chromosome browser, which you’ll need for DNA painting, you’ll need to purchase the unlock for $19, but that’s still a lot less than retesting.

Here are transfer instructions for transferring your DNA file from 23andMe, Ancestry or MyHeritage.

If you have not purchased a Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA and don’t have a DNA file to transfer, you can order a test here.

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Robert Shepherd (1739-1817), Died of the Stone and Gravel – 52 Ancestors #271

I’m incredibly indebted to a cousin, David Stielow, with whom I corresponded in 1991 about the Shepherd family. David proudly signed his correspondence with “6 great-grandson of Robert and Sarah (Rash) Shepherd.” Unfortunately, I lost touch with David decades ago. David, wherever you are – thank you!

David sent me a copy of the long-rumored but never-produced Bible record of Robert Shepherd including information that at that time, Mildred Judd Hodkins (1922-2015) who descended through Robert’s daughter, Sarah Shepherd, wife of William Judd was the then-current owner of the Bible.

The Shepherd Bible

It’s a beauty, that’s for sure!

Shepherd Bible0004.jpg

The marriage or Robert Shepherd and Sarah Rash in Spotsylvania County, and their removal to Wilkes County 12 years later.

Shepherd Bible0003.jpg

Births, including Robert and Sarah themselves. A spouse’s name and a death date sprinkined in for good measure.

Shepherd Bible0002.jpg

The last child was born when Sarah was 43, then Robert’s death is recorded 30 years later.

The handwriting is ornate, rendered artistically in stunningly beautiful script. Was it Robert or Sarah who lovingly penned these entries by the light of candles in front of a fireplace? I would love to see the original Bible.

I’ve come to doubt that the handwriting is either Robert’s or Sarah’s. To begin with, the handwriting recording Robert’s death entry looks just like the first entry recording his birth. That’s pretty difficult to accomplish. Sarah’s entry refers to her as “now the espoused wife,” which suggests that Sarah and Robert are living, and that it’s after 1765 when they married.

Robert’s wife, Sarah Rash’s death is not recorded for some reason, so perhaps the handwriting is actually hers – except that in 1819 records regarding Robert’s estate, Sarah signed her name with an X. So the entries couldn’t have been written by Sarah unless something dramatic happened to her ability to write between 1817 and 1819.

This might be the “church Bible” that was sold at Robert’s estate sale, or perhaps a later Bible altogether.

It’s probable that this entire Bible record was recopied from an earlier Bible belonging to Robert and Sarah, because the entries all appear to be in exactly the same penmanship except for a couple obvious additions later. This wouldn’t be unusual if the old Bible wore out, burned or was sold at the estate sale, and a new Bible was purchased. It could also be expected if the original Bible descended to one child and another child copied the original records into their own Bible. Seeing the Bible printing information in the front might help narrow these possibilities.

My guess, and that’s all it will ever be, is that this Bible belonged to daughter Sally who married William Judd because it’s her descendant who had the Bible in 1991. Furthermore, William Judd’s name is written above Sally, along with her proper name, “Sarah” and a death month and year of November 1858.

I suspect that the original Bible was probably distributed to another family member after Robert’s death in 1817 – hence the last entry in the “original” handwriting is about Robert’s death.

There is a confusing date conflict which might be explained by recopying and adding a bit of information. Daughter Rhoda is reported to have been born in Wilkes County on March 23, 1777, which clearly could not have happened if the family didn’t leave Spotsylvania County until December of 1777. One of those two years or Rhoda’s birth location has to be wrong.

This amazing Bible doesn’t just tell us that Robert and his wife Sarah Rash were born, but when and where they were born, their parents’ names, marriage date and who married them, their children’s names, birth dates and locations, along with a couple death dates.

But it doesn’t end there either. The last page records Robert’s death:

“Robert Shepherd father of the aforementioned family deceased June fifth one thousand eight hundred and seventeen 1817 – at his own house, on Reddies River, Wilkes County, North Carolina State where to he removed and settled his family from Spottsylvania County, Virginia, December 7, 1777.

After 17 days illness with his old disorder the Stone and Gravel, after residing about 40 years in the aforesaid spot.

Aged according to this record exactly seventy seven years eleven months and seven days subtracting elven days for his old stile birth.”

I initially thought that Stone and Gravel meant gall stones, but according to medical references, I suspect it was kidney stones. Gall stones appear to have been referred to as colic at that time. Regardless of which kind of stones – they had to be absolutely agonizing and probably became lodged where they shouldn’t, killing the man.

“His old disorder” tells us that Robert had suffered from this previously, probably repeatedly over a very long time. I’d guess he either died of uremic poisoning, if the stone lodged in the ureter between the kidney and the bladder, or sepsis if he developed an infection. Either would have been horrifically painful.

How much more could we ask of a Bible record? This is hands-down the most informative Bible record I have ever found in my family.

Joyce Dancy McNiel (1937-2003), another now-deceased cousin, transcribed the Bible record and sent me the following information from her files. I’m so indebted to these researchers from the generation that preceded mine. They were immeasurably kind when I was beginning.

Shepherd Stielow letter.png

Robert’s Birth

Robert was born on June 17, 1739 in St. George’s Parish, Spotsylvania County, Virginia to George Shepherd and Elizabeth Mary Angelique (or Angelicke) Day Shepherd.

St. George’s Parish was formed in 1714, initially in Essex County until Spotsylvania County was formed in 1720.

In 1730, the parish was split with the new St. Marks Parish incorporating in the upper portion which was made into Orange County, and eventually Orange, Madison, Culpepper and Rappahannock counties, according to the book, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia published by Bishop Meade in two volumes in 1861.

Shepherd Spotsylvania County.png

Spotsylvania County, where Robert was born, is located about 50 miles north of Richmond, near the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers.

In 1732, Colonial William Byrd visited, saying of the place, “Besides Colonel Willis, who is the top man of the place, there are only one merchant, a tailor, a smith, an ordinary-keeper and a lady who acts both as a doctress and coffee-woman.” What the heck else do you need?

I have to ask, what exactly is a coffee-woman? Susanna Livingston, a widow was indeed that person and you can read about her colonial Virginia coffee house here.

Keep in mind that this description was just 7 years before Robert’s birth.

The first church in Spotsylvania County was built in 1732. There was an earlier church near Fredericksburg built in 1728 and one near Mattapony as well called the Mother-Church.

In the 1720s and 1730s, Spotsylvania County was literally the unsettled frontier.

Marriage

Robert Shepherd was married to Sarah Rash on October 1st, 1765 in Spotsylvania County by church parson, James Mcrae. Bishop Meade’s books don’t show a James Mcrae, but do include a Christopher Mcrae and someone by the initial of A.

Mcrae is a decidedly Scottish name, which might provide a hint as to the origins of the Shepherd or Rash families, either or both.

Spotsylvania County Deeds

Deeds tell more of the story of the Shepherd family in Spotsylvania County. The first record of George Shepherd is found in 1749, although he was clearly married prior to that time, given that son George was born about 1728, supposedly in Spotsylvania County as well. This suggests that the elder George, Robert’s father, was probably born about 1700.

On November 6, 1749, George Shepperd of St. George’s Parish of Spotsylvania County and Elizabeth Mary Angelicke Day, his wife, sold land to Benjamin Holiday of same parish and county, 25 pounds current money, 60 acres, part of the land whereon the said Shepperd lives, etc. Witnesses were Joseph Holloday, William Miller and Margaret Randolph. Everyone signs with an X except for Joseph Holloday.

In Deed books D and E, on August 31, 1751, we find a deed from Benjamin Holloday husband of Robert’s sister, Susanna, for her father George Shepherd’s land conveyed to Robert Shepherd and his brother George Shepherd.

Shepherd Spotsylvania Holloday land purchase.png

On November 5, 1775, John Shepherd, Robert’s older brother by 5 years, sold his 500 acres of land to William Arnold, a transaction witnessed by George McNiel who also moved to Reddies River, settling land adjacent Robert and John Shepherd.

On November 20, 1776, Robert Shepherd (who signed with an X) and his wife Sarah, George Shepherd and his wife Mary, of Spotsylvania County sold to Benjamin Holloday of the same county for 54 pounds current money, 108 acres in Spotsylvania County. Witnesses: Charles Yates, Edward Herndon, John Chew, Jr, Anthony Gholston, Clayton Coleman, John Herndon and John Holloday. Recorded January 16, 1777.

It appears that Robert was laying the groundwork for their move to Wilkes County, along with his brother, John Shepherd and the George McNiel family.

Robert’s family, probably along with the others, made the journey from Spotsylvania County to Wilkes County, according to the Bible, on December 7, 1777 – clearly a turning point in the lives of these families. I’d wager there was a wagon train that “removed from” Spotsylvania County, pulling out on December 7th and hoping to reach Wilkes by Christmas. They were probably bumping along those rough roads until at least the second week of January. The average distance for a wagon was 10 miles a day, and that’s without problems.

The family had to decide which path to take.

Shepherd Spotsylvania to Wilkes.png

A more westerly path, down the old wagon road through the Shenandoah Valley would have been slightly shorter, but much more treacherous through high mountains, especially in the slippery winter.

I believe they chose the route shown above that took them through South Boston in Halifax County. Not only is this route flatter, James Shepherd, brother of Robert Shepherd settled in Halifax County for several years before moving on to Wilkes County to join the rest of the family.

For all we know, the entire group could have stopped there for some time, either to rest or to evaluate Halifax County as a place of settlement. It’s ironic that a few generations later in Claiborne County, Tennessee, the McNiel/Shepherd/Rash descendants of Wilkes County, NC would intermarry with the Estes/Moore/Dodson/Younger lines of Halifax County, VA.

Halifax County, like Wilkes County, was on the generational migration path westward for many families.

Robert Shepherd and George McNiel were more or less contemporaries. George was somewhat older, born about 1720 as compared to Robert born 19 years later.

About 1784, George McNiel’s son, William McNiel would marry Robert Shepherd’s daughter, Elizabeth Shepherd, born in 1766. Clearly, they knew each other from Spotsylvania County and undertook the overland journey to Wilkes together, but she was a bit young to have been flirting on that journey. The Rash, Shepherd and McNiel families have been hopelessly intertangled since they arrived in Wilkes County and began intermarrying. For all we know, they could have already been somehow related in colonial Virginia and before.

The Revolutionary War

The War wasn’t far behind these families. In fact, that could be part of what encouraged the Shepherd family to pull up stakes and move. Robert’s future son-in-law, William McNiel, served in Virginia from June through November 1777, fighting in the Battle of Brandywine. By this time, the Revolutionary War was in full swing.

The Revolutionary War began in April of 1775 when shots were exchanged at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. Shortly, both Virginia and North Carolina had joined the war. For the next 8 years, the residents of both Virginia and North Carolina would suffer from warfare, deaths and injuries, shortages of food and clothing, destruction, loss of property and constant fear.

But Virginia and North Carolina, as states, would also lead the way. In May of 1775, the King’s Governor in North Carolina fled the palace and the seat of government in New Bern was taken over by Abner Nash, the eventual governor, leading the Whigs.

North Carolina proceeded to create a Bill of Rights, placing the power with the people instead of a king, providing for independent branches of government. In other words, they voted for a form of democracy that would be mirrored on a national level a few years later.

Similar events occurred in Virginia, with independence from England declared in May of 1776 following the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775, about 150 miles south of Spotsylvania Courthouse, near Norfolk.

Of course, Robert Shepherd couldn’t know how things would eventually work out in November of 1776 when he sold his land, nor in December of 1777 when he left for North Carolina, probably via Halifax County, Virginia. He may have anticipated a great deal more warfare with accompanying devastation to land and crops. Or, the move may have had absolutely nothing to do with the war. Regardless, these families moved during the war, while a literal revolution was occurring. I have to wonder what types of precautions they put in place to attempt to stay safe, and why they chose that time to migrate westward into an area plagued by Tories and Cherokee uprisings.

There’s no record of Robert Shepherd actually serving as a soldier, but he did provide supplies according to North Carolina Army accounts, in the form of a horse and 13.5 bushels of corn, or about enough corn to feed a horse for 54 days at 8 quarts of corn per day.

Life on the Reddies River

Cousin Joyce’s handwritten letters provide both general and specific information about the Shepherd family.

They lived in what is known as the Reddies River and Parlier section, west of North Wilkesboro some 12 to 14 miles. John Shepherds’s entry no. 64 called for 405 acres of land at the Deep Ford on Reddies River. Robert’s entry was next, #65-B-1-M188 for 200 acres and Rowland Judd’s entry #145-A-!-M276 was for 514 acres. John Shepherd also owned A-1-#233 calling for 333 acres on the north side of the Yadkin. George McNiel was a neighbor too, his line joined Rowland Judd’s line.

The name Deep Ford was derived from the fact that the original road leading from New River in what is now Ashe Co to the Yadkin Valley crossed the Reddies River at the foot of this hill, and that the ford at this crossing was unusually deep – thus the name that remains today; Deep Ford Hill.

Paul Gregory in his book, The Early Settlers of Reddies River tells us that:

When John arrived on Reddies River, only a few scattered families were living there. It must have been a highly satisfying experience for them to find that the fertile bottom land on both sides of the stream beginning ‘at the bend in the river’ and extending North­ward to the forks of the river was still uninhabited and unclaimed. The place where the wagons crossed the river was just north of the bend in the river. The water was unusually deep at this crossing, hence the name deep ford. The crossing was also located at the base of a hill, giving the name Deep Ford Hill. It is here that John settled.

Reddies River was flanked on either side not only with wide, fertile bottom land but also with mountain land covered with heavy timber, abounding in an assortment of wildlife. The waters of Reddies River were clear, clean, swift, and cold. This is the place that John sank his roots never to move again.

When John arrived on Reddies River, most land of this area belonged to Earl Granville, Lord Proprietor for the British Government. Furthermore, no land was available for sale or lease, as the British land office had been closed several years prior to this date. Only a very few settlers actually owned the property on which they lived. Thus, more early settlers took possession (squatted on) land of their choice, with the idea of later buying or leasing the property when the land office was reopened. This is what John did.

On July 4th, 1776 all land was confiscated and all land transactions with the British Government were invalidated. The confiscation act provided a way for the early settlers to own the land they had improved and to which they laid claim. The settlers were required to register their land with the local government as a basis for subsequent land grants. On April 24th, 1778, John entered his land, claiming 405 acres, beginning at the bend in the river near Deep Ford and extending northward to the forks of the river, including property on both sides of the river. Although John later bought many additional acres of land, it was here that he reared his family, and it is here that John and his wife, Sarah, lived for the rest of their lives.

John’s land provides an important clue about Robert. Cousin Broderick Shepherd has been compiling information about the older generations of the Shepherd family for years at http://www.reddiesrivershepherds.com/ and more recently on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Reddies-River-Shepherds-363723261156/

Broderick’s research about Robert can be found here, brother John, here, James here who fought at King’s Mountain. Brother George never left Spotsylvania County.

According to land grants, Robert Shepherd lived adjacent his brother, John Shepherd, on the Reddies River.

Shepherd grant 847.png

In 1775 Robert applied for 200 acres and in 1788 obtained 199 acres of land on the Reddies River.

Shepherd 199 acres.png

This document says that Robert is already living on this land, “for comfort.” There is no record that he ever lived elsewhere in Wilkes County.

Shepherd 199 acres 2.png

Shepherd grant 65.png

Robert applied for 200 acres but was actually granted 199. This made me wonder if an acre was set aside for either a church or a cemetery or if that’s just how the survey fell. Robert’s land is very irregularly shaped.

Shepherd grant survey.png

Looking at this survey, grant and map, John Sheppard’s line is shown below. A pole is 16.5 feet, so their joint line is 2145 feet, or about half a mile.

Shepherd survey.png

The land grant process took several steps and each step had an associated fee.

According to A. B. Pruitt, in 1777, North Carolina passed a law allowing people to take over the title to all “vacant” land in the state, meaning the land formerly the property of the King or his representative, the Earl of Granville, in addition setting forth the process, grants, for land to be sold to anyone who could pay the fees.

Land was located by prospective owners and claims were entered into books, with associated fees paid. After a waiting period, in case someone else claimed the same land, a warrant was issued which meant the county surveyor would survey the claimed land. Of course, the surveyor needed to be paid. After the survey, shown above, the survey and associated information was returned to the Secretary of State. Beginning in 1783, the state charged 10 pounds per hundred acres, or less if the land was somehow substandard and included swampland or was mountainous. In other words, if the land couldn’t all be farmed. Prior to 1783, only 50 shillings was charged per hundred acres. With Robert’s 199 acre grant, he would have paid 1990 pounds if every acre was deemed farmable.

Next, the governor would sign a land grant, attaching one of the two copies of the survey which was sent to the grantee in one way or another – sometimes being delivered to the local courthouse where ads were placed stating that the grant could be picked up.

Shepherd grant book.png

At the same time the governor wrote the grant, it would be recorded in a grant book, shown above. That wasn’t the end of the process though, because the grantee only had a year in which to register their new grant with the Register of Deeds in the county where the land was located. That filing also cost a small fee, but no one checked to assure that registering of  grants in the deed book was ever actually done.

I’ve seen cases where patents and grants were sold at these various steps, possibly because the man couldn’t pay the upcoming fees and wanted to recover his initial investment. Often, he had staked the land out and already made improvements by clearing land, planting crops, adding fences and building a cabin and outbuildings.

Robert’s actual grant in the land patent book occurred three years after the original application. I’m sure the offices and surveyors were absolutely swamped initially. Robert probably didn’t care, because he had been living there and farming the land all along. The grant was just making things official.

Shepherd 199 acre certificate.png

In 1796, Robert obtained another 50 acres abutting his original 199 acres.

Shepherd 1201.png

Shepherd 50 acres.png

Shepherd 50 acre warrant.png

Notice on the survey that north is not at the top.

Shepherd 50 acre survey.png

Shepherd 50 acre certificate.png

Robert’s brother, John’s land grant is shown below, a total of 405 acres, 180 by 360 poles, or 2970 feet by 5940 – a little over half a mile east to west by a little over a mile north to south.

Shepherd John survey.png

Note that west is at the top, so north is to the right on the survey.

Aligning the two surveys, along with the marker for the location of the old Deep Ford Cemetery with the red pin, we see the following.

Shepherd both surveys.png

George McNiel’s survey was adjacent the land of both brothers.

By comparison, here’s the first official NC map by Strother in 1808.

Shepherd Strother 1808 map.png

Church and Cemetery

Fortunately, there are contemporary roads that we can “drive” down using Google Street view.

At the top of Deep Ford Hill, the cemetery was located where these mobile homes are today, according to George McNiel during a 2004 visit when he took me to visit these sacred ancestral locations.

George and his wife, cousin Joyce Dancy McNeil, spent their lives documenting both history and cemeteries in Wilkes County. George and Joyce are both descendants of the McNiel, Vannoy, Shepherd and Rash lines. Our collective roots and blood run deep in this land.

Shepherd Deep Ford HIll Cemetery.png

In the early 1900s, the Deep Ford cemetery was abandoned by the families. The landowner used the gravestones to build the foundation of a chicken house, then the chicken house was bulldozed sometime later, reportedly in the 1960s or 1970s. George McNiel was just sick about this.

George stated that, “there was a cemetery just over from the church where Vance Lovett in the 1930s took the stones to build a chicken house, then years later bulldozed them into a ravine.” He took me to that location and showed me the 2 or 3 trailers there in 2004. I can’t help but wonder if they are haunted.

According to Brodrick Shepherd, family members believed to be buried in this lost cemetery include:

  • John Shepherd Sr. born August 10, 1734 and died June 11, 1810, married to Sarah Jennings 1738 – >1810
  • Robert Shepherd born June 17, 1739, died June 5, 1817, married to Sarah Rash born April 23, 1749. Her death in unknown.
  • John Shepherd Jr., c1760 – May 7, 1812, son of John Sr.
  • Phoebe Shepherd c1770 – >1812

I’d wager that there are more, including Sarah Rash and one if not both of their sons, James and John.

The cemetery isn’t the only thing that’s missing today.

According to historian George McNeil, one of the very early churches was established before 1800 on the top of the hill at Deep Ford. It would make sense that the church and cemetery were very close or adjacent.

Shepherd deep ford intersection.png

If the church was located at the top of Deep Ford Hill, the area across from the cemetery is flat, where a gas station is located today.

Shepherd deep ford hill store.png

The only other location would be the northwest quadrant of the intersection, below.

Shepherd deep ford nw.png

An aerial shows the location of the old destroyed cemetery along with the possible church site at the top of the hill.

Shepherd deep ford aerial.png

However, a map drawn by George shows the possible old church site at the base of Deep Ford Hill, marked with the red star below. I notice the road today crossing the river is called “Old Campground” and “camps” were held at revivals, which could have been held at the location of the old church. People came tp “camp meetings” from miles in any direction, staying from days to a few weeks as preachers cycled through, stood on stumps, and whipped up religious fervor in the audience, hoping to save souls. Baptisms took place immediately in the adjacent streams.

Shepherd deep ford hill base.png

The old cemetery location is marked with the gold star.

Regardless of where the original church was located, George McNiel who accompanied the Shepherd family from Spotsylvania County was the preacher and the Shepherds and McNiels made up most of the congregation along with their immediate neighbors, the Rowlands, Judd family and others.

According to Brodrick, Robert Shepherd, along with his brother John, and George McNeil, established the first church in Reddies River which was located on the crest of Deep Ford Hill, just above lands owned by John Shepherd, Sr. The Deep Ford Hill Church was established as early as 1783 and was in existence as late as 1796.

The location of the original church has been lost to time.

Following the church at Deep Ford Hill was the Reddies River Baptist Church that was constituted on April 7, 1798. Robert and Sarah Shepherd were founding members of this new church.

Shepherd Reddies River Church.png

Robert assuredly attended and probably helped built this church. It’s possible that he’s buried in the yard here as well given that he had been attending this church for 19 years when he died.

When the Reddies River Baptist Church was created, its members gathered for services alternately at the Deep Ford Meeting House and Brother Robert Shepherd’s house. This probably answers the question about whether the missing acre in Robert’s land was for a church – it clearly wasn’t if churchgoers were meeting at his house.

Shepherd Deep Ford to Reddies River churches.png

The Reddies River Church is shown with the red pin at the top, above, the location of the now-destroyed cemetery with the gold star, and the general location of the Deep Ford Meeting House at the base of the hill with a red star, according to George’s map. Robert Shepherd’s land was at the branching of the North Fork and South Fork of the Reddies River, almost exactly at the half-way point beneath the white mileage text box.

Shepherd Reddies River church distance.png

The church is shown from the road, above, although there’s a bend in the road that leads directly to the church. A cemetery was established at the new church, of course, with the list of burials here and here. Unfortunately, few are documented on FindaGrave.

Paul Gregory provided the Reddies River membership list, here, in which he says that the original Deep Ford Meeting House was established as early as 1784 and that all members of the newly constituted Reddies River Church were members of the Deep Ford Hill Church when it closed its doors in 1797. Reddies River opened in 1798 with the following 24 charter members.

Shepherd Reddies River 1798 charter membership.png

It’s worth noting that there are no McNiel’s on the list.

Deeds and Property

While Robert Shepherd’s land claims were first filed in 1785, according to files found at the North Carolina archives, he apparently entered land as early as 1778 according to the land entry books.

I’ve compiled related land information in date order. Eventually, Robert owned a great deal of land.

  • March 12, 1778 – George McKniel entered 120 acres on the South Fork of Reddies River, side mountain, along Roland Jud’s line. Robert Shephard’s line.

Clearly, Robert was already living in this location by 1778 and George McNiel from Spotsylvania County was living adjacent Robert. Two of Robert’s daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, would marry George’s sons, William and James, respectively.

  • April 24, 1778 – Robert Shepherd entered 200 acres near the ford of Readys River on John Shepherds line, including improvement where said Shepherd now lives. Entry 65

At that time, Reddies was spelled a wide variety of ways.

  • December 26, 1778 – Barnard (Barnet) Owens entered 200 acres both sides Reddies River in Robert Shepherds line including improvement whereon said Owens now lives. Entry 614
  • April 15, 1780 – George McNiel entered 100 acres on the south side of the south fork Reddeys River at his and Robert Shepherd’s corner. Entry 1769

In 1782, the tax list is quite interesting, both in terms of Robert and also of the men he is associated with in land transactions and on road crews, which reflect the men living along the road in question assigned as road hands and road jurors in the court records.

Name Acres of land All negroes Mules/horses Cattle
Capt Cleveland’s District
Nathaniel Vannoy 150 1 5 7
Capt. Nathaniel Gordan’s Dist
Daniel Vannoy 100 1 1 4
Capt Rowland Judd Dist
James Shepherd (single man) 0 0 6 0
Andrew Vannoy 650 0 7 11
John Sheppard 505 0 7 20
William Owens Sr. 250 0 3 5
Charles Hickerson 320 0 3 4
Leonard Miller 50 0 2 4
David Hickerson 50 0 6 4
Mordica Fuller 200 0 3 7
John Owen 200 0 3 4
William Owens Jr 530 0 5 6
James Sheppard 110 2 4 11
Robert Shepard 200 0 3 8
Francis Vannoy 1070 0 8 10
Thomas Owen 150 0 1 6
David Owen 50 0 1 3
Barnet Owin 350 0 5 7
George McNeal 160 0 3 6

This tax record tells us that Robert was paying tax on 200 acres, which is likely the 200 that he does not yet own, but for which he has entered a claim. He has no slaves, thankfully, 3 mules or horses and a total of 8 cattle.

  • October 23, 1782 – Grant to George McNiel 132 acres both sides south fork Reddis River…Robert Shepherd line, page 358
  • November 9, 1784 – Grant to Barnet Owen 200 acres Reddis River…Robert Shepherds line, page 463
  • Date obscured on my copy – Barnet Owen ? ac Reddies River…Robert Shepherd line, witness Rowland Judd and Elijah Denney, signed Barnet Owen page 127 in deed book
  • February 21, 1787 – Deed between Josiah Sartain and Robert Shepherd, 40 pounds, 50 acres north side of south fork of Reddies River. Wit Alexander Buchanan, Andrew Baker and James Sartain. Signed Josiah X Sartain Page 114
Date Robert’s Land Acres Location Running Total
1782 Entry (granted 199 acres in 1788) +200 Near ford of Reddy’s River, joining John Sheppard 200
1787 Purchase from Josiah Sartain +50 North side south fork Reddies River 250
1788 Grant +100 Reddies River line between Shepherd and Barnet Owen 350
1790 Purchase from James Sartain +70 Line between Sartan and Shepherd, both sides south fork Reddies River 420
1795 Purchase from Josiah Sarten (Sartain) +50 470
1795 Purchase from James Sartin +70 540
1796 Grant +50 Reddies River 590
1799 Purchase from George McNiel +120 710
1800 Sale from Robert Sheppard and Nathaniel to John Judd -130 South fork Reddies River 580
1800 Sale from Robert Sheppard and Nathaniel to John Judd -50 530
1800 Purchase from George McNeil +100 Reddy’s River 630
1802 Sale to James McNeil -50 North fork Reddies River, old wagon ford, south fork Reddies River 580
1802 Sale to James McNeil -50 North fork Reddies 530
1804 Sale to William Judd -100 South fork Reddies River, south side river upon the mountain Ridge formerly called Joes Hill 430
1814 Sale to William and Nathaniel Judd -100 North side south fork Reddies River crossfence between Larkin Pumphrey and Shepherd, crossfence conditional line between John Judd and Shepherd, conditional line between Reuben and Humphrey Kilby and Shepherd. Road runs from head Sport Branch to the Mill, across top of ridge” Carrells old field, top main ridge between William and John Judds field 330

Given that George McNiel sold his land in 1799 and moved to the Parsonville area, and the church building at the base of Deep Ford Hill was abandoned in 1797, with the new church opening in 1798, I have to wonder if George’s land sale and church closing were somehow related.

  • July 10, 1788 – Grant to Robert Shepherd, 100 ac, Reddies River, line between said Shepherd and Barnet Owen, Page 188
  • February 16, 1790 – Between James Sartain and Robert Shepherd, 75 pounds, 70 acres, Nathaniel Judds corner line, conditional line between Josiah Sartain and Robert Shepherd, both sides south fork of Reddies River. Wit William McNiel, Nathaniel Judd and William McQueary, Signed James Sartain page 115
  • December 9, 1794 – Samuel Carter, Miller and William Kilby, yeoman, 300 pounds, 299 acres, two plantations or tracts of land with grist mill on the north fork Reddis River as appears by deeds from David Owen to Samuel Carter April 21 1791, Robert Shepherd’s line, William Owens line. Wit Nathaniel X Judd, Reuben Kilby and David James, Signed Samuel Carter page 412
  • February 2, 1795 – Deed from Josiah Sarten to Robert Sheppard 50 acres, oath of Andrew Baker, ordered registered
  • Deed from Joseph Sartin to James Sartin 70 acres, oath Robert Sheppard
  • Deed from James Sartin to Robert Sheppard 70 acres, oath William Mcqeary
  • February 3, 1800 – Between Robert Shepherd and Nathaniel Judd and John Judd, 50 pounds, 130 acres south fork of Reddies River…Shepherd’s line. Wit James Bunyard, Rowland Judd and Rowland Judd Jr. Signed Robert X Shepherd and Nathaniel X Judd page 109

Robert signed with an X, indicating he cannot write.

  • March 1, 1800 – Between George McNiel and Robert Shepherd, 25 pounds, 100 acres waters Reddys River…Robert Shepherds line. Wit Robert X Bingham, Joseph McNiel and Benjamin McNiel. Signed George McNiel page 836
  • June 10, 1800 – Grant to William Kilby 50 acres on waters of Reddies River, his own line…Robert Shepherd’s corner, pages 285 and 286
  • February 27, 1802 – Between William McQuerry and James McNiel, 25 pounds, 42 acres, branch Reddies River, Cane Creek branch, John Shepherd Sr.’s line, Robert Shepherds line. Wit George McNiel and Jonathan X Darnal, signed William McQuerry page 367
  • March 13, 1802 – Between Robert Shepherd and James McNiel, 25 pounds, 50 acres, Reddies River said Shepherds line. Wit Squire Lowry and John Shepherd. Signed Robert X Shepherd page 368
  • April 9, 1802 – Between Robert Shepherd and James McNiel, 100 pounds, 50 acres, north fork of Reddies River, John Shepherds corner, old wagon ford, south fork Reddies River, wit Squire Lowry and John Shepherd. Signed Robert X Shepherd page 368
  • September 5, 1804 – Between Robert Shepherd and William Judd, Ashe County NC, $100, 100 acres south fork Reddies River, Robert Shepherds old line south side river upon the mountain Ridge formerly called Joes Hill, John Judd’s line. Wit Thomas Farmer. Signed Robert Shepherd, page 188
  • February 4, 1805 – Between John Judd, Ashe Co, NC and William Judd, $250, 130 acres south fork Reddies River, Robert Shepherds line, Nathaniel Judds corner, Rowland Judd, Sr. line. Wit Robert Shepherd, Nathaniel X Judd, Rebecca X Shepherd page 187
  • April 10, 1807 – Between John Shepherd Jr. and Amos Harmon, $200, 82 acres Middle fork of Reddies River both sides upper line of Esquire Judds old survey, side old road, conditional line made by Judd and White, wagon road. Wit Robert X Shepherd, Nathaniel X Judd, William X Felphs. Signed John Shepherd page 530
  • April 10, 1807 – Between John Shepherd Jr. and Amos Harmon, $400, 5 2/3 acres middle fork Reddies River, Wit Robert X Shepherd, Nathaniel X Judd, William X Phelps, signed John Shepherd page 543
  • April 10, 1807 – Between John Shepherd and Amos Harmon, $200, 37 acres middle fork Reddies River, Spencer White’s line, John Tirey’s line, David Owens line, Johnsons line. Wit Robert X Shepherd, Nathaniel X Judd, William X Phelps, signed John Shepherd Page 552
  • May 9, 1809 – Between Henry Miller and James Welborn and Robert Shepherd, $545, negro woman named Rachel and negro boy named Jerry. Wit Nathaniel Vannoy signed Henry Miller and James Welborn page 3

My heart just sank.

Shepherd 1800 census.png

While Robert had no slaves in the 1800 census, above, it pains me greatly to see that in the 1810 census, Robert Shepherd owned not just Rachel, but also Jerry. He still owned both of these humans at his death in 1817. In 1809, Rachel would have been about 42 and Jerry, about 11.

  • May 1, 1810 – Between William Kilby Sr. and Humphrey and Reubin Kilby, 40 pounds, 340 acres, three tracts of land including 2 plantations where Humphrey and Reubin now live, north fork waters of Reddies River – first 200 acres in Robert Shepherds line, William Owens line…2nd 90 acres waters Reddies River, Owens line, head Top Hill Branch, Elijah Dennys line, 3rd 50 acres joining 1st above tract William Kilby’s own line and Robert Shepherds corner. Wits John Judd and Fanny X Kilby. Signed William X Kilby page 157
  • October 28, 1814 – Between Robert Shepherd and William Judd and Nathaniel Judd Jr., $300, 100 acres north side of south fork of Reddies River, crossfence between Larkin Pumphrey and Shepherd, crossfence conditional line between John Judd and Shepherd, conditional line between Reuben and Humphrey Kilby and Shepherd. Road runs from head Sport Branch to the Mill, across top of ridge” Carrells old field, top main ridge between William and John Judds field “2 plum trees planted by John Judd and Larkin Pumphrey.” Wits Rowland Judd and Nancy Judd. Signed Robert X Shepherd and William X Judd page 542

Surveying the Land

This intersection of Shingle Gap Road with NC 16, where the cemetery and church used to be located, is the top of Deep Ford Hill. We know that John Shepherd lived someplace at the bottom of this hill, and his brother, Robert, did as well. Let’s take a drive.

Shepherd Deep Ford Hill.png

Descending the hill, below.

Shepherd Deep Ford descent.png

It’s a long way down. You can’t see the bottom from the top, or even close due to multiple curves and lots of trees. This area is still heavily forested in many places.

Shepherd Deep Ford curve.png

The road curves around the mountain with vegetation on both sides for most of the distance.

Shepherd Deep Ford bottom.png

At the bottom of the hill, we find beautiful, cleared flat land that belonged to John Shephard. The Deep Ford Meeting House may have been located in this area.

The old State Road turns to the right near where the Deep Ford itself was probably located. The exact crossing location isn’t known today.

Shepherd Deep Ford split.png

At this point, perhaps we can see the Reddies River from the bridge on the right close to where Deep Ford would have been. We arrived from the right in the photo below.

Shepherd Deep Ford bridge.png

Indeed, we can see the river. The original “deep ford” would have been someplace in this vicinity.

Shepherd Reddies River from bridge north.png

From the bridge, looking over John Shepherd’s land to the north.

Shepherd Reddies River from bridge south.png

Looking back south at Deep Ford Hill, above.

Shepherd west.png

This view from the bridge is looking back towards the west at the mountain range. The Blue Ridge Parkway snakes its way along the top.

We are going to drive east, the other way, across the bridge, then north along the east side of the Reddies river.

Shepherd deep ford aerial land.png

On the map above, the original cemetery is marked with a red star, the bottom red arrow points to the bridge in the photos above. We will be driving along the road where the red arrows point to John Shepperd’s land. The gold arrows point to the road along Robert’s land.

The road continues for almost a mile shadowing the river, following the general curving river shape, but sometimes with fields between the road and river as shown below.

Shepherd John's land.png

John Shepperd owned this land between the mountains, crossing the Reddies River located behind the bushes, through the field and across the road.

Shepherd small stream.png

At the point at where the river curves left, marked by that first gold arrow, we find a house on a stream on the right and the Reddies River is evident on the left side (through the trees, above) as the small stream running beside the house empties into the river.

Pioneer cabins would have been located on smaller, clean streams, so I can’t help but wonder if this was Johns’ home. It’s also possible that the mouth of this stream was actually on the land that Robert patented. It’s very near the border of the boundary line between the brother’s lands.

The house on the stream is visible, below, at far right above the words “Old North.”

This begins the area where Robert’s 199 acre land grant can be seen from the road. In fact, according to the court notes, the road is likely driving across Robert and John’s land.

We know Robert owned a lot more land, a total of at least 789 acres at one point by adding other grants as well as purchasing additional acreage. Robert’s additional land abutted his original land. A square mile is 640 acres, so Robert owned more than a mile by roughly a mile and a quarter. His total land holdings were about twice the size of his brother John’s initial land grant.

In essence, it appears that Robert and John at one owned pretty much everthing along this part of the River from mountain to mountain. A few other men owned adjacent lands which were bought and sold over the years.

Shepherd Robert aerial.png

In this area, near the small stream in the upper right of the photo, above, you can’t see the river from the road. Trees line the riverbanks as you can see both above and below, probably providing stability during floods. This would have been part of Robert’s original land. I wonder if the part not cleared isn’t suitable for farming, or if it’s being harvested for trees and logs today.

Shepherd road to river.png

Driving north, farmland lines the road on the west, and mountains form the east boundary.

The map below shows the junction of the north branch of Reddies River where it separates from the south branch.

Shepherd north and south Reddies split.png

We don’t know exactly where the roads today named old and new NC 16 ran at the time, but there weren’t a lot of options based on the lay of the land. The main road, according to the 1808 NC map may have run up the left side, but we know absolutely that there was a road on the right or east side too, because the hill and the ford to get there was named “Deep Ford” very early.

Today we can also see Robert’s land from NC Highway 16 on the west side of Reddies River as the highway cuts across the south branch of the river. George McNiel’s land would have intersected Robert’s in this area, and eventually Robert would purchase 100 acres of George’s land.

Shepherd Robert South Reddies.png

NC 16 is quite hilly until we cross the river at the bottom with the mountains in view ahead.

Shepherd Robert flat.png

Robert’s land is the flat land to the right with several homes today.

Shepherd Robert view.png

This vista is incredibly beautiful. I see why Robert came, put down roots and never left.

Shepherd Robert Deep Ford.png

As we drive away from Robert’s land, I couldn’t help but turn around and take one last look back across his land. Deep Ford Hill rises from the valley floor, a silent sentry marking the location where the earliest pioneers are buried in a long-lost cemetery. Robert traversed this hill innumerable times, on foot. on horseback and in wagons.

I have literally driven in his footsteps.

Court Records

I love court records. They reflect both the ordinary life of being summoned and serving jury duty combined with the excitement of trials. Court was the entertainment of the day, aside from church of course. Men gathered in Wilkesboro in pubs and houses surrounding the courthouse for the week that court was in session. Only local men went home at night, and those men probably arrived very late and often intoxicated. Everyone else stayed someplace in the vicinity of the courthouse for the duration of the court session.

In the early days, not much of a town surrounded the courthouse, and there wasn’t even a proper courthouse. A lot of “make do” went on.

It wasn’t until 1800 that there WAS a town of Wilkesboro when the town was actually platted after land was deeded for that purpose. An actual town began to emerge around the old courthouse that was probably not much more than a log cabin.

In August 1801, court was held for the first time in the new courthouse. Three years later, there appeared to be some concern about the clerk, because the court appointed commissioners to assure that the “County clerk’s office was sufficient or suitable” for the court’s official records.

Three months later, in November the court ordered the former county officials to account for tax collection from 1778 through 1800, 22 years, which they completed satisfactorily in 1802. Most of us today would have trouble reconstructing 22 years worth of records.

The early Wilkes County records are not complete. Some omissions could be due to whatever caused the justices their concern in November 1801, but not entirely. When I first visited Wilkes County, in the 1990s, the courthouse employees quietly told me of old records being used for bonfires in the distant past, but not so long ago as to be purged from memory. From what they said, and George confirmed, back in the depression era no one thought that “old records about dead people” would be of interest to anyone, for any reason.

I. Was. Horrified!

During later visits, after Wilkes County transferred records to the North Carolina State Archives, there was still confusion in the modern-day offices about which records still existed and where they might be located.

Robert Shepherd in the Records

Shepherd was spelled a variety of ways in these early records. Shepherd, Sheperd, Sheppard and just about any way you could think to spell it and a few you probably can’t. There is no “right” way of spelling the name. It appears, based on “signatures” of both Robert and Sarah that neither could write, so the spelling was decided by whomever was recoding the record at the time. Spelling was not standardized at that point in history.

Wilkes County was formed from Surry County and Washington District (now Washington County, TN) North Carolina on April 20, 1778. If the Shepherd family left Spotsylvania County, Virginia on December 7, 1777, they would not have arrived in Wilkes County before January 1778, best case. I did not check Surry County records given that Robert would have only lived in that county for 3 or 4 months, max. My luck, the juciest record EVER is probably hiding there, mocking me.

Robert was first found in Wilkes County court records in December 1778, and thereafter regularly. One had to be male, white, 21 and a property owner to be a juror. According to deed records, Robert filed for land on April 24, 1778. His traveling comparison, George McNiel filed in March, so they arrived sometime between January and March 12th.

At that time, men would be “summoned” for jury duty at the end of one session, then serve at the next, 3 months later. Robert’s entries in the court records regarding jury duty begin in December of 1778.

  • December 10, 1778 – juror
  • March 5, 1779 – juror
  • June 8, 1779 – juror
  • December 8, 1780 – juror
  • September 7, 1781 – juror
  • July 31, 1781 – juror
  • July 29, 1784 – juror
  • April 11, 1784 – juror
  • October 28, 1784 – juror
  • January 28, 1785 – juror
  • July 24, 1785 – juror
  • July 25, 1785 – juror

Another type of court record, road orders, are just wonderful, because they tell us who the neighbors are and often included landmarks, some of which can be found today.

  • January 24, 1786 – Ordered John Sheppard overseer of the road instead of Nathaniel Judd. Ordered William Nall, Morris Baker, James Baker, Martin Adams, John Read, Jesse Ray, John Robins, William Vias, James Sheppard, Barnet Owen, David Owen, Francis Vannoy, Martin Gambill, John Tyre, Nathaniel Vannoy and Robert Sheppard as a road jury from John Sheppards to the foot of the mountain at the head of Reddies River.

This is a very interesting entry. I found the head of Reddies River. Vannoy Road snakes it’s way along the entire branch of the north fork of the Reddies River, all the way to the top.

Shepherd Vannoy Road.png

This is my Jeep a few years ago at the intersection with Vannoy Road where it crosses Reddies River at the gold arrow on the map below. It’s very rough terrain and the locals didn’t recommend trying this section of Vannoy Road, even with a Jeep. They said there are some places with switchbacks that only accommodate one car and they are dangerous in the best of circumstances, but treacherous if it rains or snows.

Shepherd Deep Ford to beginning of Reddies River.png

On this map, Thomas Shepherd’s land is the green arrow where the north and south forks of the Reddies River split. The red arrow is where Vannoy Road begins to climb the mountain, near the Reddies River Church.

I know beyond a doubt that the Owens and Vannoy families lived along the north fork of the Reddies River.

  • April 27, 1786 – Ordered William Nall, Esq Thomas Dickson, Morris Baker, Martin Adams, John Reed, Jesse Ray, John Robins, William Owen, James Sheppard, Barnet Owen, Francis Vannoy, David Smith, John Tyre, Nathaniel Vannoy and Robert Sheppard as a road jury from Deep Ford at John Sheppards to foot of mountains at head of Reddies River.

This suggests that John Sheppard lived at or very near Deep Ford. I suspect that this road order was for this entire stretch of road.

  • January 25, 1787 – Ordered John Owens, Thomas Owens, William Owens, David Owens, James Sheppard, Henry Woody, Francis Vannoy, John Robins, Nathaniel Judd, Rowland Judd, Josiah Sartin, Robert Sheppard, John Tirey, Peter Baker, James Sheppard appointed as a road jury road near Francis Kerby’s up north fork of Reddies River to Thomas Owens.
  • April 28, 1790 – Whereas Jervis Smith hath in consequence of an Act of Assembly passed in 1788 to encourage building of Iron Works in the state, entered 2000 acres on both sides of Reddies River adjoining William Kilby, likewise 500 acres on north side Reddies River at line of said Smith adjoining lands of William Kilby and Justice Bowland, incl part of Bull Head Mtn, likewise 500 acres on both sides of Mulberry Creek adjoining land of John Robins and John Hawkins running down creek including vacant land between land of Isaac Perlier and Walter Brown, whereupon, court orders Adam Kilby, Jonathan Wall, Walter Brown, William Kilby, Samuel Carter, Michael Kilby, Justice Rowland, George Owen, John Sheppard, Robert Sheppard, John Hawkins, James Yates, Henry Adams, James Hays and Aaron Cannady to view whether lands above mentioned are fit for cultivation.
  • July 26 1790 – Whereas Jervis Smith hath in consequence of Act of Assembly passed 1788 to encourage building of iron works in state, entered 2000 acres both sides of Reddies River adjoining William Kilby, likewise 500 acres north side Reddies River at line said Smith adjoining lands of William Kilby and Justice Bowland including part of Bull Head Mountain, likewise, 500 acres both sides of Mulberry creek adjoining land John Robins and John Hawkins running down creek including vacant land between land Isaac Parlier and Walter Brown.

Whereupon, ordered Adam Kilby, Jonathan Wall, Walter Brown, William Kilby, Samuel Carter, Michael Kilby, Justice Rowland, George Owen, John Sheppard, Robert Sheppard, John Hawkins, James Yates, Henry Adams, James Hays and Aaron Cannady to view whether lands above mentioned are fit for cultivation.

This huge grant was more than two miles by two miles and, I suspect, further north and east where Mulberry Creek and Bull’s Mountain are found.

  • January 25, 1791 – Jury appointed at last court to view lands of Jarvis Smith as fit for cultivation report found they are not fit for cultivation. (Robert Sheppard included on jury list above.)
  • Ordered John Robins Jr., Robert Sheppard, William McNiel, John Sheppard Sr., Rowland Judd, Esq, Rowland Judd, Nathaniel Judd, Asel Cross, Stephen Sheppard, John McQuary Sr., John McQuary, James McNiel, David Owen Sr., John Judd, John Tyre appointed as a jury to view a road from Deep Ford on Reddies River to Elijah Denneys over said River.
  • October 31, 1792 – Ordered William Copeland, William Kilbee, James Kilbee, Michael Kilbee, Owen Williams, Thomas Owens, William Cash, Thomas Erwin, Benjamin Church, Francis Vannoy, William McNiel, James McNeil, Robert Sheppard, Joel Copeland, Jarvis Smith, Humphrey Smith, Horam Boon, a jury to view a road round Samuel Carter’s Mill pond where water overflows on Reddies River.
  • Wilkes County Will Abstracts Book 1, 1778-1799 by Absher – Page 448 (orig book) page 41 extracted book – February 4, 1792 proved at May term 1795, Power of attorney from James Brown of State of Georgia to Robert Sheppard to convey unto John Forester 200 acres of land and 100 acres whereon Fielding Forister and Benjamin Bruce now live. Wit Rowland Judd, William McNiel, John Sheppard Jr., Stephen Shepherd, signed James X Brown

Did Robert Shepherd have a relationship with James Brown? If so, what?

  • 8, 1793 – juror
  • April 29, 1793 – grand jury
  • November 7, 1793 – juror
  • May 7, 1795 – Power of attorney from James Brown to Robert Sheppard, oath John Sheppard Jr
  • Also, juror at same session.
  • May 8, 1795 – Ordered William Cash, Nathaniel Judd, Thomas Owen, William Owen, Thomas Erwin, Robert Sheppard, William Colvart, James Sheppard, John Owen, Benjamin Pennell, Elijah Denney, Zachariah Denney, Johnson Owen, William Tyre to view a road from William Colvarts to top of Ridge above said Colvarts.
  • February 4, 1796 – Ordered William McNiel, Philip Church, William Owen, Joseph Keslar, Rowland Judd, John Tyre, James Calloway, James McNiel, William Cash, William Colvard, Robert Sheppard, Francis Vannoy, Reuben Stringer, John Yates, John Sheppard to view and lay out a road from oldfields on New River to the Punchion Camp on the ridge.

I believe this is present day Ashe County.

  • May 1, 1797 – Ordered William Colvard, William Cash, Robert Judd, John Judd, Benjamin Viers, Lewis Sheppard, Humphry Kilbee, Reuben Kilbee, David Owens, James Sheppard, Stephen Sheppard view road from Deep Ford of Reddies River to top of hill above John Sheppards.

This tells us that John lived at the bottom of the hill, not at the top. I wonder if this is the road that became Tumbling Shoals Road. I don’t see a lot of other candidates.

  • April term 1799 – Robert Shepherd appraised estate of Michael Kilby
  • November 1, 1803 – William Adkins and John Adkins bound to Robert Shepherd to learn the occupation of farmer until 21 years old. Signed Robert X Sheppard

This confirms that Robert was a farmer. The Adkins boys were probably orphans and Robert, now age 64 with his own children grown could use some extra help.

  • February term 1805 – Deed from Robert Shepherd to William Judd for 100 acres land duly prove in court by oath of John Judd
  • April 30, 1799 – Appraisement of Michael Kilby’s estate returned by William Trible and Robert Sheppard, appraisers.
  • August 2, 1799 – Robert Sheppard summoned as juror to next session
  • November 4, 1799 – Robert Sheppard sworn on grand jury
  • November 8, 1799 – Deed from George McNiel to Robert Sheppard for 120 acres acknowledged in court by George McNiel
  • February 7, 1800 – Ordered that John Forester, Jacob Robards, James Kilby, John Querry, William Querry, John Sheppard, Robert Sheppard, Lewis Sheppard, Nathaniel Judd, John Judd, William Vias, Henry Pumphry, William Trible and Jarvis Smith or any 12 of them be a jury to view a road from where the road crosses the branch at Ambrose Hammon’s house running through the field along a ridge into the old road near the Deep Ford and report the same to the next court.
  • May Term 1800 – Deed from George McNiel to Robert Sheppard for 100 acres ack in court by George McNiel
  • May Term 1800 – Deed from Robert Sheppard and Nathaniel Judd to John Judd for 100 acres proven by oath of Rowland Judd
  • May Term 1802 – Two deeds from Robert Sheppard to James McNiel for 50 acres of land each proven in court by Squire Lowrey.
  • August 4, 1803 – Ordered that Francis Vannoy, Esq., William McQuerry, John Sheppard Sr., Robert Sheppard, Nathaniel Judd Jr., John Judd, William Colvard, Jesse Busy, William Cash, James Hays, Leonard Whittenton, George Owen, Edward Dancy, Thomas Irvin and Zaceriah Denny or any 12 of them to be a jury to review and mark the road the best way from the ford of the river above Robert Sheppards to the mouth of the branch above where Thomas Farmer lived and report the same to the next court.
  • October 31, 1803 – Apprentices rebound – ordered that the indenture binding William Adkins to John Jinnings dated April 30, 1799 and the indenture binding John Adkins aged 15 years the 31st of January last to Elisha Jinnings dated May 3, 1799 be rescinded and that they be bound unto Robert Shepard until they are 21 years old.
  • May 1, 1804 – Jury on Reddies River – Ordered that Thomas Johnson, Nathaniel Judd, Robert Sheppard, John Owen, William Kilby, Nathaniel Judd Jr., William Cash, John Church, John Judd, William McNiel, James McNiel, John Vannoy, Joel Vannoy, James Kilby, Reuben Kilby, Humphrey Kilby, William McQuerry, Henry Pumphrey, John Sheppard Jr., Francis Vannoy, Edward Dancy, George Owen, John Dancy, William Jinkins, William Colvard, John Harmon and Robert Cleveland, or any 12 of them be a jury to view a road from the new meeting house on Reddies River by John Shepherd’s Jr. into the road that leads to New River and if they think it necessary to lay it out and report the same to next court.

We know the location of the new meeting house. I searched for the closest way to reach the New River.

Shepherd to New River.png

This is really rough terrain, crossing the mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Shepherd to New River aerial.png

The view near the top of the ridge shows the stunningly beautiful country.

Shepherd ridge top.png

Robert cut this road or one similar and nearby. These men were made of steel, I swear.

  • February 8, 1806 – Road jury to view the road from John Sheppards Sr. on Reddies River to Robert Sheppards on said River and report to next court. Jury James Hays, John McQuerry, Henry Pumphrey, Leonard Whittenton, William Judd, Nathaniel Judd Sr., Nathaniel Judd Jr., William Colvard, Jesse Berry, Thomas Johnson, William Cash, William McQuerry, John Sheppard Jr., Edward Dancy, James Woody, George Owen, Leonard Wingler, Johnson Owen, Francis Vannoy, Abraham Kilbey.

Obviously the brothers already had some type of road or path between their homes. Perhaps just a horse trail, and they wanted a wagon road.

  • May 6, 1808 – Road jury to view and lay off a road from the ford of the (Yadkin? – the extractor called it possibly Yadkin, but it would be Reddies) River at John Shepherd’s Sr. to a branch at James McNeil’s and report the same to next court. Jury James McNiel, Reuben Kilbey, Henry Kilbey, William McQuerry, John Shepherd Jr, Thomas Johnson, William Covard, Nathaniel Judd Sr., Amos Harmon, Nathaniel Judd, Jr., William Judd, Robert Sheppard, John McQuerry, William Viars, Lewis Shepherd, Leonard Whittington
  • May 10, 1806 – Report the jury appointed in February 1806 to view the road from John Sheppards to Robert Sheppards reported and say they find the say sufficient for a road on the foot of the hill round the bottom.

If only they had included maps with these reports.

  • March 1809 – Robert Sheppard juror
  • February Term 1809 – Road Jury to view and lay off a road from the ford of the creek where Stephen Viars lived last summer down to the schoolhouse and make report. Jury William Viars, Henry Pumphrey, John McQuerry, John Shepherd Sr., Robert Shepherd, William Judd, James McNiel, William McQuerry, George Owens, Johnson Owens, Nathaniel Judd, John Shepherd Jr., Andrew Shepherd, William Cash, Jesse Berry, Abraham Kilbey, Esq.

This is the first mention of a schoolhouse. This means that Robert’s grandchildren were probably being educated, at least to some level. It also tells us that the schoolhouse is not the same as the church.

  • May 1, 1809 – Bill of sale from Henry Miller and James Wellborn to Robert Sheppard ack in open court by oath of Miller and Wellborn.
  • January 29, 1810 – Jury to lay off road from the ford of Reddies River below John Sheppards Sr. to the road leading up Mulberry Creek by Ezekiel Browns. Jury Reuben Hays, William Adams, Charles Adams, James McNiel, Jarvis Smith, Joshua Smith, James Kilbey, Thomas Tinsley, James Hays, Reuben Kilbey, William McQuery, Robert Sheppard, Henry Adams, John Roades, Joseph Roberds, Larkin Cash.
  • May 2, 1811 – Road jury to view and lay off road from the sign post at Sheppard’s Hill on Reddies River up the north fork of said river to Johnson Owens. Jury George Owens, James McNeil, Reuben Kilbey, Humphrey Kilbey, James Kilbey, John McQuerry, John Sheppard, Larkins Sheppard, William Viars, Abraham Kilbey, Francis Vannoy, Johnson Owens, James Woody, Benjamin Darnall, Edward Dancy, Aaron Wiatt, Nathaniel Juddy, John Judd, William Judd, Robert Sheppard.
  • August 2, 1811 – Road jury to view and lay off a road from the Deep Ford on Reddies River to the fork of the road above Thomas Johnsons. Jury James Hays, William Viars, John McQuerry, John Sheppard, James McNiel, Humphrey Kilbey, Reuben, Kilbey, Larkin Pumphrey, James Kilbey, Leonard Whittington, Henry Pumphrey, Robert Sheppard, John Judd, William Judd, Nathaniel Judd Sr., Nathaniel Judd Jr., Francis Vannoy, Esq, William Colvard.
  • November 6, 1811 – We the jury met and viewed and found a wagon road from the Deep Ford on Reddies River to the Fork Road above Thomas Johnsons and se we say. (entire jury list repeated, including Robert Sheppard).
  • August 6, 1812 – Jury summoned to November term 1812 – Robert Sheppard
  • November 3, 1812 – Ordered that jurors Robert Sheppard, Willis Alexander and William Mooney be fined the sum of 1-/- each. Sci Fa to issue.

Robert could have been having a bout of kidney stones. He seemed quite dependable, for years and years.

  • February 1, 1813 – Fine remitted against Robert Sheppard at last term for nonattendance as a juror be remitted without costs.
  • May 6, 1813 – Road jury to lay off the road from the Deep Ford of Reddies River by Mrs. Sheppards to James McNiels house or against his house. Jury James Hays, Robert Viars, Leo Whittington, Henry Pumphrey, John Judd, John McQuerry, James McNiel, Robert Sheppard, William Judd, Nathaniel Judd, Reuben Kilbey, Humphrey Kilbey, Johnson Owens, Benjamin Darnall, Stephen Viars.
  • August 5, 1813 – Road jury to view and lay off a road from the ford of Reddies River by Mrs. Sheppards to James McNeil house, or against his house. Jury James Hays, Leo Whittington, Henry Pumphrey, John Judd, Robert Viars, Robert Sheppard, William Judd, Larkin Pumphrey, Reuben Kilbey, Humphrey ilbey, Francis Vannoy, Martin Maker, James Woody, Stephen Viars, Edward Dancy, Thomas Griffin, Aaron Wyatt, Vickory Wyatt.
  • November 4, 1813 – Road jury report – we the jury met according to summons Aug. 5, 1813 and viewed and marked out a way for a road from the first ford of Reddies River above the sign post at the foot of a hill to or against James McNiels house and found no damage. (list of jurors repeated),
  • November 4, 1813 – The following jury viewed and lay off a road near the old road from the foot of the hill by Sarah Sheppards at the sign post to the ford below Thomas Johnsons on Reddies River (list of jurors repeated).
  • October term 1814 – Deed from Robert Sheppard and William Judd to Nathaniel Judd for 100 acres of land proven by oath of Rolin Judd.
  • August 3, 1815 – The following be a jury to view and lay out a road from John Sheppard’s Sr. decd to the ford of Reddies River above William Colvards. Jury James McNeil, Robert Sheppard, James Woody, George Taylor, Thomas Johnson, Solomon Bolin, James Hays, James Fletcher, Larkin McNeil, Johnson Owens, Henry Miller, William Colvard, William Judd, Edward Dancy, Aaron Wiatt, Thomas Tinsley, Reuben Kilbey, Humphrey Kilbey, James Kilbey, John McQuerry, Thomas Griffin.
  • July 31, 1816 – Jury to view and lay off a road from the sign post at John Judds on Lewis Fork road to the Deep Ford on Reddies River. Jury Presley Cleveland, Andrew Vannoy, Jesse Vannoy John Eller, John Harmon, Amos Harmon, Larkin McNeil, John Judd, Thomas Erwin, Henry Miller, Thomas Tninsley, Henry Kilbey, Joseph Baldwin, Henry Hambey, William Judd, Robert Sheppard, James McNeil, Humphrey Kilbey, John Viars, Robert Viars, Leonard Whittington, John Kilbey, Thomas Rash, Hugh Hays.
  • November 7, 1816 – Road jury to view and lay off a road from Robert Sheppards to William Colvards Mill so as not to run into the (Reddies?) River more than crossing the same from Robert Sheppards to said Colvards Mill the best way. Jury Edward Dancy, Vickory Wiatt, James Woody, Johnson Owens, Humphrey Kilbey, Henry Miller, Thomas Johnson, Aaron Wiatt, Reuben Kilbey, Thomas Rash, John Kilbey, Thomas Griffin, William Colvard, John Adams, Solomon Boling.

This is an interesting entry in that Colvard Road still exists today as a two-track between the South Fork and Middle Fork of the Reddies River, near Robert Shepherd’s land, marked with the red star.

Shepherd Colvard Road.png

  • February 6, 1817 – Jury report from Robert Sheppards to William Colvards Mill as follows, begun at a stake near Fletchers house at the hill, then down to a stake, then keeping the road to a wash’d place to a stake, then down the river bank to a persimmon tree, then into the old road, then 20 foot to Robert Sheppards, the damage assessed at $$.75 (jury names repeated here.

Note – a November 23, 1812 deed, Deed book G-H, NC grant number 2860 Jesse Berry 100 acres the waters of the south fork Reddies River, William Colvard’s line, John Adams line.

This February 1817 entry is the last court note – at 77 years of age he was still riding a horse and laying out roads. He died 4 months later, and he was ill for at least 2 weeks before his death.

The next court entries regard Robert’s death and estate in August 1817.

  • August 5, 1817 – Ordered James McNiel administer on the estate of Robert Sheppard decd who gave bond in the sum of $4000 with William Colvard and James Wellborn as security and qualified as the law directs.
  • An inventory of the estate of Robert Sheppard decd was returned on oath by James McNiel, administrator.
  • Commissioners ordered that Humphrey Kilbey, Leonard Whittington, Presley Cleveland and Joshua Smith, Esq be commissioners to lay off one years provision to Salley Sheppard, widow or Robert Sheppard, decd,
  • Ordered that James McNiel, administrator, sell such part of the estate of Robert Sheppard decd as he thinks proper and make return to the next court.
  • November 5, 1817 – Commissioners appointed to layoff one years provision to Robert Sheppards widow, returned their report which was received by the court.
  • February 5, 1818 – Account of the sale of the estate of Robert Sheppard decd was returned on oath by the administrator, James McNiel (August 5, 1817 entry).
  • February term 1818 – Bill of sale James McNiel, administrator of Robert Sheppard, to John Judd was duly proven in open court by the oath or Francis Barnard.
  • August 3, 1819 – Commissioners ordered that Gen. Montfort Stokes, Hamilton Brown and Jesse Vannoy be a committee to settle with James McNiel, administrator of the estate of Robert Sheppard decd and report to next court.
  • May 3, 1820 – Committee appointed to settle with the administrator of Robert Sheppard decd, James McNiel, returned a report which was received.

Unfortunately, the list of the estate inventory items wasn’t included in the court notes, but cousin Carol came to our rescue.

Robert’s Death

Thanks to the Bible, we know exact when Robert Shepperd died, June 5, 1817, and why – “the old stone and gravel” – known today as kidney stones.

Robert was not a young man. He was just 12 days short of his 78th birthday. One would think that he would have had a will, just based on his age alone, but he didn’t. Perhaps Robert was an optimist.

He didn’t die suddenly either. Robert was ill for 17 days, and clearly getting sicker day by day. I’m surprised that at some point, he didn’t construct a will, even a noncupative or spoken will. We know that he did not, not only because a will wasn’t wasn’t recorded or submitted to the court, but because Sarah approached the court and waived her right as administrator.

Entries in Robert’s probate file include Sarah’s petition on August 2nd waiving her administrative right in lieu of her son-in-law, James McNiel.

Shepherd Sally admin.png

Note that Sarah signed with an X. The balance of the documents in his packet include James McNiel’s bond and a receipt for a payment of debt.

Robert’s Estate

I absolutely love estates and estate inventories. They allow us a glimpse into the lives of our ancestors, much like walking through our houses today would tell someone a great deal about us. People wandering through my house would discover that I’m a quilter and a genealogist. Now there’s a surprise!

Robert Sheppard was not a poor man. He had done quite well for himself, amassing, and then selling most of his land except for 122 acres where he lived at his death.

I’m apparently missing a few real estate transactions, because I show Robert’s running total at his death as 330 acres.

What I didn’t have was any detail about the contents of his estate. Cousin Carol did me a HUGE favor, looked up Robert’s estate inventory on microfilm and sent those pages along to be transcribed. Thank you IMMENSELY, Carol!!!

What isn’t included in Wilkes County estate information is a list of purchasers at the estate sales, but we do have the complete inventory thanks to Carol.

In Robert’s estate inventory, his assets were apparently listed in the perceived order of their value. His land came first, and then, sadly, two slaves; Rachel who was about 50 years old and Jerry, between 17 and 18. One has to wonder if Rachel is Jerry’s mother. There is no list of purchasers at the estate sale, so we don’t know who purchased what, or whom, or what became of Rachel and Jerry. Jerry would have been born about 1800, or maybe 1801 and could have still been living in 1865 when the slaves were freed during the Civil War.

In Wilkes County Will Book 3, Robert’s estate inventory items are listed together in one long list, but I’ll transcribe, divide the list at intervals and interject some commentary from time to time.

Robert Shepherd inventory page 1.jpg

Robert Shepherd inventory page 2.jpg

Robert Shepherd inventory page 3.jpg

Robert Shepherd inventory page 4.jpg

Will Book 3, Page 154/155 – August term 1817

An inventory of the estate of Robert Sheppard decd:

  • One tract of land containing 122 acres
  • 1 negro woman named Rachel about 50 years of age
  • 1 negro boy named Jerry between 17 and 18 years of age

I checked the 1850 and 1860 slave census in the hope of finding Jerry, but slaves first names were not recorded in Wilkes County. By 1870, there is no Jerry born about that time that is either black or mulatto in Wilkes County, so either Jerry had died, moved or was recorded under a different name. I can only hope that this information can somehow help Jerry’s descendants connect with their family.

  • 1 black horse rising 5 years old
  • 1 sorrel mare rising 4 years old
  • 1 dark bay horse rising 3 years old

The horses would have been used for transportation and pulling the plows and wagons. Interesting that there were no mules. I’ve not seen the term “rising” in this context before, but would presume it means just under or just over.

  • 14 head of cattle
  • 19 head of sheep
  • Between 20-30 head of hogs

Robert had enough livestock to feed his family and sell some to the neighbors too – for a long time.

  • 1 curry comb

Shepherd curry comb.png

A curry comb is used in horse grooming.

  • 1 waggon and hind gears
  • 1 bar shear plow
  • 1 half shear plow
  • 1 double tree
  • 2 shovel plows
  • 1 swingle tree

A swingletree is a wooden bar used to balance the pull of a draft horse when pulling a vehicle of some sort. This would be used with a horse collar to attach harnesses to both sides of the horse and to the swingletree behind the animal.

  • 1 pair of chins and hames? (chains perhaps?)
  • 1 bark band
  • 2 clwius?
  • 3 axes
  • 4 hacs
  • 1 mattock (a combination of an ax and an adze)
  • 1 cross cut saw
  • 1 hand saw
  • 1 frow
  • 1 log chain
  • 1 augers
  • 2 chisels
  • 1 foot adds (adze)
  • 1 gouge
  • 1 pair pinchers
  • 1 jointer
  • 1 jack plain (type of woodworking bench plane)
  • 1 box of iron lumber

Robert had obviously been clearing land – probably constantly. That makes sense, of course, after he purchased land grants, meaning no settler had lived there before. The different types of plows tell us that he was a farmer, but the joiner and chisels suggest that he was also a carpenter.

Like many colonial settlers, Robert probably had to be a jack-of-all-trades.

  • 1 grindstone

Shepherd grindstone

A grindstone, usually made from sandstone, is a round sharpening stone used for grinding or sharpening metallic tools or knives.

  • 1 pair sheep shears
  • 1 cutting knife and box
  • 6 hogsheads
  • 2 tight casks
  • 4 tubs

Hogsheads were a type of barrel, so either Robert was also a cooper, or he purchased or traded for casks, barrels and tubs.

  • 3 gums

Shepherd bee gum.png

A bee gum is a naturally occurring hive, often cut from trees with the hive portion of the tree intact by early settlers and brought home so that the bees could be cultivated, and the honey harvested.

  • 1 fat tub
  • 1 soap tub
  • 1 washing tub

This looks like a production area for rendering lard and soap-making, assuredly outside.

  • 1 canteen
  • 2 pail and 2 piggins

A piggin is a pail with one stave extended upwards for a handle.

We’ve obviously moved into the kitchen area now.

  • 1 churn
  • 1 cubbard
  • 2 tables
  • 1 chest
  • 1 small trunk
  • 1 knife box
  • Some knives and forks
  • 4 dishes
  • 6 plates
  • 4 basons
  • 6 tin cups
  • 5 crocks
  • 2 earthen pans
  • 2 earthen dishes
  • 2 mugs
  • 1 jug
  • 1 coffee pot
  • 1 sadle
  • 1 skimmer
  • 6 spoons
  • 2 wooden ladles
  • 2 pots
  • 1 gridiron
  • 1 shovel
  • 1 pair tongs
  • 1 flat iron
  • 2 pair of pot hooks
  • 2 ovens
  • 1 skillet
  • 2 iron trammels

Except for the sadle, which could have been in the kitchen for some reason, everything here is kitchen-related. While Robert was not poor, the small number of plates and dishes tell a tale of austerity. 6 plates and 4 dishes wouldn’t even have been enough for each family member – Robert and Sarah had 10 children for a family of 12, assuming no one’s spouse, children or neighbors were visiting. Wooden trenchers were probably in use, although they aren’t listed. There also only 6 cups and 6 spoons.

  • 1 looking glass

The looking glass is the only suggestion of luxury or any item that was not absolutely essential. I initially thought this would have been Sarah’s mirror, but then I realized it might have been Robert’s for shaving. If that’s the case, then it wouldn’t be a luxury at all. I wish we knew if this looking glass was hand-held or wall-mounted.

  • 3 bedsteads with their cords
  • 3 feather beds with their furniture

I wonder if Sarah and Robert had their bed, plus a “boys’ bed” and a “girls’ bed” where the kids slept until they married.

  • 2 under beds and his wearing apparel

This seems to suggest that there was some unit for storing things under the bed – and that Robert’s clothes were stored there. Or perhaps I’m misreading this and an under-bed was a trundle bed. Regardless, I wish Robert’s “wearing apparel” had been detailed.

  • 1 church Bible
  • 1 testament
  • 2 hymn books

I wonder about the definition of a “church Bible.” Compared to what other type of Bible? Does this mean that a “church Bible” is smaller than many of the big Bibles of the time, so transportable to church? Or maybe the opposite, a church Bible is large and therefore stays at church.

I’m also quite curious about the hymn books. I would expect even someone who couldn’t read might own a Bible – but why own a hymn book if you can’t read to sing along? On multiple documents, Robert signs with an X, never signing a signature, suggesting that he cannot write. Here’s an example of what might have been in a Baptist hymnal around 1800.

  • 2 flax wheels
  • 1 cotton wheel
  • 1 counting reel
  • 1 pair wool cards
  • 2 pair cotton cards
  • 1 pair cloth shears

mary-dodson-spinning-wheel

“Woman’s work is never done.” Indeed, Sarah was clearly spinning flax, cotton and wool, probably weaving and assuredly sewing.” Yet, legally, Robert owned everything, so her spinning wheels and literally everything except her clothes were included in Robert’s estate sale.

  • 1 half bushel
  • 4 sides of leather
  • 3 bells
  • 2 collars
  • Mans saddle
  • 8 shears
  • 1 woman’s saddle
  • 2 bridles
  • 1 head stall and bits

These items seem to be associated with equine or animal care.

Rachel Rice cowbell

The bells are probably cattle bells.

  • Some wool
  • Some cotton
  • 1 crop flax
  • 1 flax buck
  • Some spun truck

Obviously wool, cotton and flax are to be spun, but I don’t know what “spun truck” or a “flax buck” is and google isn’t helpful. Any spinners out there?

  • 1 pair of stilyards

Shepherd stilyards.png

A stillyard is a device for weighing things. They came in all sizes to weight a variety of items from small things like coins to large shipping containers using a crane. Scales with a counterbalance on which you’re asked to step at the doctor’s office, before groaning and removing your shoes, are a form of stillyard.

  • Some wheat
  • Some rye
  • Some oats
  • A crop of corn now growing

Crops, obviously. The corn would not be valued or sold until after harvest.

  • Some salt
  • Some bacon
  • Some old corn

Salt was a valuable commodity, available only by mining or near the ocean from evaporation. Based on 1863 court minutes, it appears that salt in Wilkes County came from Saltville, Virginia, some 80 rough miles away, over the mountains. Salt was used for seasoning, but sometimes, more importantly, for the preservation of meats. Meats were also smoked in a smokehouse for preservation. Old corn would have been left from last year’s harvest.

  • 1 bread tray
  • 1 sifter
  • 1 riddle

Obviously, we’ve moved to the oven area, either outside or beside the fireplace. A riddle is a type of sifter.

  • 1 hackle

A hackle or hatchel is a type of carder or brush generally for wool or flax. You can see one here. Notice the bottom side where the square-headed nails are driven through.

  • 1 rasor
  • 1 rasor case

Rachel Rice shaving

The straight edge razor would have been Robert’s. This 1846 illustrates the art of shaving, and presumably, not getting cut.

  • 1 pair horse fetters

Horse fetters are in essence horse handcuffs, chaining the horses legs together to restrict their movement. ☹

  • 1 pair of saddle bags

Robert Shepherd had several debtors. However, a closer looks shows that many of these debts were owed by Robert’s sons-in-law (bolded below) and may have been a method to facilitate early inheritance. The $100 amounts often match the amount of a land sale exactly.

Accounts due by note, to wit:

  • 1 note of William McQuerry for $100
  • 1 note on James McNiel for $25
  • 2 notes on Thomas Erwin for $110
  • 1 note of John Judd for $100
  • Note of William Judd for $100
  • Note of Larkin Pumphrey for $10
  • Note on Amos Harmon for $40
  • Note on Lewis Cash for $22.50
  • Note on John Adams for $15
  • Note on James Persons for $8

Accounts due by book, to wit:

  • Larkin Pumphrey – one tract of land $100
  • William McNiel – $59.50
  • Edmond Woods – $1.25
  • William Wilson – $2
  • John Viars – $24
  • George Taylor – $1.75
  • Alexander Brown – $1
  • William Powell – $1
  • William Nash or Mash – $7 desperate
  • John Wauson – $24.90 desperate
  • Thomas Erwin – $10
  • James McNiel – 6 bushels of rye
  • John Judd – $10.93 ¾
  • William Judd – 15 gallons of brandy, 4 pounds of iron, one bushel of wheat

The William Judd entry is interesting, because no place in Robert’s estate inventory do we find brandy, iron or wheat. Brandy is one way of preserving fruits and alcohol was used medicinally, in addition to the obvious.

  • Amos Harmon – $11
  • Christian Miller – $1.50
  • James Fletcher – $2
  • Joseph D. Baldwin – 1 bushel of wheat
  • Rowland Judd – $1
  • Nancy Irwin – $4

James McNiel admin – Wilkes County, NC August Term 1817 – the above inventory returned on oath of the administrator

Next, we find Sarah’s widow’s allotment of food that was intended to maintain the widow and family during the time that the estate was in probate.

Robert Sheperd estate widow allotment.jpg

Page 167 – November term 1817 – An Allowance to Robert Sheppards Widow and family:

We the commissioners appointed by the county court of Wilkes on August term 1817 for the purpose of saying off one years provisions for the widow of Robert Sheppard decd have met on the 13th of September 1817 at the dwelling house of the said decd and after being duly sworn according to law do allow as followeth, to wit:

  • One cow and calf
  • One small beef
  • Two choice hogs
  • Two choice sheep
  • 5 bushels of wheat
  • 11 barrels of corn
  • One small side of leather
  • One bushel of salt
  • 10 pounds of sugar
  • 4 pounds of coffee
  • And roughness sufficient to winter her cattle and sheep
  • 6 gallons of spirits and all the cloth and spun truck she has in hand
  • 2 pounds of wool
  • Seven pounds of cotton
  • What old corn and bacon that was mentioned on the inventory returned by James McNiel admin

Commissioners:
Leonard Whittington
Humphrey Kilby
Presley Cleveland

The widow was granted enough to “keep her” for a year from her husband’s estate. In Sarah’s case, all of her children were grown and married, and the two remaining slaves would be sold in another month or two. I’d wager the commissioners were generous, granting perhaps more than they deemed necessary. No body wanted tales of a hungry widow and children reaching the court.

Looking at Robert’s estate inventory, Robert had more than 10 times this much livestock, so his family likely never went hungry. Coffee, sugar and spirits were not noted in the inventory taken the month before. All items were supposed to be included, so I wonder why these were omitted.

Robert Shepherd estate.jpg

Page 167 – An account of the sale of the estate of Robert Sheppard, decd

  • On the 19th and 20th of September 1718 was…..$1749.23 ¾
  • On the 20th November 1817 was…..$272.83 ¼
  • Total February term 1818 – $2022.07

Above amount of sale returned on oath by James McNiel, admin.

Thus ends the physical life of Robert Shepard on Earth, but pieces of him live on in me and others today, some 7 generations later.

DNA

Using DNAPainter, I can attribute 4 segments of my autosomal DNA to Robert Shepherd and Sarah Rash specifically. These segments match people who descend from Robert and Sarah through children other than daughter Elizabeth, my ancestor. Because we share these segments, and no other (known) ancestors, our common segments are then attributed to Robert or Sarah.

Of course, until someone matches me on these segments who descends through another child of Robert or Sarah’s parents, I won’t be able to determine whether these segments descend from Robert or Sarah.

Shepherd DNA.png

It’s interesting to observe that the largest segment, slightly under 30cM, is a 5th cousin once removed.

Unfortunately, I have another 109 DNA matches to descendants of Robert and Sarah at Ancestry on ThruLines, but since Ancestry doesn’t provide segment location information, I can’t paint those☹

What I do have though, is ammunition. While today, I can only attribute these four teal segments DIRECTLY to Robert or Sarah, I have many McNiel, Vannoy, Shepherd and other downstream identified matches on these same segments.

Shepherd pedigree.png

Robert and Sarah’s DNA descended to me through the red-starred ancestors, above.

The ammunition is that I also have unidentified matches. It’s in those matches and their trees that the gold nugget I need to break through ancestral brick walls may be buried. What do these trees of unidentified matches have in common? Where do they lead? Their ancestors are clearly my ancestors too, somehow.

Take a look.

Shepherd chr 3 large.png

Every single one of these triangulated people in the red box match me on all or a portion of this same teal Shepherd/Rash segment on chromosome 3. Some matches descend through the Vannoy line, some through the McNiel and Shepherd lines – but some, the ones in dark blue are a bulk import of my paternal bucketed matches list at Family Tree DNA. These people may share an ancestor in their trees with each other that I don’t – who would be a huge hint for me.

But that’s not the only segment that holds hints for me.

Shepherd chr 3 small.png

Here’s another chromosome 3 segment match.

Shepherd chr 8.png

Chromosome 8 has 5 matches plus the teal Robert Shepherd/Sarah Rash match.

Shepherd chr 15.png

This segment on chromosome 15 has more matches than the others, but they are smaller and several only have a small overlaps. Still, the larger matches may yield valueable clues.

Indeed, I need to get busy. While I’ve found all the documentary records that I can for Robert Shepherd, my DNA matches hold the key for deeper discoveries. DNA isn’t limited. As more people test, new matches quietly arrive, waiting for me to notice, and I continue to have additional opportunities for new discoveries.

It’s like Robert is leading me back home by scattering a trail of genetic breadcrumbs.

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Mary Lytle Hickerson (c1720/5 – 1793/4), Died at Mulberry Fields – 52 Ancestors #266

We don’t know who Mary’s parents are, but Mary Lytle’s surname comes from two sources. First, an 1877 letter written from her unnamed granddaughter in Texas to a relative in Wilkes County provides us with this information:

Nacogdoches, Texas.

May the 20th, 1877

Dr. Hickison

Dear Sir,

I write you in regard to a business matter.

You will doubtless be surprised to hear from one of Elizabeth Hickison’s daughters. My mother was daughter of Charles Hickison of North Carolina. He was buried at the Mulberry Fields on the Yadkin River, Wilkes County, North Carolina. My grandmother’s maiden name was Mollie Little. She was from Scotland. Grandfather was from England. I write you the particulars so you will know who I am. My mother married a Stuart. I was 3 years old when we left that country. My age is 86 years. I have been a widow 34 years.

(remainder of letter is missing)

Comments by Felix Hickerson:

I think it is undoubtedly true that the Charles Hickison here referred to was the father of David Hickerson and the grandfather of Litle (Lytle) Hickerson.

Whether Hickerson was originally spelled “Hickison” is doubtful, as an old lady, aged 86, living so far away, could easily become careless about the spelling when perhaps others adopted the simplified spelling.

“Mulberry Fields” was the original site of the town of Wilkesboro. It was the central meeting place for a large neighborhood.

It’s very unfortunate that rest of the letter was lost, including the name of the sender.

Felix Hickerson didn’t have access to online records in 1940 when he published this information, but I do.

I checked the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 census for women in Nacogdoches County born about 1791 in North Carolina.

In 1880, there were none, so the author had presumably passed away by then.

In 1870, we find Jane Anderson, age 78, born in North Carolina who cannot read or write. Hmmm. Just because the woman sent a letter doesn’t mean she actually scribed it herself.

Jane Anderson is living with J. B. Anderson, son of Benjamin Anderson, age 50 (born 1830) in Alabama.

There is no other female fitting this description in this county in 1870, or even close to this description, meaning born in North Carolina. Of course, we don’t know when she went to Texas.

In 1860, Jane Anderson, age 68, is living with Napoleon B. Anderson, age 26, born Alabama and Caledonia Anderson, age 18, born Texas. It appears that Jane can read and write.

In 1850, Jane Anderson, age 59, is married to Benjamin Anderson, age 92, living along with Jefferson Anderson, 20, Harriett 17, Doctor, 16, all born in Alabama. Were these Jane’s children?

I can’t find a record where Jane married Benjamin Anderson.

However, if Jane has been widowed 34 years in 1877, that tracks back to 1843, and Jane Anderson was clearly married in 1850.

Jane Anderson could be the wrong person, but if so, then where is the right person in the 1870 census? Or any census, for that matter?

Another inconsistency is that Mary Lytle Hickerson’s 1793 will very clearly calls forth her daughter, Mary Stewart, who clearly did marry a Stewart, Steward or Stuart, however you spell it.

Mary’s will does not mention a daughter named Elizabeth. However, Mary also did not mention Sarah and Rachel, and we know positively these two women were her daughters.

There’s no question that the author knew her mother’s name. She would not have mistaken Mary for Elizabeth, and middle names at the time her mother would have been born were exceedingly uncommon.

Is Elizabeth Hickerson who married a Stewart yet another unknown daughter? It’s certainly possible. In 1771, Charles Hickerson witnessed the will of Lydia (Harrison) Stewart who had son Samuel Stewart, the probable husband of Mary Hickerson Stewart. Lydia Stewart’s will also mentions sons Benjamin, Joseph, David, Samuel, Isaiah and John.

Mary Lytle Hickerson’s husband, Charles Hickerson, didn’t have a will, so the will mentioning children is Mary’s.

Mary’s will named sons David and Joseph Hickerson, daughters Jane Miller and Mary Stewart, along with Mary’s son Samuel Hickerson, leaving the balance of her estate to “my daughters” without identifying them.

It’s extremely unfortunate that the name of the letter’s author was on the portion that is missing.

I’ve been unable to identify the author from the census and other available information.

Lytle as a First Name

In combination with the surname Little provided in the 1877 letter, we also have evidence in the form of the name Lytle being used as a first name for Mary Lytle Hickerson’s grandchildren. Spelling was, of course, arbitary and phoenetic at that time in history. Lytle and Little would have been pronounced the same way, so the spelling would have been the preference of the speller.

Mary Lytle Hickerson in North Carolina

We know very little about Mary from records that involve her before she signed the deed with an X when she and Charles sold land to their son, David on July 29, 1788. In fact, there is no direct evidence other than the fact that David, born between 1750 and 1760 named his son Lytle.

We know, positively, that Mary and Charles were living on Mulberry Creek ten years before the deed-signing, in 1778 when Charles made a land entry, and that they lived in Surry County, the part that woul,d become Wilkes in 1776 when a group of militia men marched to the Cherokee Towns.

It’s probable that by 1774 they had already settled along the Yadkin near what was then called Mulberry Fields, today the area just north of Wilkesboro. Charles was listed in the tax district of Col. Benjamin Cleveland who we know positively lived there.

The first record of Charles Hickerson in North Carolina isn’t on this part of the Yadkin River but about 15 miles west of what is today Winston-Salem.

On January 11, 1771, Charles Hickerson witnessed the will of Lydia Stewart. Her husband, Samuel, had died a few years before, leaving his land to two of his sons, but his moveable estate to Lydia.

It stands to reason that Lydia lived on that land until her death. In fact, based on her will, it seems apparent that she still lived in the old home place.

Charles Hickerson, and by extension, Mary, would have had to live in close proximity to Lydia to witness her will. It’s also worth mentioning that at least one of Mary’s daughters, Mary, married a Stewart, if not two daughters – meaning Elizabeth too. This might suggest that the Hickersons in fact lived very close to Lydia – close enough for their kids to court.

Where did Lydia Stewart live?

Lydia Stewart’s Land

I lucked out. Not only did my cousin, Carol, discover that indeed, Charles had witnessed Lydia’s will, along with his mark for a signature, but I discovered that Wes Patterson has researched the Stewarts extensively. You can see his website, here.

Based on Wes’s work, it looks like Lydia Stewart lived on land that her husband, Samuel, willed to sons Benjamin and Joseph.

This land was located near where the Great Wagon Road crossed the Yadkin River where modern Robinhood Road intersects Chickasha Road near Gorgales Creek, then known as Muddy Creek.

Samuel had a land grant for 640 acres on Muddy Creek above the head of Stewarts Run.

Today Stewart’s Creek is Shallowford/Country Club Road.

The old wagon road came into Lewisville at Shallowford Road near Lewisville-Vienna Road. Yadkinville Hwy., Old 421, crosses the Yadkin River at Old 421 River Park.

Then, Wes’s item #16 confirms the location on Bersheba Creek where Samuel Stewart Sr. and Lydia had lived.

I found and marked these locations on Google maps, here.

Mary Lytle Winston-Salem.png

I’ve marked these places on the map, above.

On the left, at 7699 Yadkinville Road we see where 421, aka the Old Wagon Road crossing the Yadkin. The dotted line dot above that is where the Bashavia Creek empties into the Yadkin. This is where Lydia and Samuel lived, and where Charles Hickerson would have witnessed her will.

I wonder if Charles was working on her land after arriving in North Carolina from wherever they came from.

The other Robinhood Road locations are 5901 Robinhood at Chickasha Road, mentioned by Wes, and 4600 where Robinhood crosses Muddy Creek.

At 1425 Lyndale, we find the head of Tomahawk Creek, then Stewart’s Run, mentioned in one of the deeds.

Mary Lytle Bashavia.png

I think it’s safe to say we’ve pretty well isolated where Lydia lived given that the deed says on both sides of Bashavia on the east side of the Yadkin, and we know that Charles and Mary Lytle Hickerson lived someplace nearby.

Mary Lytle Muddy.png

The land around Winston-Salem is much flatter than further west in Wilkes County where Charles and Mary would settle permanently. Standing on the bridge below, looking north where the old Wagon Road crossed the Yadkin. Lydia and Samuel Stewart’s land would have been on the right, beyond the bend in the river.

Mary Lytle Yadkin.png

Moving on West

It appears that perhaps Charles and Mary checked things out here, and decided, for some reason, to keep moving west.

Mary Lytle Winston-Salem to Wilkesboro.png

Wilkesboro is about 45 miles further west on the Yadkin River, although the Yadkin does not follow 421, but arches north and then back south to Wilkesboro. Charles and Mary settled near Mulberry, north of Wilkesboro just a few miles. After the Revolution, they patented the land they had been living on where they lived the rest of their lives.

Note under item 15 that Les says that Samuel Stewart Jr.’s wife was Elizabeth Winscott. He probably believed this to be true because Samuel Stewart Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth, sold land in 1774 mentioned in Lydia Stewart’s will.

I think that Wes might have been confused. Cousin Carol found the marriage bond of Elizabeth Winscott who married Thomas Benjamin Steward/Stuard on August 19, 1769. Either John or Joseph Stewart signed with Thomas, and Elizabeth appears to have been an orphan. Carol indicated that the original document was in very poor condition, badly smeared, and the transcribed version spelled the groom’s name as Benman Sheart. Carol found the record by reading the originals.

Therefore, we know that Elizabeth Winscot did indeed marry a son of Lydia’s, but not Samuel, who obviously was also married to an Elizabeth in 1774. The woman in the 1877 letter who was born in 1791 says that her mother’s name was Elizabeth Hickerson and she had married a Stewart – which certainly tells us that Elizabeth Hickerson Stewart was yet alive in 1791.

Either Mary Hickerson and Elizabeth Hickerson are one and the same person, or two of Mary Lytle Hickerson’s daughters married Stewart men.

Other than Mary Lytle Hickerson’s signature on the 1788 deed, the next we find of her is when she composed her will. Unfortunately, we don’t have a will for Charles Hickerson, so without Mary’s we would know little.

Mary Lytle Hickerson’s Will

Mary Hickerson’s will was composed on December 5th, 1793. The will was unsigned and the will was clearly not prepared by an attorney. It says that the will was “Delivered in the presence of us Amy Hickerson Jane Miller” so the witnesses were two Mary’s daugher and daughter-in-law, suggesting that they were the two people who just happened to be in the house as she was dictating or speaking her will.

Mary was likely very gravely ill, possibly suddently, told whoever was in the cabin at the time what she wanted, and that was it.

At the February Court term, the family probated Mary’s will.

Mary Lytle will.jpg

Recorded at the February 1794 court held in Wilkes County, meaning that Mary died sometime between December 5th and the February court dates, we find her will recorded and written into the book.

In the name of God Amen, I Mary Hickerson of the County of Wilkes and State of North Carolina, being of Sound mind and memory, blessed be God, do this the fifth day of December in the year of our lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety three make and publish this my last Will and Testament in the manner following, that is to say– First, I give my son Joseph Hickerson one purple rugg. I also give my daughter Jane Miller my chest and tea ware. I also give my daughter Mary Stewart and her son Samuel Hickerson one feather bed and also my daughter, Mary Stewart, all the goods in the above mentioned chest. And all the balance of my property to be equally divided amongst my daughters. I also leave my son David Hickerson three yards of white linnin. Also this is my last Will and Testament and Desire. Delivered in the presence of us Aney Hickson Jane Miller.

Aney Hickerson was the wife of Joseph Hickerson, Mary’s son. Jane Miller was Mary’s daughter who was married to Leonard Miller.

Note that Mary specifically names her daughter, Mary Stewart.

We later discover that not all of Mary’s children were mentioned in her will.

What do we know about Mary’s children?

Mary Lytle and Charles Hickerson’s Children

Happy Valley History and Genealogy written and published in 1940 by Felix Hickerson provides the names of the children of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle. Below, I’ve expanded significantly on what Felix included. This isn’t intended to be critical of Felix, but I have a lot more available resources than Felix did in 1940, plus DNA evidence. Then again, living in Wilkes County, Felix probably had access to records that no longer exist or will never be online – not to mention the long memories of residents still alive who were born in the first half of the 19th century.

Let’s look at what we know about each child of Mary Lytle Hickerson.

David Hickerson

  • David Hickerson born circa 1750/1760 in Virginia married Nancy Toliver (Taliaferro). His children include:
    • John Hickerson 1782-1845 who married Nancy Petty and died in Manchester, Tennessee
    • Charles Hickerson born about 1784, died 1819 in Wilkes County, unmarried
    • David Hickerson Jr. born 1787, died in 1861 in Manchester, Tennessee
    • Joseph Hickerson born 1789, married in 1813 to Nancy Rousseau, died in 1850 in Coffee County, Tennessee
    • Major Lyttle Hickerson born 1793, married in 1827 to Amelia Gwynn, died 1884 in Wilkes County

Mary Lytle - Lytle Hickerson.jpg

    • Nancy Hickerson born about 1794 married a Cole, probably Isaac who proved David Hickerson’s will in court, died before 1870 in Coffee County, Tennessee
    • Mary “Polly” Hickerson 1798-1847 who married John Adams
    • Lucy Hickerson 1804-1853 who married an Allison
    • Sarah “Sally” Hickerson born about 1805 and married Isaac Lusk of Tennessee, died before 1860

There are no photos of Mary Lytle Hickerson’s children, of course, and I believe Lytle Hickerson is the only existing photo of one of Mary’s grandchildren. Does Lytle look like Mary or Charles?

With the exception of sons Charles and Lytle, David Hickerson and his children moved to Coffee Co., TN about 1809, but assuredly before 1812 because David’s son, David Hickerson Jr., served in the War of 1812 from Coffee County.

Rabbit Hole – Cameo Appearance of Nathaniel Vannoy

It’s interesting to note that Nathaniel Vannoy is a witness to David Hickerson’s will dated January 25, 1821. Daniel Vannoy was married to David Hickerson’s sister, Sarah. This goes to show that people kept in touch with family members, even distant, as they removed from their home counties and expanded westward.

The fact that Nathaniel Vannoy witnessed David’s will, suggesting he was a trusted friend or relative, but not next of kin, causes me to wonder if Nathaniel is the missing male child of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson who was born prior to 1788.

Although that gives me pause, because David Hickerson sued Daniel Vannoy for slander back in Wilkes County in 1794. Daniel Vannoy disappeared from the records after that suit, so it’s possible that David didn’t get along with Daniel, but was fine with his sister Sarah and her Vannoy children – especially if Daniel left. Several people sued Daniel Vannoy about that time for slander and assault.

David Hickerson’s son, Lytle, signed for another one of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson’s children, Susan, when she married in 1822.

At that time, Lytle Hickerson could have been Susan Vannoy’s closest living relative living in Wilkes County, with her parents both gone. In fact, for all we know, Lytle could have raised Susan after her mother, Sarah, died.

The Happy Valley story goes on to say that David Hickerson went to Tennessee in 1809, established a grist mill in 1815, later a cotton gin, sawmill and corn mill on the Duck River between 1820 and 1830. The family story of the migration of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy’s son, Elijah Vannoy, to Claiborne County, Tennessee is that the family came up the Duck River, which until this very minute, made no sense whatsoever. Elijah’s daughter is the person who conveyed that information about the Duck River, so it could be considered fairly close to the source.

Bingo – Elijah was visiting his uncle David Hickerson, probably considering whether to settle there or not, and I thought that Nathaniel Vannoy is Elijah’s brother that did stay, at least for a while. If so, I wonder who Nathaniel married and if he had children.

Another piece of this puzzle that never made sense is that the Duck River is no place close to Claiborne County where Elijah settled, so it’s not “on the way” nor would it be logical.

Mary Lytle Duck River.png

On the map above, the Duck River begins about Manchester, Tennessee where David Hickerson lived in Coffee County, and ended on the Tennessee River, further west.

Sneedville, where Elijah Vannoy settled is in the upper right-hand corner of the map.

Mary Lytle Wilkesboro to Duck River.png

If Elijah too had traversed the Duck River, from the west to get to Coffee County, he then had a long overland route to get back east to Sneedville which is far closer to Wilkesboro than to Manchester, or anyplace on Duck River.

I’m not even sure that a water route to Coffee County from Wilkesboro, meaning “up the Duck River,” makes sense under any circumstances.

The Yadkin River becomes the PeeDee which empties into the Atlantic near Charleston, SC. From there, travelers would need to travel around Florida by boat, to the Mississippi River at New Orleans, then traveling north to Paducah, Kentucky where they could intersect with the Tennessee River, then traveling the Tennessee back south to Manchester, southeast of Nashville.

That seems very counter-intuitive. On the map below, you can see the direct route, albeit over the mountains. The “water route” looks much longer and more difficult and I’ve not heard of anyone else taking a long water route between North Carolina and anyplace in Tennessee. Of course, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – especially not in my family who failed to do anything in the “normal” way.

Mary Lytle around Florida.png

Back to David Hickerson and Nathaniel Vannoy.

In a December 1833 deposition about the validity of David Hickerson’s will that was signed a dozen years earlier, in 1821, James Haggard, another one of the witnesses, testified that, “Sanders is dead and Vannoy the last I saw of him he resided in Greenville District, North Carolina.”

I was unsuccessful in discovering more about Nathaniel Vannoy in Greenville District, North Carolina, nor anything about a district called “Greenville District.”

Daniel Vannoy’s brother, Nathaniel Vannoy, died in 1835 in Greenville, the city, in Greenville County, South Carolina at about age 87. Born in 1749, it’s somewhat unlikely that Nathaniel would have been in Tennessee in 1821 at 71 or 72 years of age witnessing a will. Nathaniel was the register of deeds in Wilkes County in 1814 and 1815, a founder of the New Hope Baptist Church in 1830, and died living with his daughter in South Carolina in 1835. You wouldn’t think Nathaniel would have witnessed a will in Tennessee unless he lived there and anticipated being able to prove the will in court.

However, Nathaniel Vannoy’s son, Andrew, settled in Bedford County, Tennessee, and married on January 7, 1821, the same month that Nathaniel Vannoy witnessed David Hickerson’s will. Bedford County is just a few miles on west of Manchester near where David Hickerson lived. It’s possible that Nathaniel helped to move his son to Tennessee, helped him get settled, attended his wedding, and visited David Hickerson in the process. In that case, Greenville District would have been mistakenly recorded as North Carolina instead of South Carolina.

We’ll likely never know and the information available is ambiguous.

Let’s look at Mary Lytle Hickerson’s other son, Joseph Hickerson.

Joseph Hickerson

Felix tells us the following:

  • Joseph Hickerson, probably born around 1765 – Captain of the 13th VA Regiment, Rev War and later of the Wilkes County Militia

Felix was mistaken. Joseph, the son of Charles and Mary, is NOT the Joseph who served in Virginia. He can’t be, because that Joseph Hickerson died during the war.

His service record says:

Joseph Hickerson, enlisted October 1777 for 3 years, sick at Bethlehem 13th VA reg commanded by Col. William Russell – listed under casualties as “Dead Nov 8.”

Mary Lytle Joseph Hickerson Rev War.png

In a March 1939 letter from Adelaide Sisson, the Librarian General of the DAR to Frances Hickerson of Hickerson Station in Tullahoma, Tennessee, Adelaide says that the Joseph who served in Virginia was born in 1747 and was married in 1768 to a Whiting.

The lineage is published in the DAR Lineage book, Volume 166, page 221. She further says that the DAR is focused on New England and cannot be of further assistance with Virginia. It’s too bad she didn’t bother to look further, being located in Washington DC, because that would have prevented the incorrect information being disseminated about Joseph Hickerson from Wilkes County for, oh, the next 80+ years!

Obviously, Mary’s son Joseph listed in her 1793 will was a different Joseph Hickerson. We know that Charles and Mary Hickerson were in Surry County by January 1771, so it made no sense that their son Joseph served in Virginia several years later.

Joseph, the son of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle was born about 1766, lived his life in Wilkes County, married Ann Green (or Greer), date unknown but clearly before 1793, and had at least 4 children:

  • Joseph Hickerson born 1789
  • David Hickerson born 1793
  • Joshua Greer Hickerson 1794-1856, married Susannah Murphey and moved to Warren County, TN
  • Sarah Hickerson born about 1803

Mary Hickerson

Felix tells us that:

  • Mary Hickerson married Mr. Stewart and (possibly) moved to Texas

While indeed Mary Hickerson clearly did marry a Stewart, she may or may not have moved to Texas. Texas didn’t exist in the 1790s, to begin with, and it’s likely they moved someplace else first. Texas was part of Spain until 1821 when it became part of Mexico who actively recruited Anglos. By 1834, 30,000 Anglos lived in Texas. The Texas Revolution took place in 1835-1836 and Texas joined the union in 1845. Given this history, it’s unlikely that Mary Hickerson Stewart was living in Texas prior to about 1830.

Typically, Tennessee was the path to Texas, or one of the paths.

While this information came from the 1877 letter, given that the writer, whoever she was, says that her mother’s name is Elizabeth, not Mary, I have to wonder if Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle Hickerson had another daughter, Elizabeth, that we don’t know about, who also married a Stuart. The letter’s author clearly knew her mother’s name – and Mary Lytle Hickerson when she was creating her will in 1795 on her death bed clearly knew her daughter’s name.

Mary and Elizabeth are not nicknames for each other.

The Stewart that Mary Hickerson probably married was Samuel Stewart, who I thought was the son of Samuel and Lydia Stewart who lived close enough to Charles Hickerson for him to witness Lydia’s will in January of 1771 in Rowan County.

By the time Lydia Stewart’s will was probated in 1772, the location was Surry County. Lydia mentions son Samuel Stewart inheriting the bed known as “his bed.” Of course, “his bed” could still be “his” after he moved from his mother’s home, but it sounded to me like Samuel was still using “his” bed.

One Samuel Stewart sued Daniel Vannoy, husband of Mary’s daughter, Sarah Hickerson, in 1781. In 1794, after Mary’s will was probated, Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, Samuel Hickerson alias Stewart, and Daniel Vannoy were embroiled in slander and assault lawsuits.

The one child of Mary Hickerson Stewart’s that we know positively existed was Samuel Hickerson aka Samuel Steward/Stewart. Descendants of Sarah Hickerson DNA match with the children of one Samuel Hickerson who was found in Kentucky.

Samuel Hickerson alias Stewart also went by the name of Lytle. Did Mary rename him entirely after she married Samuel Stewart from Lytle Hickerson to Samuel Stewart?

Note that Wes Patterson, under item 15, says that Samuel Stewart Jr.’s wife was Elizabeth Winscott. If the Samuel married to Mary Hickerson is the son of Lydia Stewart, then did he later marry Mary Hickerson? Note that the women in 1877 letter said her mother, Elizabeth, married a Stewart and that she was born in 1791.

So, there is some doubt about whether or not Mary Hickerson Stewart/Steward moved to Texas, but clearly Elizabeth Hickerson Stuart’s daughter wound up there.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to Mary Hickerson Stewart, when, or where – or to her Stewart husband, whatever his name was. Mary’s son, Samuel Hickerson appears to have gone to Kentucky where today, I have DNA matches to his descendants.

Clearly, for anyone descending from daughter Mary Hickerson Stewart, there’s a lot of unraveling left to do.

Jane Hickerson

Felix tells us that:

  • Jane Hickerson married Mr. Miller.

Indeed, Jane, born about 1760 did marry Leonard Miller with whom she had at least 7 children, three being daughters. I can only confirm one child positively, and three probably based on DNA matches to their descendants.

  • Michael Miller 1783-1858
  • Benjamin Miller born 1790, lived in South Carolina by 1815, in Alabama by 1820 and in Lafayette County, Mississippi by the 1830s when his father, Leonard was living with him and collecting a Revolutionary War Pension
  • William Miller 1791-1889

It appears that Jane remarried in 1806 in Wilkes County to John Reynolds based on a marriage bond signed by David Hickerson, her brother. It’s possible that instead of Jane herself, one of her daughters, also named Jane, married in Wilkes County.

Jane Hickerson’s situation is interesting, to say the least.

In May of 1794, following a series of lawsuits, Leonard Miller forfeits his bond and does not appear as a witness in the slander suit of Janes brother, David Hickerson, versus her brother-in-law, Daniel Vannoy.

This series of lawsuits is particularly brutal, because Jane Hickerson Miller herself was convicted of concealing a feather bed stolen from her sister, Rachel Hickerson Harris, during a 1789 robbery and arson of Rachel’s home. The jury’s remarks are particularly unflattering towards Jane:

March term 1793 – State of North Carolina Morgan District Superior Court of law – The jurors for the state upon their oath present that Jone Miller late of the County of Wilkes in the Morgan District labourer being a person of evil name and fame and of dishonest conversation and a common buyer and receiver of stolen goods on the 10th day of March 1789 in the county aforesaid one feather bed of value of 15 pounds of the goods and chattels of one Braddock Harris by a certain ill disposed person to the jurors aforesaid as yet unknown then lately before feloniously stolen of the same ill disposed person unlawfully unjustly and for the sale of Wicked gain did receive and have (she the said Jone Miller) then and there well knowing the said bed to have been feloniously stolen to the great damage of the said Braddock Harris and against the peace and dignity of the state . J. Harwood Atto. Genl. State vs Jone Miller Ind. Misdemeanor, Braddock Harris, John Roberts (name marked through) prosr. And witness. Joseph Hickerson. Witness Rachell Harris. Sworn and sent.

This robbery and arson committed by John Roberts, followed by lawsuits filed after Mary Hickerson’s death, divided the Hickerson family terribly. Many suits for assault and slander follow – and the only thing that’s clear is that there’s a war being fought between the Hickerson siblings along with their spouses.

  • During this time, about 1794, Mary (or Elizabeth) Hickerson Stewart leaves, Daniel Vannoy disappears without a trace and Leonard Miller moves, apparently without Jane, to South Carolina. Braddock and Rachel Harris move to South Carolina too and in 1809, David Hickerson goes to Tennessee.
  • In 1800, Jane Miller appears in the census in Wilkes county, without a male of Leonard’s age in the household. She does have 3 males 10-15, 1 male 16-25, 2 females under 10, 1 female 16-25, and one female 26-44, which would likely be her.
  • In 1800, John Reynolds is the same age as Jane, has children, but no wife.
  • In 1810, John Reynolds has a male 26-44 and a female of the same age. These age brackets seem to be off.
  • Leonard Miller, in Laurens County, SC, in 1810 does have a female of his age in the household, so perhaps he remarried too.
  • In 1833, Leonard Miller, then living in Jefferson County, Alabama applied for a pension for having served in Rutherford’s Campaign under Col. Benjamin Cleveland in Wilkes County. After his death, in April 1845, Leonard’s son, Benjamin stated that Leonard had 7 children, and he had heard from none of his siblings in the past 18 years, dating back to about 1827. Benjamin said the last he heard, they were scattered with some in Kentucky and Virginia, but he didn’t know where. He said that Leonard had not had a wife since he had been a pensioner.

Something happened between Jane and Leonard Miller, and it looks like they got a “divorce” in one manner or another. I found no divorce records, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Rachel Hickerson

Apparently Felix didn’t discover Rachel Hickerson.

  • Rachel Hickerson was born about 1765 and married Braddock Harris about 1786.

In April 1786, Braddock was convicted in court of “intended rape,” was carted through the town for an hour as a spectacle with a sign pinned to his forehead saying, “This is the effects of an intended rape.”

John Roberts burned Rachel and Braddock Harris’s house on March 1, 1789 after robbing their home. In collaboration with John, Rachel’s sister Jane Miller hid the stolen feather bed.

No wonder this family was at war!

After Mary Lytle Hickerson died in late 1793 or early 1794, Rachel Hickerson Harris stayed in Wilkes County long enough to testify against both Roberts and her sister, but then she and Braddock left for Laurens District, which became Laurens County, SC where they lived until at least 1810. Rachel died in 1822 in Franklin County, Georgia. Rachel had at least 8 children including three females.

  • Stephen Harris born about 1787/9
  • Mollie Harris born 1792, marriage unknown
  • Sallie Harris born about 1792/4-1856 married Nathan Curry, having many children including at least 6 daughters
  • Nancy Harris born 1799, marriage unknown
  • John Lane Harris born about 1802
  • Littleton Harris born about 1804
  • William Washington Harris born about 1807

Sarah Hickerson

Felix also didn’t discover Sarah Hickerson.

  • Sarah Hickerson married Daniel Vannoy on October 2, 1779.

Sarah was born sometime between 1752 and 1760, based on her husband’s age and her marriage date. Sarah Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy had:

  • Elijah Vannoy born about 1784 married Lois McNiel in 1809 and moved to Claiborne County, Tennessee a couple years later
  • An unknown son born before 1788
  • An unknown daughter born before 1788
  • Joel Vannoy born in 1792 married Elizabeth St. Claire in 1817, having 8 children. He then married Emily Lemira Suddworth about 1832 in Burke County where they had another 10 children.
  • Susan Vannoy, born about 1804, married George McNiel in 1822 in Wilkes County and had 6 children
  • Possibly another daughter born between 1795-1800

According to the census, Sarah Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy had at least one unidentified male and one unidentified female child, both born before 1788. They may have had another daughter born between 1795 and 1800.

That male child may have been Nathaniel Vannoy, found in 1821 in Franklin County, Tennessee witnessing the will of David Hickerson, or maybe not. Nathaniel could also possibly have been Daniel Vannoy’s brother, although he would have been quite aged to have been traveling.

It’s also possible that the unidentified children didn’t survive.

Possibly Elizabeth Hickerson

  • Elizabeth Hickerson, mother of the anonymous letter writer who left Wilkes County about 1794 married a Stuart (Stewart/Steward)

It’s possible that Mary Lytle Hickerson had another daughter named Elizabeth, based on the 1877 letter from Elizabeth’s daughter where she states that her mother married a Stewart and that she (the letter writer) was born in 1791.

I find it hard to believe that the letter-writer would record her mother’s name incorrectly.

If Elizabeth Hickerson’s daughter was born in 1791, and Mary Lytle was having children by about 1745, Elizabeth’s mother would have been between the ages of 43 (born in 1748) and 33 (born in 1768 as Mary’s last child.)

When Was Mary Lytle Hickerson Born?

We know that Mary Lytle Hickerson’s daughter, Mary Hickerson Stewart had a son named Samuel Hickerson who used aliases including Stewart, Lytle, and Litle.

In 1781, Samuel Steward filed a suit against Daniel Vannoy in Wilkes County. I initially thought this was Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, Samuel, but at this point, I doubt that she had her son, Samuel in 1760 or before which would have had to be the case if he were filing a suit in 1781. Samuel would have had to be of age to file suit. It Samuel was age 21 in 1781, he had to have been born in 1760 or earlier.

We know that Charles Hickerson was age 60 in 1784 when he was exempted from taxes, which puts his birth year in 1724.

Assuming that Mary is not older than Charles, and that they married when she was about 20, and assuming that her daughter Mary Hickerson is Mary Lytle’s oldest child, that put’s daughter Mary’s birth about 1745. To have had son Samuel in 1760, Mary would have given birth when she was 15. While that’s not impossible, especially given that he appears to have been illegitimate, it’s unlikely.

Mary Lytle Hickerson’s will specifically names Samuel Hickerson as Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, and he is the only grandchild she left anything to by name. I suspect that this is because she probably raised Samuel in her home after he was born illegitimately to his mother, before Mary married the Stewart male probably sometime after 1771.

Based on the ages of her children, I suspect Mary Lytle was born about the same time as Charles Hickerson, so would have been about 68 when she died in December 1793 or early 1794.

Mary’s DNA

I’ve identified autosomal DNA segments on three chromosomes that descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle. What we don’t know, and can’t discover until we figure out who their parents are, is whether these segments descend through Charles or Mary.

Mary Lytle segments.png

Mary’s Direct Matrilineal Line

However, if we can find someone descended from Mary Lytle through all females to the present generation, which can be male, we can obtain Mary’s mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by both sexes of children from their mother, but only females pass it on. Therefore, the mitochondrial DNA of Mary’s daughter’s direct linear female descendants (to the current generation which can be male) is the same as Mary Lytle Hickerson’s.

Mary’s mitochondrial DNA can tell us a great deal about where she came from and may help us further break down brick walls, especially if it’s rare, or Native. We don’t know who Mary’s mother is, so Mary’s mitochondrial DNA is a direct lifeline to matrilineal ancestral women – Mary’s mother, grandmother and so forth.

Of Mary’s daughters, listed above, we know that:

  • Mary Hickerson Stewart had one son, but nothing more is known
  • Jane Hickerson Miller had daughters, but I’ve been unable to document who they were
  • Rachel Hickerson Harris’s daughters are listed in bold, above
  • Sarah Hickerson Vannoy’s only known daughter, Susan, is bolded above as well
  • Elizabeth Hickerson Stuart’s only known child is the nameless author of the 1877 letter from Nacogdoches, Texas. If anyone can figure out who she is, and if she had daughters, please let me know.

If you descend from these women through all females to the present generation, which can be male, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you. Please get in touch! We have brick walls to break down together.

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