Murtough McDowell (<1700-1752), Return to Kingsmoss Road – 52 Ancestors #172

Some people will go to great lengths, or distances, to return to their homeland.

It must be in the blood, because I was drawn to Ireland like a moth to a flame.

When I discovered the location in Ireland where Murtough McDowell was likely from, and then subsequently asked to speak at Genetic Genealogy Ireland with a promise of a visit to where Murtough lived, that cinched the deal.

On the Tuesday following the conference, four genetic genealogists, who I’m now referring to as the Irish Rovers, set out from Dublin for Belfast on a journey of discovery.

Our group of Irish genetic genealogy rovers, shown here in front of Carrickfergus Castle. Left to right, Maurice Gleeson, Michelle Leonard, me and Martin McDowell. Did you notice that last name? We surely had fun on our adventure!

I want to take just a minute to introduce you to my three fellow adventurers. It’s always great fun to have encouragement when getting into trouble.😊  It was wonderful to be with 3 other people with the same interests, that speak the same language – sharing conversations, research ideas and a lot of laughter. We had a spectacular day, and you’re coming along – so meet your travel partners:

  • Maurine Gleeson is a physician, psychiatrist, part time actor and genetic genealogist, which means he can certify the entire carful of us as crazy! You can read his blog here and his wonderful YouTube Channel presentations here. I can’t stress enough how fortunate the genetic genealogy community is to enjoy the contributions of Maurice.
  • Michelle Leonard is a professional genealogist living in Glasgow, Scotland, specializing in both genealogy and genetic genealogy. You can view the facebook page for her business, Genes & Genealogy here.
  • Martin McDowell, to whom I’m forever grateful for his McDowell research, is the Education and Development Director for The North of Ireland Family History Society located on the outskirts of Belfast. Martin is available to perform genealogy and genetic genealogy research at martin.mcdowell3@talktalk.net.

In a future article about visiting Ireland, I’ll include a list of resources provided by these fine folks.

Ok, now that you know the players, let’s set out on our adventure. First, I need to introduce you to Murtough McDowell, the man who is responsible for this quest.

Murtough McDowell

We know very little about Murtough, yet, I’ve now stood where he did, or at least where he probably stood. I have trod the same land, looked at the same mountains that he would have seen standing on the farm in the boggy fields of Kingsmoss.

I first found Murtough, written as Murto, in Baltimore County Families, 1659-1759 by Robert W. Barnes on page 437, stating:

Morto McDowell was in Baltimore County by July 1722 when he surveyed 100 acres Pleasant Green on Sept 26, 1730, he and wife Eleanor conveyed 100 acres to Richard Gist in 1750 as Murto Mackdaniel. He owned 100 acres Bring Me Home, probably dead by 1752, leaving a son Michael McDowell.

I found the recorded deeds in Baltimore County which provide us with a little more information, although I have not been able to find the original patent to Murtough, or a sale to him.

Patapsco River Land

September 26, 1730, Murtough and Elinor McDowell, planter of Baltimore Co. Maryland sell to Richard Gist, merchant of same, for 1,764 pounds tobacco, 100 acres on the North side of Patapsco River, signed Murtough (x) McDowell witness William Hamilton, Thomas Linby.

This tells me that Murtough didn’t know how to write or sign his name.

This conveyance is the only record of Murtough’s wife, or her name. We can presume that she was the mother of his children, but that may not be true. We can also presume that she too was Scots-Irish and they were married in Ireland, but that might not be the case either.

The Patapsco River is shown above in green. We don’t know where on the Patapsco, but I’d bet, given that Gist is a merchant, that the land wasn’t far out of the settled portion of Baltimore at that time.

This area was still an undeveloped frontier in 1720.  The map below, dated 1719 shows Baltimore County bordering Pennsylvania, where Murtough would have landed in an area that would one day become the port of Baltimore. At that time, Baltimore didn’t yet exist, but an earlier “Baltimore Town” did.

By http://maps.bpl.org – A new map of Virginia, Mary-land and the improved parts of Pennsylvania & New Jersey, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27806510

The city of Baltimore wasn’t founded until 1729, and then not by that name, when the citizens petitioned the county to establish a town for the ease of exporting tobacco and facilitating trade. The first brick building in what resembled a town wasn’t constructed until 1739.

Baltimore wasn’t more than a small town, so the land where Murtough lived was assuredly a rural farm.  The first census taken in 1752 lists only 30 residents of “Baltimore Town,” with another 11,345 free whites in surrounding Baltimore County, 1,501 servants and convicts, 4,143 black and mulatto slaves and 204 free blacks and mullatos.

This drawing of the City of Baltimore in 1752 by John Moale is the first known.

Richard Gist laid out the city of Baltimore and was a burgess, so a sale to him does not suggest a family connection. He owned a lot of land and seemed to be somewhat of a land speculator – and the town of Baltimore was expanding.  The land is mentioned again, below:

289 – Sept. 4, 1749 Charles Carroll surgeon of Annapolis, Ann Arundel Co., MD to William and Jemima Seasbrook, planter, of Baltimore County deed in exchange of 100 acres patented by Murtough McDowell who sold and Richard Gist who devised and his son Christopher Gist, brother of Jemima Seabrook.

This would have been the Patapsco land.

I initially thought the land sale above to Gist was Pleasant Green, the land in the patent below, but based on later deeds and location, it appears that the land sold in 1749 to Seasbrook and Pleasant Green were two different tracts. The Patapsco River and Jones Falls do not intersect until very near the outlets of both – and the head of the North Branch of Jones Falls was quite distant from the fledging town of Baltimore at that time.

Pleasant Green

The 1722 survey for the 1724 Pleasant Green land tells us that this land was actually surveyed for Morto Mackdual, which is how McDowell is pronounced today in Ireland, on July 4, 1722, independence day but before independence occurred. The land was patended on May 20, 1724.

The survey itself tells us a little more.  We know that Murtough was in Baltimore County before May 24th of 1722. The land is named Pleasant Green and it’s located on the North side of Jones Falls – beginning on the west side of the north run on the north side of a pocoson (swamp) descending into the run descending into Jones Falls.

Could I find Jones Falls today? Indeed, I can. Jones Falls is a 17.9 mile long stream that is impounded to create Lake Roland before running through the City of Baltimore and emptying into Baltimore Inner Harbor.

The great news is that this description tells us enough that we can locate the land, at least approximately, today, because the survey tells us that Murtough’s land is located on the west side of the North Run on the north side of a swamp.  A 1768 deed says this land is the head of the north run of Jones Falls.

According to Wikipedia, the North Branch begins at about the intersection of Park Heights Avenue and Walnut Avenue in Worthington, about 10 miles north of the center of Baltimore. This distance does cause me to wonder if the North side of Jones Falls might then have been different than the North Branch today.  However, a later 1768 deed specifically says the head of the North Run of Jones Falls.

Now, with a satellite view.

I wonder if the little green lake, above, was the pocosson mentioned.  If so, it’s actually on another small branch.

And the beginning of Jones Falls Branch.

If the description is accurate and translates to today’s language as well, this should have been the land owned by Murtough.  Unfortunately, we can’t “drive down” Walnut Avenue, but we can drive by the pocasson on Park Heights Avenue.

Murtough’s residence in Baltimore County in 1722 would suggest that he was probably born before 1700. Murtough’s son, Michael, is clearly of age in 1752 when he sells his interest in his father’s estate from Halifax County, Virginia.

Bring Me Home

On September 19, 1752, presumably after Murtough’s death, Michael McDowell conveyed his share of 100 acres of Bring Me Home to Joseph Murrey and in September 1752, he gave power of attorney to John Hawkins to sell the aforesaid tract.

I had not been able to find any references to Bring Me Home, that is, until today, as I finished this article.  I decided to look one more time.  It’s a good thing that I did, for two reasons.  First, I found the land patent, with Murto’s name butchered.  Second, the grant is in Prince George County, not in Baltimore County.  Furthermore, the grant says that Murtough was “of Prince George County.”

Uh-oh.  I think I’d better go back to the library and look for a will for some spelling of Murtough McDowell in Prince George County instead of Baltimore County where I’ve been searching. All other deeds, including the sale of this land are recorded in Baltimore County, which is somewhat confusing.

Clearly the index and the actual name are different.  Martin, above, and Murtue below, probably spelled the way it sounded when Murtough pronounced his name.

Murtue acquired Bring Me Home in 1732, but it was surveyed on June 23, 1730. The 100 acres was in Prince George County “on the western shore of this province” at the head of a small branch which ?? into a run called the North Run.

Prince George County was formed in 1696 and formed the entire western portion of the state, but has been since subdivided.  I was unable to find a watercourse called North Run.

Adding to the confusion, the Maryland Archives Patent Index shows that Bring Me Home is now in Harford County, Maryland.

Harford County was formed 1774, so may well have been part of Prince George’s in the 1730s. I clearly have not attempted to run this deed forward to current in Prince George’s and subsequently Harford County, but if this can be done – it might tell us more specifically where Murtough’s land was located.  Given that Pleasant Green was his first patent, and he appeared to still own it at his death, I suspect that he actually lived at Pleasant Green.  He would also have selected the names of his land.  Perhaps Pleasant Green and Bring Me Home reminded him of Ireland.

Land Sales

340 – September 9, 1752 Michael McDowell of Halifax Co., VA to Joseph Murray Jr. of Baltimore Co., MD 100 acres. Signed Michael McDowell – witnesses Richard Hooker, Thomas Hooker.

Sept .19, 1752 – Michael McDowell of Halifax Co., VA power of attorney to John Hawkins. Signed Michael McDowell wit Richard Hooker and Thomas Hooker.

The last mention of Michael McDowell is in September of 1768 when Dr. William and Mary Lyon of Baltimore sell to Charles Motherby 100 acres and 15 acres head of the North Run of Jones Falls purchased on September 19, 1752 from Michael McDowell, planter, of Halifax County, Virginia.

However, this 1768 transaction is confusing, because the September 1752 deed which we have is for Bring Me Home, not for Pleasant Green.

It appears that Murtough owned three tracts of land, although I don’t find any record of a patent for the land sold to Gist.

Land Location Survey Patent Sell Buyer
North side Patapsco – 100 acres 1730 Richard Gist
Pleasant Green – 100 acres – North Run Jones Falls July 4, 1722 May 20, 1724 September 19, 1752 by Michael McDowell of Halifax Co., VA William and Mary Lyon
Bring Me Home – 100 acres – Prince George County June 23, 1730

July 31, 1731

Feb. 2, 1732 Sept. 19, 1752 by Michael McDowell or Halifax Co., VA POA John Hawkins, sale to Joseph Murrey

The only other mention of Murtough in the documents for Baltimore County is a reference to “153:93 Debt book for 1750 also in Calvery papers,” which I was unable to find. There is also a reference to Murto McDuall 280 which I suspect may be the page number in the Calvery papers.

Michael is the only known child of Murtough, although clearly, he probably wasn’t the only child.

It’s Murtough’s DNA, through his descendant, that led us back to Ireland, and in particular to Kingsmoss Road.

Murtough’s DNA

Murtough’s grandson, also named Michael, served in the Revolutionary War and died an old man in Claiborne County, Tennessee in 1840. It had been a long way from Ireland to Tennessee – two generations, three wars and 120 years.

The Scots who became Irish and then Scots-Irish in America had spent generations fighting, so warfare was nothing new.

Michael Jr., Murtough’s grandson, born about 1747, never knew his grandfather, but I’d wager that he heard stories of Ireland. We don’t know if Michael’s father, Michael, was born in Ireland or the colonies.

Unfortunately, we really don’t know why Murtough left Ireland about 1720. I wonder if Michael knew. Perhaps the history of that region in Ireland will shed light on the question.

Michael Jr.’s great-great-grandson, Lewis, some 164 years after Michael’s 1840 death would take a Y DNA test that would connect Michael and Murtough back to a McDowell family in Ireland. Michael’s great-great-grandson matched another McDowell man whose McDowell grandfather was born in Kingsmoss, County Antrim, about 12 miles northwest of Belfast, in what is today Northern Ireland.

Given that we’ve lost our Murtough McDowell line in paper records, it was time to do the genealogy of Lewis’s match to see if we can connect.

Lewis’s Match

Fortunately, Lewis’s match’s father was born in Ireland, at Kingsmoss in either 1907 or 1908. The family and church records disagree by a year, but the date and parents are the same.

Lewis’s match was able to give us his parent’s and grandparent’s information, but for the rest, I engaged the services of Martin McDowell, a very nice gentleman, who, ironically, lives very close to Kingsmoss Road today, although his ancestors were in Antrim in the late 1700s. However, his Y DNA proves that his mcDowell line and the Kingsmoss line are not one and the same. I just knew we had to be related, somehow, and needless to say, I was disappointed

Martin was able to document the matches’ line back through two James, the oldest of which was a laborer with no further details. The oldest James would have had to have been born before 1835.

The son, James (Jr.), was born about 1855 in County Antrim and was a railroadman, living in Ballyrobert in 1876 when he was married in the May Street Presbyterian Church in Belfast, built in 1829, long after Murtough left. They lived in Kingsmoss from about 1890. James Jr. died in Carnmoney in 1935 and his wife, Sarah, died at Kingsmoss in 1909.

James Jr.’s siblings were born in Ballycraigy, Ballyhenry and Kingsbog, another name for Kingsmoss. These people were baptized or married in Carnmoney Presbyterian Church and St. Anne’s Church in Belfast, which had not yet been built when Murtough lived in Ireland.

Many of James Jr.’s siblings are buried in the Mallusk Cemetery, but we have no recorded burials prior to that time. It’s likely that earlier burials took place at either Carnmoney or Mallusk.

James Jr.’s son, Samuel James was born in Ballycraigy in 1877, married in the Carnmoney Presbyterian Church in 1897 and lived in Kingsmoss, his children all being born there between 1898 and 1909.

His son, Samuel is the father of the tester who matches Lewis McDowell.

Unfortunately, with the records destruction in Ireland, Martin wasn’t able to go back further. He checked the church records in surrounding areas as well as civil registrations, which began in 1864, wills and other documents – all to no avail.

Martin did find that an Andrew McDowell lived in Carnmoney in the late 1700s, but was unable to connect him forward or backward

in time.

Even though we don’t know exactly where Murtough was from, we can map the various locations mentioned in the records, shown on the map below which covers about 2 miles by 2 miles. This entire driving route is only 13 miles.

Let’s visit some of these locations and see what we can fin!

Carnmoney

Carnmoney, from the ancient Irish word Carn Monaidh, meaning “cairn on the bog,” is the closest Protestant church to Kingsmoss and was established as a meeting house in 1622 at the site of a holy well, St. Brigit’s, still visible at the rear of the contemporary church. You can see a photo of the well in this article.

An earlier Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest Presbyterian churches in Ireland, dates from 1657 but has since been replaced by a new church. The old church was reported to have been built on the foundation of an original church dating from the time of St. Patrick’s arrival in Ireland.

The original church was built near Carnmoney Hill, where local rumors of an ancient cemetery on the hillside persist and where Celtic festivals and fairs were once held on the summit.

The old church was located in the center of the current graveyard, where newer graves clearly delineate the former location of the church.

You can read more about the old church and the history of the region when it was established in this article, from which we discover the following information about the  church as it was in Murtough’s time:

The inside of the church was as plain and bare as the outside. There were six square pews on the south side with the “three decker,” and seven on the north side. The pulpit had no canopy, nor was there any stove, so that on a cold Sunday the few attenders often adjourned to the surrounding glebe where prayers were said around the drawing-room fire. The windows were wide and slightly pointed, with plain wooden sash frames, the east one being similar, with the communion table below it. A pathway led to the church door from the old road on the north side. The existing road along the south side is more modern. The only fragment of the old church that I know of is the circular stone window-casing from the tower, which is now built over a well on the glebe avenue.

This was probably the church where Murtough attended, the pews where he sat and the doorway in the tower where he entered. His feet probably helped to wear the entry stone smooth, over time, and Murtough’s prayers were offered from inside this humble church, surrounded by the graves of his ancestors. Did they speak to him, encouraging him to migrated, as they once had?  To dream, to take what he had and board a ship for a journey to the new colonies where he would have the opportunity to own land? Was Murtough married here in this church? Did he bury his parents in the cemetery before he left, someplace close to his grandparents perhaps? Did Murtough bury children here, or a wife perhaps?

The old road mentioned is the Old Irish Highway running from Carrick to Antrim, now the O’Neill Road. Parts of the old road are reportedly still visible in places running alongside the O’Neill road, now B513, visible below.

From Carnmoney Hill, still covered woodlands, one can clearly see Belfast, and on a clear day, the western coast of Scotland is within view.

I wonder if the Scots who resettled here climbed the hill from time to time to view their ancient homeland and longingly reflect on those left behind.

Come along on a lovely walk on Carnmoney Hill in this YouTube video.

Protestants and Catholics

We do know one other piece of important information and that is that the McDowell family is protestant, not Catholic. As Louis’s match said, that’s very important in Northern Ireland. The records bear this out – meaning both the importance of religion in Ireland, then and now, and that fact that the McDowell family was Protestant.

This confirmation would suggest strongly, along with the surname and the Irish location, that the McDowell family was one of the Protestant families seated in Ireland from Scotland during the Ulster Plantation era wherein the English confiscated the Irish lands and redistributed them to English nobles known as “undertakers” in parcels of about 3000 acres each. These undertakers were then obligated to “seat” at least 20 Protestant English-speaking families (48 adult males) on their land.

County Antrim was one of two unofficially seated counties where Presbyterian lowland Scots began settling in 1606. In 1607 Sir Randall MacDonnell settled 300 Presbyterian Scots families on his land in Antrim.

By 1622, there were 4000 adult Scottish males living in County Antrim and County Down. The poster below, found at the North of Ireland Family History Society includes the McDowell surname.

However, the displaced Irish were not happy having their land confiscated and being  evicted, and Civil War was on the horizon.

After 1630, Scottish migration to Ireland waned for a decade. In the 1630s, Presbyterians in Scotland staged a rebellion against Charles I for trying to impose Anglicanism. The same was attempted in Ireland, where most Scots colonists were Presbyterian and a large number returned to Scotland as a result.

Civil war raged until after 1650 when the area was once again brought under English control. At that point, Scottish immigration from the southwest of Scotland to Ireland resumed, along with some immigrants from the Border Reiver region of Scotland along the English border.

Another wave of Scottish immigration to Ulster took place in the 1690s, when tens of thousands of Scots fled a famine (1696–1698) in the border region of Scotland. It was at this point that Scottish Presbyterians became the majority community in the province. Whereas in the 1660s, they made up some 20% of Ulster’s population (though 60% of its British population) by 1720 they were an absolute majority in Ulster.

Despite the fact that Scottish Presbyterians strongly supported the Williamites in the Williamite war in Ireland in the 1690s, they were excluded from power in the postwar settlement by the Anglican Protestant Ascendancy. During the 18th century, rising Scots resentment over religious, political and economic issues fueled their emigration to the American colonies, beginning in 1717 and continuing up to the 1770s.

The early date would fit nicely with the immigration of Murtough McDowell to Baltimore County and this political unrest may have been his motivation.

Scots-Irish from Ulster and Scotland, along with British from the border region comprised the most numerous group of immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland to the colonies in the years before the American Revolution. An estimated 150,000 left northern Ireland. They settled first mostly in Pennsylvania and western Virginia and  from there moving southwest into the backcountry of upland territories in the South and the Appalachian Mountains.  

Belfast

I couldn’t wait to visit Murtough’s homeland. My friend, Maurice Gleeson was kind enough to arrange this trip as well as drive. Martin McDowell accompanied us, as did Michelle Leonard who discovered that her ancestor lived down the road a few miles, in Templepatrick along the Old Irish Highway. Are we perchance related too?

We had a brilliant day, as the Irish would say, even though the weather was a bit drizzly. First stop – a visit to the cat gardens at Belfast Castle, built in 1862. Yes, cat gardens!

If it was before, it’s no secret now that I’m a cat lover! So you’ll just have to excuse this distraction.  SQUIRREL…no, wait…CAT!!!

Murtough would never have seen this castle, of course, because wasn’t built for another 140 years after he left, but the view over the bay from the castle grounds would have been stunning then as now.

Michelle and I had a great time searching for all of the cats in the garden, and I suspect we missed a few.

There are actually two cats in the above photo, one sitting in the yard and one directly behind in the rock wall – a memorial to a beloved cat gone on to the great catnip field in the sky.

We found one last cat from inside the castle, looking down at the back garden from the wedding venue.  The bride descends the spiral staircase into the piazza, but the cat sleeping between the hedges directly in front of the stairs never wakes up. Being a cat, if it did wake up, it would look at the bride disdainfully for interrupting it’s nap.

What a fun diversion on the way to find Murtough! Next, we’re on to Carrickfergus Castle where we had lunch in the restaurant across the quay from the castle.

Carrickfergus castle would have been known by Murtough, as the old Irish Highway went from here to Antrim, right past where the McDowell family lived.

Carrickfergus castle is massive and guards the entrance to Belfast, originally surrounded on three sides by water.

Carrickfergus Castle is about 900 years old. I wonder if Murtough was ever inside this castle? It’s hard to imagine that Murtough went from a place with a building like this to a frontier with Indians still inhabiting the region and no stone buildings at all.

The side of the castle, shown above, behind me, is much longer than the width.

A building depicted to show what life was like in medieval Belfast. Whatever you do, don’t walk under the windows!

We visited yet a third castle, briefly, later in the day – or maybe I should say we visited behind a castle.

Behind Castle Upton in Templepatrick, we visited the Templeton graveyard and  mausoleum that would have been a dynamite set for a Halloween movie.

It’s down a one lane, lonely, dark, winding road. Why, they would never find a body here!

There is also no place to turn around – you’re trapped at the end, so we parked and walked. We should have told ghost stories on the way.

Michelle’s ancestors are probably buried here.

I love these ancient vines and moss covered walls.

At the end of the walled tunnel of trees, we find the cemetery gate.

The entrance to the cemetery is gated, but virtually no one visits. I kept half-expecting Dracula to jump out and chase us!

If you slip down this long dark tunneled road behind this ancient castle and murder someone back here in ye olde graveyard, and burn the body, don’t even think about putting the hot ashes in here!!! OK?

Now that we’re done with Halloween’s fright night in this beautiful old walled cemetery, on to Kingsmoss. Yes, finally!

Visiting Kingsmoss

In the records, this location wasn’t called Kingsmoss Road, just Kingsmoss as a location. Today, it’s Kingsmoss Road.

Kingsmoss Road isn’t very long, which means that if the Murtough McDowell family originated here, we know within a mile or so where they lived.

Kingsmoss Road is less than a mile in length.

Unless our common ancestor is further back in time and therefore migrated to a different part of Ireland, or remained in Scotland, Murtough was likely from someplace in this region where his family would have been “seated.”

Martin indicated that back in the 1970s, the houses on this road today didn’t exist. Instead, the original old cottages were still in place. In Ireland, you can’t build a new house anyplace you want – even if you own the land. You are required to build on an old foundation. The only exception is if you build a house on your property for a relative, like a child – and they must live there for at least some amount of time before it can be sold.

This means that the houses then were likely in the same locations as the ones today, minus a few that have simply been torn down. This house was built on the curve in the road.

This old wall at Sallybush Road where it intersects with Kingsmoss Road may have existed in the time that Murtough would have lived here.

This bridge may have existed in some format then as well. Of course, there’s a cluster of houses by the bridge, because a stream means fresh water.

We drove down the road until we found what looked to be an original farmhouse, although clearly not as old as the homes from the early 1700s. Martin indicated that farm homes at that time were probably mud huts.

Regardless of the house, the view of the mountains wouldn’t have changed.

This is clearly a rural farming area, even today, although some people do now commute the dozen miles to Belfast.  In the past, Belfast was too far to go for a job.

We saw a few fences and gates constructed from old wagon or cart wheels.

Still a working farm today. Martin said the original farms would have been quite small – smaller than those today.

This oh-so-cute goat thought we were bringing food, at least that’s what we thought he was saying!

The Orange Hall

Moving up the road less than a mile to Ballyrobert, we discovered the Orange Hall. In fact, we saw several Orange Halls in this region.

The Orange Order is a Protestant fraternal organization found primarily in Northern Ireland and the Scottish lowlands.

The Orange Institution commemorates the civil and religious privileges conferred on Protestants by William of Orange, the Dutch prince who became King of England, Scotland, and Ireland in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In particular, the Institution remembers the victories of William III and his forces in Ireland in the early 1690s, especially the Battle of the Boyne, an event in Ireland that Murtough or his parents surely remembered. The battle occurred about 80 miles south of the Kingsmoss area.

In 1689 during the Williamite War in Ireland, County Antrim was a centre of Protestant resistance against the rule of the Catholic James II. During the developing crisis James’ garrison at Carrickfergus successfully repulsed an attempt by local Protestants to storm it. So, perhaps Murtough or his parents did know Carrickfergus Castle, but not quite in the way I might have thought.

County Antrim is heavily Protestant and it’s here that the 1798 Irish Rebellion was at its strongest with orangemen recruited from the yeomanry.

Mallusk Cemetery

We know that several McDowell family members are buried in the Mallusk Cemetery, but we don’t know the age of the cemetery. The church built in the 14th or 15th century fell into disuse when King Henry dissolved the monasteries and no longer remains. Certainly there would be burials from this timeframe, because the land around the church would have been consecrated, and the cemetery has probably been in use one way or another ever since.

If Murtough’s parents and ancestors did indeed live in this region, it’s very likely that some could be buried in the many unmarked graves.

The cemetery isn’t far from the Kingsmoss area. The entire mapped area is about two and a half miles by two and a half miles.

The day was ending as we visited.

The older section is towards the rear.

Many areas have small fences, probably designating family plots, but few of the old graves have stones. At that time, everyone knew who was buried where, so stones were unnecessary – as well as expensive.

The ground is very uneven, probably indicating unmarked graves, along with the roots of trees grown thick over the years.

The stones that do exist are arranged in a haphazzard way.

Probably a stone for an unmarked grave – like so many in Appalachia.

The crows supervised our visit.

Did I just visit the graves of my ancestors?

The Garden Center

We took the opportunity to stop at a garden center on Ballyrobert Road which has reeds and a spiral pathway sculpted into a field. I couldn’t resist after discovering this phenomenon using Google maps, because I have a labyrinth in my own yard at home.

Visitors can pay to walk the gardens during the summer. The garden center was closed, but a kind-hearted soul let us take a peek.

You can’t tell in the photo above, but we are standing at the entrance to the spiral, the reeds in front of us forming the dark area on the aerial view.

However, on this particular day, we discovered why this area is also called Kingsbog – because it is – literally.

Water squishes up from the ground wherever you walk. Can you see it, reflecting, above? We had not had heavy rains. This is just the nature of the land here. The people “seated” here certainly didn’t receive prime farmland. It’s like the water table is above the ground, or even with the ground, rising and retreating at will just at ground level.

A beautiful grove of trees on a slightly higher area.

Before Ireland

Before the McDowells settled in Ireland, they lived in Scotland and were a Scottish clan.

The name Macdowall is from the district of Galloway, shown on the map below, which itself was named after the Galli or Gaelic settlers of the seventh and eighth centuries.

Galloway is quite close to Ireland, about 20 miles by water and is the area that could be seen from Cornmoney Hill.

The surname Macdowall and its variations are Anglicised forms of the Gaelic Mac Dubhghaill, meaning “son of Dubhghall”. The Gaelic personal name Dubhghall means “dark stranger”.

Today, the Irish pronounce the same like “McDuel,” except with an Irish brogue thrown in.

We know that our McDowell line does not match another McDowell line. Both may have originated in the same place and belonged to the same clan, but the male progenitors are not the same person.

The history of the McDowell Clan indicates that the lesser status McDowells were among those recruited by the English for the Irish plantations, and many moved.

Irony

There is somehow a great irony that we know so little about Murtough’s life, but his DNA, passed to his descendants, was the light that guided us home.

I’m sure that when Murtough departed Ireland, probably right behind Carrickfergus Castle in Belfast Lough, for Baltimore County, he never dreamed that eight generations and almost 300 years later, his descendant would fly in a big silver bird back to Ireland in less than a day – a crossing that would have taken him weeks, to stand here, on the boggy land that he left, with the cold Irish bog water squishing up between her toes.

We have come full circle and found our way home through an unmarked labyrinth of time, thanks to Murtough’s DNA. Our Holy Grail.

Murtough, go raibh maith agat as na mbronntanas. (Thank you for the gift, in Gaelic.)

My labyrinth.

The Sacred Boyne Valley – Knowth, New Grange and Tara – 52 Ancestors #171

These ancient sacred sites represent so much of Ireland’s distant past. Of course, if you have Irish heritage, Ireland’s ancient past is also your own. We’re beyond fortunate to have these sites, in any state of preservation today. The fact that they are open to the public is absolutely amazing!

What a glorious day.

First, I want to mention that these people were my ancestors, as proven by the work of Trinity College, in Dublin, and thanks to my McNiel cousin whose Y DNA we tested as a descendant of the Reverend George McNiel. The Y DNA from this McNiel line matches the signature attributed to Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland, crowned at Tara. You can read more about Niall of the Nine Hostages genetic signature here, here and here, and how males can test at Family Tree DNA to see if you, or one of your male ancestral lines, descends from this noble lineage.

I wrote about Niall in the article about Rev. McNiel, but there is absolutely nothing like standing on that very site yourself, nearly alone, in the late afternoon, with the sun setting in the misty distance. Niall was with me, as he is with all of his descendants. I could feel his presence and that of those long gone, on that high hill, overlooking Ireland in all directions, surveying his domain.

Before I go on, if you have Irish genealogy, then it’s very likely that this is your history too, that Niall of the Nine Hostages or his relatives are your ancestors as well.  You may carry his blood in your veins, and possibly also in your DNA. After all, 3,500 years equates to about 875 generations. That’s 875 opportunities for a descendant to marry into your line – and chances are very good that they did, probably many times. So this isn’t just my ancestral journey, it’s yours too.

Make yourself a cup of coffee or maybe some fine Irish tea, complete with milk of course, in honor of being Irish, and come along on this great adventure of discovery!

Back to the Past

This, my third full day in Ireland is spent once again with Brian, my trusty personal tour guide, and what a wonderful day it has been.

I knew that this day wasn’t just about the history and mystery of Ireland, but about my own ancestral past – my personal connection to this lush green country.

The places we would drive and walk, my ancestors did too, for hundreds and thousands of years.

Their blood watered this soil. Their ashes remain a part of Ireland.

Morning Fog

The morning began with fog. Brian said this was somewhat unusual in this part of the country, but it created a bit of a dreamlike mystical aura to set the stage.

These historic sites are only about an hour or so out of Dublin, without traffic, but they literally inhabit another world. The added dimension of fog creates a sense of timelessness and transports us back to the time that Niall of the Nine Hostages lived.

The roads quickly shrank from those of a modern city to country roads without center lines because they are too small for two lanes simultaneously. However, traffic is still two-way and everyone is simply expected to be courteous and drive with some semblance of sanity. And they do – everyone – everyday – without the angry blaring of horns. Very, very different from the US. Paradigm shift.

Brian and I discovered this beautiful thatched roof house and adjoining barn in the morning fog, as the sun began peeking through.

Thatched roof houses still exist and are in relatively common use today in the countryside. They aren’t simply part of the past in Ireland. This thatched roof farmhouse in Ireland stands right alongside the road, where nearly all of the old buildings are located, and the barn, covered with vines, stands right in front of the house, separated by only a few inches, smack dab up against the wall which physically comprises the edge of the road. The road used to be the old cart path and before that, probably a footpath, trod by the very first settlers in this valley.

Roads and farms here are bordered with walls. In fact, walls are so common you don’t “see them” anymore. They serve multiple purposes, not the least of which is to keep livestock off of the roads.

Where rock walls don’t exist, hedges do the job as well.

The hedges are so dense that farmers install gates.

New Grange wasn’t far distant, winding down the road. I held my breath on some of those curves, driving on the “wrong side” of the road, but Brian knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going.

A spider spun her web on the sign at the entrance of the historical park at Knowth and New Grange.

Even the gate is beautiful, graced with ornamentation inspired by the carved stones at both sites.

We don’t know exactly why these Neolithic people constructed these mounds. It’s likely that they initially bore a spiritual significance and we do know that later, a group or groups of people lived on the mounds.

The megalithic tomb tradition began 6000 years ago in Brittany, France, 500 years or so before the first tombs established in Ireland.

It’s easy to speculate that the culture came with the people from continental Europe, and that may well be accurate. Professor Dan Bradley, in his presentation this week at Genetic Genealogy Ireland, speaking about ancient DNA and burials, said very clearly that the Ireland of prehistoric times is not, genetically speaking, the Ireland of today. When comparing the DNA of the earliest burials against modern populations, the ancient results map to the far north, an area Dr. Bradley jokingly called Valhalla, land of the mythical Norse “Heaven.” A second ancient burial maps to an area near Portugal. The only burials that map to the Irish of today occurred much later, after the Neolithic, after the Celtic influence and after the Viking invasions.

These mounds were created hundreds to thousands of years before people actually lived on the mounds as residents. Some dead are interred in the mounds, but not enough for the mounds to be a cemetery for the entire community, as we conceive of cemeteries today. But clearly, everyone died and the bodies had to be disposed of in some fashion.

By the time the tombs began to be catalogued and preserved, people had been “visiting” them for 260 years, so virtually everything above ground, meaning both artifacts and bones, had been disturbed, and who knows how much is missing.

Of course, water played a crucial role in the lives of our ancestors. These sacred sites were all established near the River Boyne, crossed by this contemporary bridge today along the walk from the Visitor Center to the bus that takes visitors to the Knowth and New Grange sites.

The River Boyne, giver of life, connects the sacred sites of Knowth, Dowth, New Grange and Tara.

The carved stones at these prehistoric sites are believed to have been transported from distances far away by barge, then log rolled uphill to the sites where they were installed. Of course, the bridge in the photo is modern, established for tourists to tread the ancestral path.

Whoever these ancient settlers were in the Boyne River Valley, they would probably have selected these sites for their elevation and would have looked over the valley and seen much the same scene as today, except that the hillsides would have originally been forested.

Knowth

Knowth is pronounced something like “note” by the locals, in an Irish brogue.

Most of the mounds, which are likely passage graves and sacred ceremonial sites, have not been excavated at Knowth, this first stop on our journey.

Some of these photos leave me breathless and speechless, and I feel they would be better served without narrative, but I need to let you know what you’re viewing. This is exactly what our ancestors would have seen on a similar misty foggy morning thousands of years ago, standing exactly where I was standing.

At one time, people lived on top of these mounds, farmsteads probably, and the first person to rise in the morning would have had this same view before the activities of the day began. Perhaps a goat bleated in the distance and a dog accompanied our early riser.

This mound has been excavated. The soil eventually covered these carved rocks after the site was abandoned, so the excavation exposed the rocks and the site was reinforced so that the stones remain within view.

The view of the countryside down the path between the mounds (left) and other sites (right).

More beautiful spider webs on the historical signage. The local people tell us that the problem with thatched roofs is that they attract spiders who love to nest there. Then again, spiders eat lots of other insects.

Beautiful carved stones. The carvings were created by picking or pecking at the stones with a hammer and chisel, or their Neolithic equivalent. All of the kurbstones, as they are known, are carved, although the carving is difficult to see on some today and nearly impossible in some light situations.

These stones are massive, weighing tons and about waist high on an adult.

Some stones are curved, as the mounds are round.

Many mounds, which served as homes, butted up against each other.

Some passageways functioned as entrances, some as souterrains, underground storage pits for food. Crawling would have been the only way in and out for most of these.

Some tunnels probably functioned as both. Claustrophobic? You wouldn’t want to be the person sent to retrieve whatever was kept there.

As I continued my walk around this mound, I noticed this rock which was very unusual and different from the rest. This rock has carving both on top and on the sides. Most don’t although the archaeological reports indicate that some stones are carved in areas that are not able to be seen, like on the bottoms and backs. The wheel-like carving on top of this stone may have been astrological in nature, perhaps a calendar of sorts.

This area in front of the two sided carved rock (above) is believed to be some type of sacred area. The white stones are original, and are not native to this region. I believe the guide said they were quartz and transported, one by one, from a site in the Wicklow mountains 90 km to the south. The black stones are granite and come from about as far away to the North, gathered and carried one by one up the hill from the River Boyne where they would have been transported by boat. Clearly, these stones were important and it’s thought perhaps that the white stones were ceremonial and may have represented the light and warmth of the sun.

This is one if my favorite stones. I have always had an affinity for spirals. The spiral is the oldest carving, with the undulating carving added later.

The guide said that the archaeologists can recognize the work of individual carvers.

The rock second from left is another absolutely amazing stone. This one, if you’ll notice, has a similar carving to the rock with the carving on top. Both resemble a wheel. These two images are surely somehow connected to each other as well as connected to whatever their religion was. No one would spend this much time and effort otherwise.

The stewards of this site have reconstructed an example of what they believe wooden henges would have been like just beside the mound.

Standing stones, and another entrance.

The most remarkable finding discovered in the archaeological excavations was a beautiful carved flint mace head. I saw the actual artifact the following day in the National Museum, but the position of the mace head in the case made it very difficult to photograph.

You can see additional photos here and here, along with the carved bowl from the passage tomb in New Grange.

These passage mounds at Knowth are not open inside to the public, but the one at New Grange is. That’s where we’re headed next.

Think of Knowth and New Grange as a neighborhood of sorts, not adjacent exactly, but within sight from the tops of the hills and dating from approximately the same timeframe.

New Grange

New Grange is a separate site from Knowth, today, but clearly the original inhabitants were part of the same culture and probably the same family grouping too. After all, the number of original settlers or inhabitants was probably small.

All of these sacred sites are located on hilltops, which could be a factor of both religion as well as defensive protection.

This was the entrance to New Grange in the late 1800s. The area had been largely overgrown. I couldn’t help but notice how clear the carvings were only 118 years ago as compared to today.

Standing stones mark the entrance to the tomb.

Because it is off season here (October), complicated by the weather (Hurricane Ophelia), with few tourists, I was able to get generally unobstructed photos, with few or no people.

This is the entrance to the New Grange passage tomb.  Above the entrance, the light enters through the “lightbox” above the top of the lintel stone at dawn on Winter Solstice, assuming no clouds or fog. The stone in front of that passage entrance is the most elaborately carved stone at the site sporting beautiful spirals. Notice that the stones above the lightbox are mostly the light quartz stones. Were they “guiding” the light on the solstice?

Just pretend this shivering park employee is one of the ancient holy priests!

Yes, it was COLD. But then it would have been cold on December 21st each year when the people who lived here celebrated the beginning of the cyclical warming of the earth – when mother earth begins to rejuvenate and come alive once again.

As we entered the small chamber, we walked through an increasingly smaller passageway until we reached the center some 40 feet inside, in the middle of the mound.  The chamber in the center holds about 25 people, so long as they are good friends and don’t mind being close.

Unfortunately, after this site was discovered in 1799, it was open to the curious for decades, until it became protected. By the time the first scientists documented the site, the human remains of at least 5 people had been scattered on the floor, so we don’t know how or exactly where in this mound they were interred. We do know that they were cremated, although some later burials, believed to be Celtic, found on this site but in another location, were buried, not cremated.

For those who are thinking about the next question, I’ll just answer it.

I asked if DNA extraction had been attempted, and the guide sidestepped the question twice, saying lots of information was as yet unpublished after for than 40 years of excavation. I visited the ancient DNA labs at Trinity College and UCD on the Monday following the conference, and was told there that yes, DNA has been extracted and is awaiting publication. However, they have not been successful, at least not yet, extracting DNA from cremains.

Professor (and geneticist) Dan Bradley who runs the ancient DNA lab at Trinity said that they have access to all skeletal remains in at the National Museum. I took that to mean there may be many publications in the future that will help us further understand the history of the Irish people.

Photos were not allowed inside the passage tomb, but here’s a great video on YouTube that shows approximately what the ancients would have seen at the Winter Solstice when the shaft of light entered the New Grange tomb.

The precision necessary 5200 years ago to engineer and construct this mound to achieve the Winter Solstice’s rising sunlight striking the back wall of the mound is absolutely mind-boggling to comprehend – especially given that the shaft enters above the opening, but strikes the wall at ground level – meaning that an incline in elevation is involved as well.

Amazingly enough, no water has ever penetrated the chamber in the center this mound, an incredible testimony to the original architects. Keep in mind this mound was built before the pyramids of Giza and that these builders had no cement or any substances except dirt and rock. This mound was watertight due to the angle of the stacked stones and layers of gravel and dirt on top of the mound.

From Knowth.com:

This chamber is roofed by a corbelled vault, which has remained intact and watertight without any conservation or repair. The cairn (stone mound) that covers the chamber is estimated to weigh 200,000 tons and is retained at its base by 97 massive kerbstones.

You can see photos of the vaulted ceiling, along with other artworks of New Grange, here. I must admit, I was just a tad nervous inside that chamber. Still, I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity for anything.

Knowth and New Grange have a few standing stones, but nothing like Stonehenge. However, like Stonehenge, the massive stones were all transported from quite some distance, as measured in many miles, not feet or yards, requiring massive manpower and coordination which implies a complex social structure. Both locations were somehow connected to the solstices as well, with other circles and locations marking the equinoxes. Whoever these people were, they were experienced skywatchers and expert architects.

Ok, indulge me with a selfie as I’m standing beside one of the standing stones. I didn’t come this far, survive a blood clot and a hurricane not to get a photo! Thank goodness for cell phones. It was quite windy on the top of this hill.

The outside of the New Grange passage mound is (re)constructed of the same white (quartz) and black (granite) rocks as were found outside surrounding the mound at Knowth. These are fist sized stones at this site, slightly smaller, and the black are interspersed with the white in the wall built above the carved stones.

This photo shows New Grange around 1900 after the overgrowth had been cleared away. These walls, shown before reconstruction, were in amazingly good condition, considering their age.

Walking around the mound, I noticed this beautiful stone building and of course, the sheep in the background. Sheep are everyplace in both Ireland and Scotland. The wall behind the structure has beautiful vines growing up and along the top. The wall is old but not ancient.

This is probably one of the most famous of the New Grange stones, and the one reproduced in the gates.

A lintel stone is found above this carved stone, and the sun is peeking over the mound. I can’t help but wonder how this stone is different and the significance of the lintel. What did this mean to the builders?

This looks to be a drainage area which is probably part of the reason this tomb has stayed dry for 5000+ years.

The top of the passageway mound.

The function of the free-standing rocks on the site is unknown.  None of the stones are native to the area.

Of course, this site is mowed today, but originally, goats, sheep or other domesticated animals would have been their lawnmowers. There may have originally been so many people that little vegetation grew, but today, these daisies have escaped the mower. They speak to me of the women who were obviously present.

Small standing stones.

The entrance to New Grange today, showing the wall, the stones and a few people in profile. I couldn’t help but think that this scene probably wasn’t too different from what our ancestors saw some 5000 years ago, in this exact same location. People walking between the stones to the entrance. Perhaps at that time, festivities and a procession would have surrounded the anxiously awaited solstice morning – or maybe the site was sacred – reserved only for the holy people who would report to the rest if the sun’s light once again struck the back wall in the chamber.

Did these people think that the solstice sun connected them with their ancestors, or perhaps that the solstice sun was a sign from the ancestors? A promise once again of the warming of the earth? Was this passageway also the passageway between worlds?

New Grange from a distance. The entrance to the passage tomb is to the right, by the standing stones.

I’m so grateful that this area remained undeveloped.

Rescue

And because my adventures in life never seem to be complete without rescuing something – a Goldcrest, the smallest bird in Ireland, flew into the window of the tourist center, which is actually a small building away from the mound. Poor thing. Another man, a young farmer from Virginia, and I rescued the bird and I explained to the employee what to do for the stunned bird.

For those who don’t know, I spent years as a volunteer (licensed) wildlife rehabilitator. For a stunned bird, with no obvious injuries, you simply put it into a dark place, like a grocery bag or box, and let it rest for an hour or so. Generally, they will recover enough to leave, or die, or will need treatment for injuries. The employee promised to do so, which was all I could do for the bird in that time and place. I hope it survived. Based on my experience, it stood a pretty good chance.

Interpretive Center

The visitor center for both Knowth and New Grange includes an interpretive center with a nice movie, restrooms, a snack bar and gift shop.

I’m not generally crazy about gift shops, but they do support the site and this one had some really unique offerings.

I loved this green man journal, but it was heavy! I needed something lighter, so I bought a scarf with the images of the stone carvings which I may use in a quilt.

In the interpretive center, I thought this display was simply beautiful. I would like to have those fabrics! Just saying!

This lovely artwork was created by students.

You really get to know someone after several days in a car together. Brian bought me three lovely gifts as he waited in the cafeteria area while I was traipsing around the sacred sites. Amazingly, exactly what I wanted – books – and a CD to watch when I get back home. Brian is not your typical tour guide. He purchased something else for a former client during our 4-day adventure, as well. I’ll be writing about Brian separately, so be sure to stay tuned.

Now, it’s off to Tara, about 45 minutes away, by car.

The Road to Tara

On the road to Tara, Brian knew of a wonderful quaint cottage type of farm. This farm is different than the rest, but every bit as interesting.

This person seems to like to collect old farm equipment. There are pumps and tractors and other things scattered about the place, creating a very unique ambience.

An older, thatched roof type of cottage adjoins a newer addition.

I particularly like the fact that they utilize the top of their rock wall as a planter.

Next, Brian and I stopped at the local pub for lunch. I’ve been subsisting on soup and bread since I arrived, by choice, as both are wonderful. Their vegetable soup here is much more creamy than ours and the vegetables in the soup are more or less pureed. However, in this case, those mushrooms with garlic dip just won the day.

Love these tables in this pub.

Brian asked me if I would be interested in stopping at a quaint little cottage type shop? He didn’t really need to ask. As if I needed convincing, he mentioned that the shop offered a lot of hand made items, and maybe she had quilt fabric too.

Unlike most older farmhouses, which are located within feet of the road, this house was down a long lane.

Look at that old tree which has probably stood sentinel for hundreds of years and seen many generations come and go.

I didn’t know quite what to expect.

This beautiful old home is packed to the gills with woven works and other items hand made by local artisans.

The owner, Mison Fullam, demonstrated weaving. I’ve always been fascinated by weaving, but quilters brains and weaver’s brains don’t work the same way – although both are fascinated by each other’s work.

There isn’t a sign, but the shop is Boyne Valley Wools and Mison told us the story of the Leck family homestead. This house belonged to her husband’s family for generations.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and today was one of those days.

I walked up to an incredible piece of artwork, a limited edition print by Colette Gough (collettegough@hotmail.com), picked it up, and knew I had to have it. Thank goodness it was affordable. I would share, but it’s copyrighted.

I turned the print over, looking for the price, and noticed what was written on the back.

“Found on Bettystown beach by school children, the Tara brooch is believed to have belonged to the High King of Ireland as it is so ornate and also the elongated pin. It is now housed at the National Museum.”

The Tara Brooch. I had never heard of it before, but it was utterly stunning and perfect in every way, and the print looks like it belongs in the Book of Kells. Better yet, it seems to be associated with my ancestors. Something tangible that was actually theirs? Opinions vary – but regardless, both the art and the brooch are incredible.

I took the photo above, of the brooch itself, the next day after stumbling into it by accident at the National Museum. However, the sign below that I spotted when exiting the museum shows the colors much more vividly.

I can’t even begin to explain how utterly stunning this brooch is, nor how much I’d love to have a replica, maybe as a hair barrette?

Brian decided to wait outside and made a discovery of his own.

I walked outside of the shop and noticed that Brian was giving me the thumbs up sign. Curious, I walked over to see what he was looking at, and aside from sheep, an old cemetery was located behind the wall.

You know, I think this genealogy bug is infecting Brian too!

Private family cemeteries are rather unusual in Ireland, as most of the Irish are Catholic and Catholics are buried in consecrated land, in churchyards. This part of Ireland was (and is) heavily Catholic, with the Protestant faction being focused in Northern Ireland in the Ulster Plantation area.

Mison graciously invited us into the cemetery and gave us a tour.

The cemetery is in poor repair, although the family is working to remedy that situation. The sheep have actually helped immensely. It was previously overgrown with briers, and now you can at least walk relatively unobstructed.

This old tree reminds me of a Druid tree. What stories it must have. You can see some cut wood in the background. Hurricane Ophelia last week was not kind to the trees.

One person wrote their entire family history of this stone. Why can’t my relatives do this?

And of course, there has to be a mystery. In this case, a large crypt of a Finnegan man that the family has absolutely no idea why is buried here.

It was time to depart, but not before we noticed the bridge over…nothing, apparently.

On down the road, we noticed another wonderful stone house, with a miller’s stone, an antique car and geese. Those dogs are the friendliest watchdogs ever. One crawled through the fence to be petted. Don’t tell my grandpuppies I was cheating with another dog.

I guess those geese didn’t lay enough eggs today.

Remember the thatched roof house in the early morning fog? We passed it again, and I realized that the thatching was truly unique.

Can you see the pattern? Notice the woven bird on the top right of the crest of the roof.

Tara isn’t far down the road, another of the megalithic mound neighborhood built along the Boyne River, about 45 minutes by car from New Grange.

Thankfully, the site of Tara itself is somewhat protected, but beneath Tara a few shops celebrate the mystical origins of Tara itself.

The Tara gatekeepers, perhaps?

Tara

Before we get there, I have to warn you. Brian explained that Tara is not one of the most exciting sites for tourists. Many have expectations that Tara is much like New Grange, but it isn’t. For the most part, Tara is unexcavated and still in its original condition. The part that has been excavated has been returned to a natural state, so there are no passage graves that you can enter, interpretive center, walkways or anything like that.

In essence, it’s a very large field, albeit a very special field.

The 100-acre site is now government owned, and free, but also virtually unprotected with no government employee presence. That means it’s visually not as striking with little WOW factor, comparatively speaking. Therefore, many visitors are disappointed.

Brian was afraid I might be disappointed as well, but I attempted to convey to him the extent of my insanity as a genealogist.

Brian’s probably saying to himself, “Oy, no wonder her husband didn’t come with her!”

Well, Brian will have a few stories to add to his repertoire after this week too. I wonder if as I write this, on another continent, if Brian is regaling this week’s tourists with stories about the crazy Tara lady😊

This map created about 1900 by William Wakeman shows the layout of the site, including Rath-Laoghaire at the bottom which is the Niall of the Nine Hostages mound.

Beyond the mound, in the center of the barrows, stands the stone known as the Lia Fail, literally “stone of Ireland” in Gaelic, also known as the “stone of destiny,” where the High Irish Kings were crowned. It has previously been vandalized and is now cemented in place.

The stone is reportedly imbued with magical powers of various descriptions and is said to roar with joy when the rightful king puts his feet on the stone.

By Alison Cassidy – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50403087

This aerial photo shows the gift shop area in the bottom left, the church, and behind the church to the right, the mound of Niall of the Nine Hostages which is the oldest known structure of this type in Ireland.

Tara, like other sacred sites, is located on a vista, high above the surrounding countryside.

Unlike other sites, there are no visitor walkways or paths, except for those worn into the soil by the feet of visitors who enter through a gate and simply walk across a field and up a hill, past the church dedicated to St. Patrick.

It was very common for the early Christian churches to “adopt” Pagan sites in an effort to draw the pagan people into the church.

If that didn’t work, they hoped to disrupt their pagan sites and rituals.

A statue of St. Patrick holding a shamrock stands guard near the church today, as well, looking only slightly out of place.

Passing the church and statue, the vista of the open field greets visitors as they emerge from the treed area surrounding the church. The rolling hills, which aren’t hills at all but ancient earthworks, begin. The sides of the barrows are steep and the grass is long and slippery even without mist or rain. No mowing occurs here.

The first sacred site encountered is the mound of Niall of the Nine Hostages. In early times, rival kings, or those who wished to be king, would send one of their sons, preferably their first-born who was in line to be heir and therefore more “valuable” than the rest, to be a hostage. Hostage in this sense means that the son lived with the actual king instead of his parents in order to discourage the rival kings or king-wannabes from attacking the king, knowing their son lived there and would likely be killed.

Niall took hostages from all 9 of his (potential) rivals from the various provinces of Ireland, or Ireland and Scotland, depending on the source .

The inside of this passage mound does have spiral carved rocks at the entrance, but it’s not open to the public and would not be tall enough to enter upright.

I was able to obtain a photo by slipping the camera inside the grate. When excavated in the 1950s, this passage was full of human remains, nearly to the ceiling, with burials occurring contiguously for more than 1500 years.

The items above are a few of the things excavated in the tomb.

Leaving the mound and turning towards the field, you can see the stone of destiny standing in the distance, at left, on the horizon.

Tara is a massive site, and would have been crowded with people when a new king was crowned.

I followed the path, cut into the grassy plain by the pilgrims’ feet that came, and went, before me, in modern times.

The silence and remoteness today belies the hubbub of those ancient feast and festival days. If you listen carefully, you can hear their voices in the wind.

In the center of the plateau on top of the hill, among mounds and barrows, undulating like Neolithic snakes across the land, we climb to the highest point and the stone of destiny where the kings of Ireland were crowned.

I tried, but the stone didn’t speak for me.

Looking outward from the stone, you can see the valley in the distance as the sun drifts toward the horizon.

In the photo above, the Tara fairy tree is directly under the sun.

What’s a fairy tree?

Fairy trees, generally Hawthorne’s, represent a location for pilgrims to leave items or relics representing prayers in sacred places, often for healing.

Some of these are heartbreaking – in particular, things like prayers written on baby bibs tied to the tree.

Tara is large and it took quite a while to thoughtfully walk the entire area. It’s also very hilly, with steep barrows surrounding the higher areas. At one time, these barrow rings, would have offered protection.

Circling back, we see the Niall of the Nine Hostages mound again. On the horizon, you can see this mound from almost anyplace on the site, which means this mound has inadvertently become the gatekeeper. The church which does have a steeple is obscured in the trees when viewed from Tara and is located between this mound and the road. Thankfully the trees obscure almost everything modern.

As I turn to say goodbye to Tara, knowing I will never return to this land of my ancestors in my lifetime, I’m struck by the soft mysticism that connects this landscape with my bloodline, with my family DNA, with those who trod this land so long ago, pioneers on this timeless landscape. I am here because of these people. They are part of me. My history.

No Brian, I wasn’t disappointed. My heart sang. I leave part of my soul here on the hill of Tara.

I began the day in the mist and the fog, and I end it the same timeless way, with the sun descending over the Niall of the Nine Hostages mound – feeling the spirits of my ancestors speaking across more than 5500 years, on an emerald green grassy plateau in Ireland, far distant from modern life, yet inextricably connected through the silvery spider web of time.

On This Day – What Were Your Ancestors Doing? – 52 Ancestors #170

Facebook is always “helping” me recall memories with a feature called “On This Day.” I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could turn back time and see what all of our ancestors were doing “on this day” in a particular year.

Then, I’d like to compare what my ancestors were doing on that day with what I’m doing on that same day, 100 years later. So, in a sense, I did.

This was an amazing exercise, because I learned something new about almost every single ancestor. Furthermore, focusing on just one day and their lives on that day, considering surrounding circumstances and events provides a very different perspective of your ancestors’ lives.

Select a special day, like your birthday, or a day you’re doing something exciting and remarkable.

First, take your picture. Nothing special, just “you” in your normal surroundings.

I took this selfie photo on my birthday, at home in my labyrinth, the day I wrote the second third of this article.

I also finished the 6th quilt sent to Houston for hurricane Harvey relief. If my descendants are reading this in yet another hundred years, they will have to search for that reference on whatever “Google” is in 2117.

Furthermore, and to add a bit of intrigue – a few hours before I published this article, which is about 15 hours before I actually leave for Dublin.  I just discovered that Hurricane Ophelia is headed for…are you ready for this…Ireland.  What, you say, a hurricane in Ireland?  Well, I assure you, I thought the same thing.  However, there is a history of devastating storms in Ireland, recently Hurricane Charley in 1986 and Hurricane Debbie in 1961. My ancestors would probably have weathered similar storms in more ancient times as well. I didn’t exactly intend to share this experience with my ancestors, but one way or another, it will be an adventure. The difference being, of course, that they didn’t have an early warning system.

Ophelia is anticipated to make landfall in Ireland on Monday, October 16th.  So, either Ireland will be a mess next week and I’ll have an unexpected adventure…or…my descendants won’t even be able to find mention of Ophelia in historical documents.  There’s just no telling what the future will bring, nor what we can find looking backwards at historical events.

It’s ironic with the proliferation of selfies and easy photos today that I have no photo, at all, of one ancestor who was alive in 1917.

The Grasshopper Theory

It’s worth stating the obvious, that on any given day, every single line of your ancestors had someone alive, because if there was a break in that line, you wouldn’t be here today, and all of the circumstances that occurred in that lifetime to connect your ancestors together wouldn’t have happened.

I think this is the genealogist’s version of the butterfly wing theory where a small change to one thing changes everything.

We’ll call this the grasshopper theory, in honor of what Facebook showed me today for “on this day.” I had a good laugh. The good news about Facebook is that the combination of easy access to cameras in phones today combined with social media, the routine and un-exceptional has become the norm. Nobody takes only “good” pictures anymore, only on special occasions. We take picture everyday, of the everyday occurrences in our lives.  As genealogists, these are the tidbits we long for about our ancestors lives, but are, of course, maddeningly elusive.

I guess the good news and the bad news is that no one in our ancestor’s time recorded anything as mundane as grasshoppers on a mum creating grasshopper descendants.

No one was taking pictures of our ancestor’s cat on quilt pieces, or their flowers, or even them. Oh, how I wish they had, because I’d love to have a direct bird’s eye view into what they loved, what their garden looked like, or even their cat or dog.

I would love to walk in my great-grandmother’s flower garden, or see the quilt she was working on.

I want to know about their everyday existence, in addition to defining moments like birth, marriage and death. I want to know about that elusive dash in-between, in as close to the first person as possible.

Will Facebook be the goldmine of genealogists a hundred or two hundred years from now?

However, since I can’t do any of those things, let’s see what I can do about doing an ancestral version of “On This Day.”

I selected 100 years ago on October 20th, about a month into the future from when I’m doing the actual researching. It just so happens that I’ll be doing something quite interesting myself on that day, speaking at Genetic Genealogy Ireland, in Dublin, not far from where some of my ancestors lived. I find that prospect quite exciting, so let’s see what my ancestors were doing on that day, October 20, 1917, 100 years ago.

Step 1 – Who Was Alive

The first step is to determine which of my ancestors were alive in 1917. There shouldn’t be too many, as it’s really not that terribly long ago.

A quick look at your pedigree chart in your genealogy software should help a lot.

My father was a couple decades older than my mother, so while my mother wasn’t born yet, my father was about 14, or 15, or maybe 16. His birth year was uncertain and somewhat pliable since he bent it to whatever he needed it to be at the moment.

His parents and all 4 of his grandparents were living on October 20, 1917. That’s a total of 7 of my ancestors on just my father’s side that were alive at one time. More than I expected.

On my mother’s side, she was just a twinkle in my grandpa’s eye. Her parents were obviously alive, and 3 of her 4 grandparents, plus one of her great-grandparents. That’s 6 on my mom’s side.

So, one by one, let’s see what we know about them and what they were doing on October 20, 1917.

Step 2 – World Events

What was going on in the world on October 20, 1917? How might these things be influencing the lives of my ancestors where they were living?

Let’s turn to newspapers.com and take a look.

America was at War, WWI, the war to end all wars, which didn’t, of course. That Saturday morning the headlines across the nation carried bad news.

Those ancestors who were in a location where newspapers were available assuredly knew about this. Radio broadcasting didn’t begin until after the war, in 1920, so otherwise, word would have traveled slowly.

In 1917, most homes didn’t have electricity. It wasn’t until 1925 that half the homes in the US had electricity, and those would have been in metropolitan areas. My ancestors, except one, all lived rurally.

My mother remembered her home without electricity when she was a child in Northern Indiana in the 1920s, but the nearby train depot had electricity in order to transmit morse code signals.

My ancestors in Appalachia wouldn’t have electricity until the 1950s, but even then few had phones – less than 25% in general and where my ancestors lived, a LOT less than 25%.

While people in big cities might have heard news on the day it happened, or within a day or two, people who lived more remotely probably only heard the really big stories, and then not until days after they happened. That’s almost incomprehensible today.

So while the Russian Revolution took place overseas, few in the US probably heard about it, and no one in Appalachia knew or cared.

Nor did they know or care that 10 Suffragettes picketed the white house in August in order to pressure President Woodrow Wilson to enable women to vote. Attacked by mobs, while police refused to intervene, the women were jailed. My ancestors, if they knew about this at all, probably viewed those women as rabble-rousers deserving of what they got when they petitioned for political prisoner status in October and were confined to solitary. Those brave women endured both torture and terror. It would be three long years before the battle for women’s right to vote was won, an event that would affect all women, everyplace in the US, but that three of my ancestors living in 1917 wouldn’t live to see.

As reported on October 20, 1917 by Washington (DC) Post.

But my ancestor who I would have thought the LEAST likely to take a stand…did!

Step 3 – On This Day

On this day, in 2017, I’ll be speaking in Ireland about genetic genealogy which helped me locate my McDowell line.  A couple days later, I’ll also be visiting the location where people who match my ancestor on paternal DNA lived a hundred years or so after my ancestor left for America.  A tiny crossroads area northwest of Dublin.  Not too many people moved TO that area, so it’s likely my ancestor lived there too.

On this day, October 20, 1917, as best I can determine, this is what my ancestors alive at that time were doing. I’ve tried to locate a photo for each person as well, as close to that time as I can find.

My Father

Name: William Sterling Estes

Birth Date: October 1, 1901, or 1902, or 1903, take your pick. He did, and added several more years too, as they suited him.

Age: 14, 15, or 16

Occupation: Army, private – he “fudged” his age to enlist and serve his country.

Location: On August 24, 1917, my father was transferred from Fort Benjamin Harrison near Indianapolis, Indiana to Camp Custer at Battle Creek, Michigan.

Camp Custer was built in 1917, so this was a brand spanking new facility and where he would serve most of his Army career.

Love Life: My father was probably dating a young gal, Virgie Houtz, whom he would marry, decades later. Virgie lived in Dunkirk, Indiana. I suspect that after he left Fort Benjamin Harrison in central Indiana for Michigan that their romance cooled with distance. They both married others until he found her again and they married, in 1961, 43 years later.

Living Children: None yet, that I know of anyway

Deceased Children: None

Did you know this person? Yes, much later of course. He died when I was a child. this is the only photo I have of us together.

Local Events:

Neither Battle Creek nor Kalamazoo’s newspapers are online yet, but the Lansing State Journal headline for October 20th is shown below. Lansing is relatively close to Battle Creek.

Liberty Bonds are how the war was financed and subscribing to the bonds became a symbol of patriotic duty. On October 1, 1917 Second Liberty Loan offered $3.8 billion in bonds at 3% interest, redeemable after 10 years. R. E. Olds was synonymous with Oldsmobile.

Camp Custer was mentioned in the Wakefield (Michigan) News:

The Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press carried Camp Custer Notes too.

It appears that a contest was taking place among the soldiers for who could buy the most Liberty bonds to support the war.

Oh, and two days later, on Monday and Tuesday, a dedication ceremony for Camp Custer was to take place, so you know that my Dad was getting his dress uniform spiffed up for what was certainly a dressy affair with lots of dignitaries in attendance.

What Was Affecting His Life?

Newspapers are so interesting. We discover sewer plants under construction at Camp Custer and that soldiers are not supposed to visit Jackson, because there are, gasp, saloons there. And oh, umbrellas were not used at Camp Custer, considered too un-military. A war bond contest was underway, and Camp Custer was to be dedicated in just two days – so everyone was busy putting everything in perfect order.

As a young man, much younger than his official enlisted age, at some level he had to be somewhat frightened. Not only was he only 14 or 15, he had been abandoned by his parents and was now in jeopardy of being a child sent to fight in a man’s war. The only saving grace may have been that his brother Joe enlisted too, but it’s unknown if they were stationed in the same location.

Y Line Haplogroup – R-BY490, obtained through his first cousin. This tells us that my father’s direct paternal ancestors were European and probably Celtic.

mtDNA Haplogroup – H, obtained when only the HVR1 level was offered. I hope that someone from his matrilineal line tests eventually. This tells us that his ancestor was European, but we need a further test to learn more.

My Father’s Father’s

Name: William George Estes

Birth Date: March 30, 1873

Age: 44

Occupation: Farmer, maybe bootlegger

Location: Claiborne County, Tennessee

Living Children: 5

Deceased Children: 6

Did you know this person? No, I never met him although he lived until I was in my teens.

Local Events:

The Claiborne Progress Newspaper was publishing in 1917, but those editions, if they exist, are not yet available. However, a scrapbook was found years ago having been contributed to the local library. I scanned the articles, mostly undated, and subsequently transcribed them, finding many interesting tidbits.

Electricity was not yet available in this part of the country. Travel was still by horse and something, usually a horse and wagon. Automobiles began to be mass produced in 1908. Some people did have cars. The newspaper in 1914 told us that cars traversed the Knoxville Pike, but I doubt that many in Claiborne County owned vehicles, and certainly not poor farmers.

In 1917, Tazewell had recently built a new train depot, and in doing so, several men stepped on nails, one of them subsequently passing away, probably from lockjaw or blood poisoning. Antibiotics and vaccines were still in the future.

What Was Affecting His Life?

William George, known as Will, having moved to Indiana sometime after the 1910 census as a tenant farmer had moved back to Claiborne County, Tennessee by 1917 and was establishing a life with a second wife, the cousin of his first wife with whom his first wife had caught him cheating. Yes, this is the stuff of soap operas.

In October 1917, Joice or Joicy Hatfield Estes was pregnant with her first child who would be born in March of 1918. So, in October of 1917, William George had a 24 year old wife, 20 years his junior, who was 4 months pregnant. He was probably pretty proud of himself.

His oldest son, Estel, had been married for 3 years, and William George had a 2 year, 4 month old grandson who would be older than Will’s new daughter that would be born the following March.

William George’s two other sons, William Sterling and Joseph “Dode” were enlisted in the Army to fight WWI. His eldest daughter, Margaret was 11 and living in Chicago with Ollie, his x-wife and his youngest daughter, Minnie, age 9, may have been living with a doctor in Rose Hill, Virginia, as a “servant” to care for the doctor’s ailing wife. I’m guessing that William George’s x-wife and daughters were mad as wet hens, at him, but I’m also guessing that William George didn’t much care. He had moved on.

Y Line Haplogroup – R-BY490, tells us that he connects with the other Estes men from Kent, England.

mtDNA Haplogroup – J1c2c, obtained through his sister’s grandson tells us that his mother was European, not Native American as had been rumored. The matches indicate that her ancestors were probably from the British Isles.

My Father’s Mother

Name: Ollie Bolton

Ollie, at left, with her daughter, Margaret in 1918 in Franklin Park, Illinois.  There was some discussion about whether this photo was actually Ollie or her mother, but since Margaret originally identified the photo, it makes sense that it’s Ollie.  However, I have never been entirely convinced.

The nose seems to be shaped entirely differently from other photos of Ollie.

Birth Date: May 5, 1874

Death Date: 43

Occupation: Divorced, unknown

Location: Probably Franklin Park, Illinois

Living Children: 5

Deceased Children: 6

Did you know this person? No, she died 5 months before I was born. My mother cared for her when she was pregnant for me. So, indirectly, I was at her funeral.

Local Events:

Ollie had to have been thinking about her two sons who had enlisted in the military. The war was escalating. Would either or both of them see active duty? Would they survive?

What Was Affecting Her Life?

We know so little about Ollie after she left Indiana. What we do know is gathered in snippets and pieces.

I don’t have any idea how she supported herself and the girls, or at least Margaret. Minnie says she was sent to live with a doctor and his wife in Rose Hill, Virginia to help him take care of his invalid wife. Margaret lived with her mother in Chicago.

We have a photo of Margaret and her mother labeled Franklin Park, Illinois and dated 1918. I wish I had thought to ask Margaret what kind of work her mother did, and when, exactly, they had moved to Chicago.

There are also reports of a child named Elsie or Elsia, born with downs syndrome and who subsequently passed away. I can find no record of Elsia’s birth or death, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t exist. If Elsia did exist, she would have been the last child born in Indiana before Ollie and Bill split, or, maybe Elsia arrived after the split. Regardless, based on what Aunt Margaret said, Elsia died in Chicago. Ollie would have been dealing with supporting herself and at least Margaret, if not Margaret and Elsia, in Chicago, alone, with no husband. A very tall order for a woman with very little education in that time and place.

Ollie’s family, including her oldest son and 2 year old grandchild lived in Claiborne County, Tennessee.

Did Ollie know that her brother, Samuel Bolton, had enlisted in the service too, just the month before? Was she able to see him one last time before he left for Europe? I hope so, because unless they shipped his body home for burial in 1918, she would never see him again.

mtDNA Haplogroup – Unfortunately, we only have Ollie’s base haplogroup, H. I would love to test someone who descends through all women from Ollie’s sisters or direct line of female ancestors in order to obtain additional information. Half of the women in Europe belonged to haplogroup H, so additional information would be very beneficial by providing hints as to where her ancestors were from.

My Father’s Paternal Grandfather

Name: Lazarus Estes

Birth Date: May 1848

Age: 69

Occupation: Farmer, huckster (peddler)

Location: Estes Holler, Claiborne County, Tennessee

The house had been near the two small trees in the foreground.

Living Children: 4

Deceased Children: 6

Did you know this person? No, he died almost 40 years before I was born.

Local Events:

The war was preying on everyone’s minds.

What Was Affecting Their Lives?

Lazarus was aging and probably ill. I believe he carved his own headstone before his death, at least his name. It matches the other headstones that he carved for his children and grandchildren. Lazarus would pass away the following summer, just three months before his wife.

Lazarus lived at the end of Estes Holler, the patriarch, who cared for his aged mother, buried her, carved her stone and many thereafter. When his son, William George Estes’s cabin burned and their son along with it, it was Lazarus who buried the child. It was also Lazarus who took in his two grandsons, William Sterling and Joe Dode when they jumped freight trains back to Tennessee to find their grandparents when their parents were divorcing in Indiana. The family story says that neither parent wanted the boys and they arrived in Tennessee filthy and very hungry.

It was Lazarus who “ran William George out of Estes Holler for doing Ollie wrong” when he returned with his new young wife, his x-wife’s cousin, after abandoning the boys.

In 1920, William George was living in Claiborne County, but not in Estes Holler from the looks of the census. According to the family story, Lazarus told William George he would kill him if he came back, after abandoning his two sons – those boys just 10 and 12 who hopped a freight train to find their way home to their grandfather. Lazarus seemed to be a good man, always taking care of others.

In October of 1917, Lazarus was probably wondering what to do about his land when he died. His own mortality had to be weighing heavy on his mind. He would have been watching his ailing wife and knew that some of his children weren’t as stable and trustworthy as others. Sometime over the winter, Lazarus decided to deed his land to his daughter and neighbor, Cornie Epperson and her husband, but with instructions to pay the rest of his heirs cash.

Lazarus had a cow and a horse, because he reserved the right to pasture them on half an acre until his death.

On October 20th, Lazarus might have been watching the leaves change color and wondering if he would see them again. He woundn’t. Perhaps he walked to little graveyard behind his house or the one down the road behind the church to visit with the rest of his family who he would see again soon.

Y Line Haplogroup – R-BY490, obtained through his grandson not yet born at that time. The Big Y test that provided this haplogroup provided evidence that it’s unlikely that the Estes family descended from the d’Este family of Italy.

mtDNA Haplogroup – We don’t yet have Lazarus’s mtDNA haplogroup that he would have inherited from his mother’s direct matrilineal line. I have a scholarship for the first person descended from the following women through all females to the current generation, which can be male:

  • Lazarus’ mother, Rutha Dodson married John Y. Estes
  • Her mother, Elizabeth Campbell married Lazarus Dodson
  • Her mother, Jane “Jenny” Dobkins (born c 1780-1850/60) married John Campbell
  • Her mother, Dorcas Johnson (born c 1748-1831) married Jacob Dobkins (1751-1833)
  • Her mother Mary “Polly” Phillips (born c 1739) married Peter Johnson (born c 1715-1790)

 My Father’s Paternal Grandmother

Name: Elizabeth Vannoy, pictured above, with Lazarus

Birth Date: June 23, 1847

Age: 70

Occupation: Farm wife

Location: Estes Holler, Claiborne County, Tennessee

Lazarus’ and Elizabeth’s land.

Living Children: 4

Deceased Children: 6

Did you know this person? No, she died almost 40 years before I was born.

What Was Affecting Her Life?

Elizabeth and Lazarus were both aging. Both had lived through the Civil War and now the country was embroiled in yet another war. Both were assuredly worried about what would follow, if we would see war on our own soil, and how that would affect their children and grandchildren.

Elizabeth probably seldom saw her 5 grandchildren by her daughter Martha who died in 1911. Their father remarried and moved to Union County, TN.

Her son, William George Estes seemed to be the “wild child” of the bunch. He had moved to Arkansas and back. His cabin burned just a few yards from Elizabeth’s house, killing their young son in 1907. Sometime after the 1910 census, William George and family would move to Indiana, where his wife divorced him. From there, he moved back to Tennessee again, but his children from his first marriage dispersed to the winds. Two of those children were serving in WWI.

Only one of Elizabeth’s grandchildren through William George lived in Claiborne County. I hope that Estel visited Lazarus and Elizabeth and shared the joy of their baby boy, born in 1915.

Elizabeth’s daughter, Cornie lived right across the road and Elizabeth would have been close to Cornie’s 9 children. Cornie’s last child was born on June 4th, so Elizabeth would have been helping Cornie with the new baby.

Son Columbus, or “Lum,” had 4 children, but one of them died at birth in 1914 and was buried down the road by the church in the family area of the Pleasant View Cemetery. HIs daughter Mollie had just been born on August 9th.

Son Charlie and his wife had moved up to Hancock County, near the county line with Lee County. They had 4 children, with the most recent addition being added on June 8th. However, Elizabeth was probably quite worried about this baby, who wasn’t doing well. Three days after Christmas in 1917, that baby would be buried too.

A year and 5 days later, after Elizabeth buried Lazarus in July of 1918, she would join him.

mtDNA Haplogroup – J1c2c, obtained from her great-grandchild through Cornie, tells us that she was European. Her mother has been rumored to have been Cherokee Indian. Her mitochondrial DNA proves that at least her direct matrilineal line was not Native.

My Father’s Maternal Grandfather

Name: Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton

Joseph, pictured at left about 1913 or 1914 with son Dudley and granddaughter Elizabeth.

Birth Date: September 18, 1853

Age: 64

Occupation: Farmer

Location: Sedalia, Hancock County, Tennessee

Living Children: 9 or 10

Deceased Children: 2

Did you know this person? No, he died in 1920.

What Was Affecting His Life?

Joseph’s son, Samuel Bolton had just enlisted in the military to serve his county in WWI. Recruiting had been heavy in East Tennessee, appealing to the patriotism that runs deep in this part of the county. I don’t know if Dode, as he was called, tried to talk his son out of joining, but it didn’t matter, Sammy joined and by October 20th, would have been receiving training in Camp Sevier, SC. Sammy might have thought that was fun, and maybe Dode wasn’t terribly worried yet, but that time would come.

Sammy shipped out for Europe on a transport vessel in May 1918 and was killed in France on October 8, 1918.

Joseph’s son Estel Vernon Bolton, born in 1890, was serving as well. After the war, he would come home and live with his parents to help his aging parents.

Samuel and Estel were the youngest living children. The true baby, Henry, had already died.

Joseph’s daughter Ollie wasn’t doing terribly well either. She had married William George Estes, getting divorced in Indiana about 1915 and then moving to Chicago. Her two sons were in the military too. That’s 4 serving in the military for Dode to worry about.

Daughter Mary Lee who married Tip Sumpter had moved to Illinois and daughter Ida had moved to Kentucky, but that wasn’t terribly far.

Dalsey lived up the road in Jonesville, just across the border into Virginia, but son Charles had moved to Arkansas.

Joseph probably sorely missed the help from both Samuel and Estel on the farm. He had lost both of his helpers as they went to answer their patriotic calling. Only one would return.

Y Line Haplogroup – R-FGC62079, provided by Joseph’s brother’s great-great-grandson tells us that he descends from the very large haplogroup R in Europe. His deep ancestry as revealed by the Big Y test suggests that Joseph’s ancestors were from the British Isles and probably from western Europe before that.

mtDNA Haplogroup – Joseph would have received his mitochondrial DNA from his mother. Mother’s give their mtDNA to all of their children, but only women pass it on. I will provide a DNA testing scholarship for the first person who descends from the following women through all females to the current generation, which can be male.

Note: It’s the McDowell line that I’ve gone to Ireland to visit, right after my presentation in Dublin. Mary McDowell was the daughter of Michael McDowell, the son of Michael McDowell, the son of Murtough McDowell, who immigrated from Ireland and was living in Baltimore, Maryland by 1720. The Y DNA of Michael McDowell’s descendant matches that of the McDowell line from Northern Ireland, where I’ll be visiting in a few days.

My Father’s Maternal Grandmother

Name: Margaret Claxton

Surely a photo exists someplace of Margaret Claxton or Clarkson, given that she didn’t pass away until March 11, 1920. If someone has a photo of Margaret, I would surely appreciate a copy.

Birth Date: July 28, 1851

Age: 66

Occupation: Farmer’s wife

Location: Sedalia, Hancock County, Tennessee

Living Children: 9 or 10

Deceased Children: 2

Did you know this person? No, she died in 1920.

What Was Affecting Her Life?

You’d think with 9 or 10 living children that Margaret would have had a lot of grandchildren in and out of the house. Of Her children, Ollie was living in Chicago and Mary Lee was in Illinois too. Charles was in Arkansas. Elizabeth was in Ohio with her 9 children. Samuel and Estel were both unmarried and in the military.

That only left Dudley living in Hancock County, with 4 children. Dalsey lived in Lee County, Virginia, not terribly far with 6 children at that time, the newest child being born on December 16, 1916. Margaret probably enjoyed this new grandchild. I hope she got to see her grandchildren often.

Ida lived over the border in Kentucky, so Margaret probably didn’t get to see her often. Ida had no children, which may have been a heartache for both women.

Ollie’s son, Estel had married and lived in Claiborne County. He had a child that was just over 2 years old who I believe was Margaret’s first great-grandchild. Hopefully Margaret got to see this child from time to time as well.

Margaret surely worried about her two sons serving in uniform, and with good reason. Samuel may have gotten to visit while on leave the following May before shipping out for overseas, but after that, she would never seem him again on this side of death.

mtDNA Haplogroup – Margaret’s haplogroup is H, but we were unable to get a more refined answer. We need another person to test. Anyone who descends through any of Margaret’s daughters through all females to the current generation, which can be male, carries her mtDNA and is eligible to test. I have a DNA testing scholarship for anyone who descends from her daughters as described above, or from any of the women below through all females as well.

My Mother’s Father

Name: John Whitney Ferverda

Birth Date: December 26, 1882

Age: 34, 35 in December

Occupation: Retail hardware store owner and implement merchant, according to his WWI draft registration

Location: Silver Lake, Kosciusko County, Indiana, beside the train depot.

The house, above, today where my mother was raised.  It’s behind my mother, in the photo below.

The hardware store, pictured below with John Ferverda in front, was a couple blocks from the house, near the crossroads in the center of town.

Living Children: 1

Deceased Children: 0

Did you know this person? Yes, he died in 1960. I remember him eating peanuts and sitting in his chair.

Local Events:

The newspaper in Fort Wayne reported that the first hard blow of the war had been incurred. The President appointed a day or prayer.

While my ancestors in Tennessee probably knew nothing about this, the people a few miles west of Fort Wayne surely did.

John Ferverda would assuredly have known, and probably before the newspapers arrived. John had been the railroad station master and sent and received Morse Code messages. John’s brother still worked for the railroad, living across the street from both John and the depot. John and Roscoe were probably the first people in Silver Lake, or Kosciusko County, to know of breaking news. Want to be in the know? Be friends with John Ferverda.

What Was Affecting His Life?

On January 8, 1916 the newspaper in Rushville, Indiana had the following tidbit.

J. W. Ferverda, Big Four agent at Silver Lake and well known here has purchased a hardware store there in partnership with R. M. Frye. He has resigned his position with the railroad company. Mr. Ferverda married Miss Edith Lore of this city.

This is the only way that we knew when John bought the hardware store. Sadly, John would lose the store in 1922, selling out. He was too kind-hearted and granted too much credit that could never be repaid.

But in 1917, John would have been excited to build his new business.

In May, John’s youngest brother had graduated in the first commencement from Leesburg High School. Three of John’s brothers were serving in the military, very unusual for a Brethren family.

Y Line Haplogroup – John’s Y DNA haplogroup is I-Y210, European, consistent with John’s paternal lineage from the Netherlands.

mtDNA Haplogroup – We don’t have a sample of the mitochondrial DNA of John’s mother, Evaline Louise Miller. I have a DNA testing scholarship for the first person descended from any of the following women through all females to the current generation, which can be male.

  • John’s mother, Evaline Louise Miller married Hiram Ferverda
  • Her mother, Margaret Elizabeth Lentz married John David Miller
  • Her mother, Fredericka Reuhle married Jacob Lentz
  • Dorothea Katharina Wolflin born 1755 in Beutelsbach, Wuertemberg, Germany, married Johann Adam Reuhle born 1764 same location.
  • Dorothea Heuback born 1729 in Endersbach, Wuertemberg, Germany and married Johann Ludwig Wolfin born 1732 in Asperg, Wuertemberg, Germany and died in 1805 in Beutelsbach, Wuertemberg, Germany

My Mother’s Mother

Name: Edith Barbara Lore

Edith with her husband, John Ferverda, probably about 1918.

Birth Date: August 2, 1888

Age: 29

Occupation: Not working outside the home, mother

Location: Silver Lake, Kosciusko County, Indiana

Living Children: 1

Deceased Children: 0

Did you know this person? Yes, I remember her dress, apron and black ankle high shoes as she rushed to hug me when we arrived. That’s me on her lap.

Local Events:

In October 1917, Edith’s only child, a son, was just a month shy of 2 years old. Edith had visited her mother in August who had recently moved from Rushville, Indiana to Wabash. Edith’s father had died in 1909 and her mother had remarried in 1916. Edith had a new step-father who wasn’t terribly well liked, by anyone.

What Was Affecting Her Life?

Edith’s grandfather, Jacob Kirsch, had passed away in May in Aurora. Her family was in flux. Her husband’s brothers were serving in the military, and while her husband, John, wasn’t, she was still the out of favor “non-Brethren” wife who was responsible for him marrying outside the faith.

The war brought rationing. In the Fort Wayne newspaper on this day, an article reveals that “a sugar famine is now upon the country and that the moment of America’s first self-denial has arrived.”

mtDNA Haplogroup – J1c2f, confirming a European origin of Edith’s German matrilineal line.

My Mother’s Paternal Grandfather

Name: Hiram Bauke Ferverda

Hiram, pictured above with all of his children. His wife, Evaline Louise Miller beside him, and John Ferverda second from right, last row. This photo was taken during WWI at the old home place near Leesburg, Kosciusko County. In the window behind the group is the banner, partially obscured, indicating that the family had 3 sons serving.

Birth Date: September 21, 1854

Age: 63

Occupation: Banker, farmer and street inspector

Location: Leesburg, Kosciusko County, Indiana

Living Children: 11

Deceased Children: 0, which is pretty amazing

Did you know this person? No, he died 30 years before I was born.

Local Events:

Witten in 1919 in the “History of Kosciusko County:”

The family are members of the Church of the Brethren and Mr. Ferverda is a republican. He was at one time captain of the local Horse Thief Detective Association, and in now an inspector of the streets of Leesburg.

Well, ahem. The Horse Thief Detective Association was a local detective and law enforcement group of vigilantes formed about 1840. During this time in Indiana, near Wingate, horse stealing had become so rampant that folks had to completely give up the idea of farming. Arrests were nigh on nonexistant, so the men banded together to not only discover who was stealing the horses, but to apprehend them and put an end to it. They did, becoming relatively well respected, and also becoming investigators, police officers, judge, jury and executioner all in one – sometimes all in the same night or raid. Later in the early 1900s, they became heavily associated with the KKK and in the early 1920s, this group met its demise with the downfall of one of their leaders who was convicted of the murder of a woman. They primarily operated throughout Indiana, but also to some extent in surrounding states.

This is something I could have spent my entire life not knowing. So, how, I wonder did Hiram reconcile the Horse Thief Detective Association with his Brethren belief of non-violence? Let’s hope that “at one time” means that he was no longer associated with this group.

What Was Affecting His Life?

The war had to be weighing heavy on Hiram’s mind, as three of his sons were serving. All three came home.

It’s surprising that the Brethren church did not discharge Hiram given that his sons served in the military and Hiram clearly had to have taken an oath to be a public official, along with other highly un-Brethren activities.

Y Line Haplogroup – I-Y2170 – a haplogroup discovered during Big Y testing. This confirmed the Ferverda is European, and his closest matches are from Germany and Russia with Big Y matches also from Scandinavia. The Ferverda DNA and ancestors have been in that region for a very long time.

mtDNA Haplogroup – Hiram’s mother died in Holland, and her mtDNA line has not yet been tested. I have a DNA testing scholarship for the first person to step forward who descends from the following women through all females to the current generation, which can be male:

  • Hiram’s mother, Geertje Jarmens de Jong born March 22, 1829 in Baard, the Netherlands, died October 3, 1860 in Terjerksteradeel, the Netherlands, married Bauke Hendrick Ferverda (Ferwerda) on May 14, 1853 in Baarderadeel, the Netherlands.
  • Her mother, Angenietje Wijtses Houtsma born August 12, 1802 in Leeuwarderadeel, the Netherlands, died after July 17, 1866 and married on May 22, 1824 in Baarderadeel, the Netherlands to Harmen Gerrits de Jong.
  • Her mother Lolkjen Ales Noordhof married Wijzse Douwes Houstma (1783-1825 Boxum, Friesland, the Netherlands.

My Mother’s Paternal Grandmother

Name: Evaline Louise Miller

Birth Date: March 29, 1857

Age: 60

Occupation: farm wife

Location: Leesburg, Kosciusko County, Indiana

Living Children: 11

Deceased Children: 0

Did you know this person? No, but she cared for my mother when she was sick as a child.

Local Events:

The war. How could she not think of the war everyday with 3 sons serving?

What Was Affecting Her Life?

The decisions affecting Brethren families had to have been tearing at the fabric of both family and churches.

This 7 page undated letter or article, written by Eva, with page 6 missing, tells us so much about how she thought. I suspect this was written about this time because of the refences to women’s education, rights and the focus on temperance which resulted in Prohibition beginning in 1919. Temperance is the issue that made the Brethren, as a whole, decide they needed to participate in government by voting, beginning in about 1912. Prior to that, the Brethren refused to participate in any form of government unless it was required for them to fulfill the Brethren mission in the world, which included voting and holding office.

Some Things Our Women Are Doing

Women in the olden times were in the main appendages of men. They were servants in some capacity and were not supposed to need any special intellectual training.

The women of olden times were not educated in the school as they are now. But now in our time, her real worth is more properly estimated and her education is held of equal importance with man. Education is power, and when rightly used, sharpens the mind, it kindles ambition and awakens self respict (sic). The intelligence of women is rapidly increasing. Women are graduating from our colleges, with equal honors with men. This enlarged intelligence of women should vastly increase the intelligence of our homes. Ignorance in the home never will promote its welfare. Ignorance in the mother is never any benefit to her children. Ignorance never made a womans work of any better quality. Ignorance in the women of a neighborhood never promoted the better interests of the neighborhood, the church, or Aid So. (Aid society). It does promote gossip, scandal, backbiting, jealousy, folly, coarseness, low life. Ignorance is on a level with these things and is the mother of them all. But woman’s day has come and with renewed womanhood, and Christian intelligence, are forefeared to do a good work wherever their lot shall be, in the home, the church, the S.S. or Aid.

We have noted women of old history who had great influence in private and public life, Miriam, sister of Moses aiding much in the deliverance of her people. Deborah who ruled and judged Israel. Hannah noted for her trust in the Lord, being the mother of Samuel.

In the time of Christ and the apostles, there were many noted women, zealous in their devotion to the new religion. The religion which opened new encouragements and hopes to women. The religion which placed women on and equivalent to men such as Paul in Romans 16th speaks of some good women in his day. He commends Phebe our sister who is a servant of the church. Also Priscilla wife of Aquila and Tryphena wife of Tryfanosa who labored much in the church. We have the Marys of Dorcar and we might name many more noted women.

Women can do great things. Think once of the crusaders, some women of our time. That awakening of moral conviction and spiritual power such as perhaps has both been known since the early days of Christianity. They came on bended knee and tearful eyes and prayed for all the guilty offenders, that they might repent and be forgiven. They lifted the cause to the throne of God and hold it there still. They made it his cause. They joined in with his church. This took the cause of temperance up to the summit level of practical Christian life, and made it what it all along should have been a high, holy, divine cause. All this some of our good Christian women have done and through their efforts we shall soon have worldwide temperance. What other women have done we can do and our women of today are doing things.

Our Sister Aid Society is doing great work. We have about 16,000 women engaged in the various activities of the Aid Society (page 6 missing).

The Lord gives us health so we can surely give one day every two weeks for this good work and we know we shall be blessed for every good deed we do. It is the little deeds we do which count for so much for a cup of cold water given in his name we shall be blessed. (rest missing)

mtDNA Haplogroup – We don’t have her son’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, which means we don’t have hers either, since her son inherited his mitochondrial DNA from Evaline.  Anyone descended directly from her through all females can test, as well as anyone descended from the following women through all females to the current generation, which can be males.

  • Evaline’s mother, Margaret Elizabeth Lentz married John David Miller
  • Her mother, Fredericka Reuhle married Jacob Lentz
  • Dorothea Katharina Wolflin born 1755 in Beutelsbach, Wuertemberg, Germany, married Johann Adam Reuhle born 1764 same location.
  • Dorothea Heuback born 1729 in Endersbach, Wuertemberg, Germany and married Johann Ludwig Wolfin born 1732 in Asperg, Wuertemberg, Germany and died in 1805 in Beutelsbach, Wuertemberg, Germany

 My Mother’s Maternal Grandmother

Name: Ellenora “Nora” Kirsch

Yep, that’s Nora, with her daughters Eloise, Mildred, then Nora and Edith. Who would ever have guessed!

Birth Date: December 24, 1866

Age: 50, 51 on Christmas Eve

Occupation: Probably Housewife

Location: Wabash, Indiana

Living Children: 3

Deceased Children: 1

Did you know this person? No, but I would have liked to.

Local Events:

Huntington, Indiana wasn’t far from Wabash. The headlines everyplace included the new about the transport ship being torpedoed.

Having lived in Rushville her entire adult life, she may have also subscribed to the Rushville paper, if they had a service allowing the paper to be mailed distantly.

Nora must have worried because her family in Aurora still spoke German.

What Was Affecting Her Life?

Nora’s life had changed incredibly in the past few months and years. Her first husband died of tuberculosis in 1909, followed by her daughter of the same disease in 1912. On October 28, 1916, she married Thomas McCormick and moved from Rushville to Wabash, Indiana shortly thereafter. In Rushville, she worked for a department store, then opened her own sewing, clothing construction and alternation business. Moving to Wabash would have changed everything.

Her first wedding anniversary was just a week away. Was she preparing a celebration? Was she already having regrets and second thoughts. She stayed with McCormick for years, never officially divorcing. He eventually left and she was much happier.

My mother remembers visiting Nora in Wabash where she always had a quilt frame hung with pully’s from the ceiling, so it could be raised and lowered.

I don’t know which quilt she was working on that that time, but I can assure you that she was working on some quilt. Quilters quilt for beauty, quilters quilt for hope, quilters quilt to help and quilters quilt when they need to work through something or don’t know what else to do.

We know for sure that she quilted from the 1880s through the 1930s. Her quilts, below, are hung at left and right, and my mother’s afghan inspired by Nora’s quilts is displayed in the center.

We also know that Nora gardened, from this photo from about the same time. I wonder if her gardens inspired the Climbing Vine and the Picket Fence quilts, above.

mtDNA Haplogroup – Nora’s haplogroup, J1c2f, the same one I carry today. Known as Jasmine, tracking haplogroup J has provided insight into ancestors that we can never reach through traditional genealogy.

My Mother’s Maternal Great-Grandmother

Name: Barbara Drechsel

My great-grandmother, Nora Kirsch, at left, her sister Mildred holding her first child born in 1922, then my great-great-grandmother Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, at right. A beautiful 4 generation photo. It’s amazing how happy Barbara looks considering the amount of tragedy she had endured in the past decade or so.

Birth Date: October 8, 1848

Age: 69

Occupation: Innkeeper, Proprietor

Location: Aurora, Dearborn County, Indiana

Kirsch house to the right, the depot at left, above. This probably looks much the way it did when Barbara lived there.

The bar that was in the building in the 1980s when Mom, my daughter and I visited was the original.

Living Children: 6

Deceased Children: 0

Did you know this person? No, but she was amazing. I like to think I have her spunk and gumption.

Local Events:

Floods, always floods. Aurora, Indiana sat on the bend of the Ohio River and flooded regularly. In the winter of 1917/1918, the Ohio flooded dramatically, causing ice dams to break which flooded Aurora. According to the newspaper, the properties looked like “scrambled eggs.” In the basement of the Kirsch House, you could still see the stains from the flood waters, decades later.

While the Kirsch House sat relatively high, on the North side of town, several blocks from the river, they were still badly flooded at least every few years. The train tracks were on even higher ground.

What Was Affecting Her Life?

I don’t know if Barbara was grief-stricken or relieved, or maybe some of each. Her husband, Jacob Kirsch, had died of cancer of the stomach on July 23rd. She had been taking care of a terminally ill husband for months, as well as running the Kirsch House, a combination hotel, pub and restaurant.

Barbara’s daughter, Carrie was ill with syphilis that would claim her life a few years later. Carrie had contracted that then-fatal disease from her wealth river-boat gambler husband who had already died a decade earlier.

Barbara’s daughter, Lou, worked with her mother after Lou’s husband had committed suicide in the garden behind the Kirsch House on Halloween night 1910. Barbara probably depended on Lou to help with the Kirsch House and with caring for Jacob when he was ill as well.

Barbara’s daughter Ida was in her 20s and hadn’t yet married. Ida also worked at the Kirsch House with her mother. After Ida and Lou both married in 1920 and 1921, Barbara would sell the Kirsch House and live with her daughter, Nora.

Nora had buried a husband and daughter in the past few years, had built her own retail and service business and then remarried in late 1916 to a man that was not liked by the family. Nora moved further away, to Wabash, Indiana. Barbara was very close to Nora’s daughters, her granddaughters, and they came to stay with Nora at the Kirsch House often.

Barbara’s sons Martin and Edward, in their late 40s, so too old to serve in the military, didn’t live close by, but she probably saw then occasionally since the Kirsch House was beside the depot and southern Indiana was well connected by rail. Her grandson, Edgard Kirsch registered for the draft and claimed an exemption for his father and mother who he claimed were dependents.

The Cincinnati newspaper carried headlines about the war. Barbara was born in Germany and the family spoke German. Certainly Barbara still had family in Germany, and may have written back and forth. She may have had aunts, uncles and first cousins still living.

We do know that the Kirsch family spoke German until this time, when they stopped and spoke only English, so that their loyalty would not be questioned. The war had to be on Barbara’s mind, both from the perspective of an American and also as a person with German relatives.

mtDNA Haplogroup – Barbara’s haplogroup descended to me through her female descendants. As more matches have accrued over the years, the amazing Scandinavian story of this haplogroup, found in Barbara’s mother in Germany about 1800 is emerging.

Your Turn

It’s your turn now to select a day, take your picture, and document what your ancestors were doing on that day?  What day will you select, and why?

Second Act Quilt – 52 Ancestors #169

A second act. Act two. What is it?

Aside from the second act in a play, a more contemporary usage of the phrase is a second career, often undertaken in retirement when one is less constrained by earning a living and putting food on the table each week. Hopefully one feels freer to follow a passion or love, without particular regard for financial reward or gain.

But people aren’t the only “beings” with a potential second act.

The recent hurricane tragedies have been ripe with stories of rescued animals. I’m an unbelievable soft touch for our furry friends and not only do I actively involve myself with animal rescue, and have for decades, I also support several groups, particularly in situations like the recent devastating hurricanes.

Aside from living sentient beings, sometimes inanimate objects such as quilts have a second life too. Although, I have to tell you, making and distributing “care quilts,” I have always felt that a quilt had a special calling to help comfort and cure people. Those of us constructing them are simply hearing that calling and cause those quilts to be born, so to speak. Midwives, in essence – not the story, only assistants in the process.

Sometimes, giving quilts and others a second life or opportunity helps to heal both the recipients and the donor.

In the Beginning…

I grew up quilting with my mother around a quilting frame in the local church basement with the Missionary Circle. Although somehow, in that time and place, the irony of sending quilts to Africa escaped me. I think it was the thought that mattered, at least I hope so.

I also made quilts by hand with the scraps from making my own clothes. I didn’t feel underprivileged at all. I loved the “custom clothes” I could make, generally out of remnants from the sale bin. I also loved using the scraps for things like matching doll clothes made by hand with no pattern. Later, as a teen, I made quilts with those scraps, often taking my quilting bag along when I babysat for after the kids were in bed.

When I was in college, I didn’t have time to either make clothes or quilts, but after I graduated and started a family, a few years later, I returned to quilting. There was something soothing and having moved away, quilting connected me with my roots, both figuratively and literally.

For (at least) hundreds of years, women have made quilts for utilitarian purposes, for warmth, to salvage any possible piece of fabric which was expensive both in terms of labor and cost, and to bestow as gifts on those they loved. Wedding and baby quilts are legendary.

Making a quilt was and still is quite an investment in terms of both money and time. For those who don’t know, quilts cost hundreds of dollars and hours, both. Trust me, it’s a lot easier and much quicker to take half the amount of money a quilter invests in a quilt and purchase a very nice gift card.

If someone makes and gives you a quilt, I guarantee, it’s a gift straight from the heart or they simply would not bother. But not everyone understands, cares or treats quilts as gifts of love.

The Quilt Disrespecter

My former mother-in-law comes to mind.

In the early 1980s, in-between a career, a young family and animal rescue work, I managed to make my former, now-deceased, mother-in-law a quilt, in the colors, fabric and pattern she selected. She asked that it be tied instead of quilted, so I tied it with little knots instead of the more traditional quilting. I enjoyed making the quilt, working alone mostly late at night after everyone else was long asleep, and gave it to her as a family gift for Christmas.

I was the “second wife” in a very conservative, religious family who wasn’t happy about either their son’s divorce or a second wife, and I hoped that the quilt would help thaw the ice a bit.

My mother-in-law put the quilt on the bed immediately, but the next time I saw it, it had a very large prominent stain. I asked her what happened, and when she told me, I was able to help remove the offending substance. The quilt was whole again, none the worse for wear. I was a bit bothered that she hadn’t seemed to care enough about the quilt to ask me about the problem before I noticed and asked her. But I shrugged it off as nothing.

I didn’t see the quilt again, and I wondered about it, but all things considered, was hesitant to ask. I didn’t want to rock the boat and she wasn’t exactly warm and friendly.

Rescuing Sister-in-Law

I wasn’t the only black sheep in the family, and well, us less-than-pristinely-colored-sheep had to hang together.

A few years later, after many slights, such as being “forgotten” at Christmas, even while sitting in the same room as everyone else exchanged and received gifts, I had given up entirely on the idea that I might even be treated as marginally human by my mother-in-law. I attempted to “make nice” as my mother would have said, for the sake of my husband and children.

My in-laws sold their condo and were in the process of moving to a senior facility. My sister-in-law, married to another son, herself a family outcast as well, was helping my in-laws pack and move.

In the garage, she found the quilt tossed in a corner on the floor. She knew I had made that quilt for “Grandma” as we called her, and she picked it up and asked Grandma what the quilt was doing there.

Grandma replied she was either going to throw it away or give it to Goodwill.

My sister in law picked the quilt up, looked at it and stated, “there’s nothing wrong with this quilt,” but my mother-in-law said that it was “old.” It was less than 5 years old, maybe 3 or 4. Hardly old by any measure I can imagine, let alone in quilt-years. Quilts when cared for even marginally last for decades.

My sister-in-law, bless her heart, told my mother-in-law that if someone makes you something and gives you a gift from the heart, the VERY LEAST you could do if you don’t want it anymore is give it back to them. My sister-in-law picked up the quilt, told my mother-in-law that she was giving the quilt back to me and put it in her car.

Hurt Feelings.

I can’t even begin to tell you how hurt my feelings were. Not only was the quilt I had made for my mother-in-law, with the fabrics she selected, so I know she liked them, tossed away like an old rag – by proxy, I had been discarded as well, again.

It was just one more hurtful chapter in a book, but having your gift of love rejected in such a demeaning way was especially degrading.

I folded the quilt up and put it away. It hurt.

Over the years, every now and again, I’d run into the quilt again when cleaning out a closet. I always felt bad, and then I’d find a different place to put it away out of sight. Out of sight never worked for very long, because I’d always find it again a couple years later. DANG!

Fast Forward

In 1993, my life changed catastrophically when my husband, her son, had a massive stoke. She died shortly thereafter. I was dealing with a horrific situation, still raising children, and needless to say, I had absolutely no time for anything except trying to make ends meet for several years.

Nearly another decade later, as I moved prior to remarrying, I found that quilt again. AGAIN! Once again, I felt terrible, for a whole bevy of reasons, and put it away – but it wasn’t going to stay put away forever.

This past summer, I began my own “downsizing” initiative, going through things, giving things away, finishing projects and otherwise taking stock of where I am and where I’m going.

And you’ve guessed it, I found that doggone quilt again.

But things have changed. I can now look back more with pity and sorrow instead of pain. With the cumulative wisdom and distance of another two or three decades, I now realize my mother-in-law’s rejection of me was far less about me than it was about her. I wish I had understood that then.

The quilt was her weapon in a cold war of sorts in which I was an unwitting witness as well as an unwilling participant.  Her own personal ongoing battle in which both me and the quilt were collateral damage.

It was never about me, or the quilt, really. In retrospect, the situation was profoundly sad – but someplace in the past 15 years or so, she lost the ability to hurt me anymore. She had died, leaving an unfortunate legacy, one I certainly wouldn’t want, and I had moved on.

Instead of quickly putting it away, I laid the quilt out on the table this time, took a look and realized it needed some mending. I wondered what I would do with the quilt. I wasn’t going to use it myself, but I wasn’t putting it away again either.

Hurricane Harvey

Then, hurricane Harvey descended on Texas, and in particular, Houston.

I have family and very close friends in Houston, and I prepared a box of “care quilts” to send. I’m sure that they have been put to good use.

That done, a few days later, I returned to my sorting and saw the quilt laying on the table. I realized that the quilt needed a new home, one that would hopefully love it the way it had never been loved, and that correspondingly, hurricane Harvey victims needed assistance. Many had lost everything.

About this time, my friend told me about her cousin and others who had been flooded out of their homes when the reservoir floodgates were opened to relieve pressure on dams. The devastation and tragedy in Houston seemed never-ending.

I told my friend about the quilt and that I would gladly ship it to her if she would find it a good home, someplace where it would be used, loved and appreciated.

Act Two

I opened the quilt and realized that other than a few places where some of the seams had begun to separate, that there was only really one damaged area. One tiny L shaped tear in the fabric, about an inch long.

I cut a “patch” in the shape of a heart and mended the quilt. Somehow, I thought that was appropriate. A broken heart made whole.

I hand repaired a few other locations, reinforced the binding since that too was now 30+ years old, and thought about how much comfort this quilt had been waiting for so long to give someone. Then, I gave the quilt a bath and held my breath that it would survive the washing machine. It did, just fine!

It’s not perfect and it’s not new, but its soft fabric is ready to comfort and warm someone. Maybe it will remind someone of their loving grandmother, or another quilt that comforted them. I hope so.

When I make quilts as gifts, or as “care quilts,” I take their picture when finished, say a prayer for the recipient, and sent them off on a life of their own. These quilts too have a purpose and destiny, just as people do, albeit one that I’ll never know. I give them wings and send them on their journey.

I am blessed and finally healed by being able to send this quilt off on its own healing mission. I was only the technician, although it certainly took long enough for this quilt to find its purpose. I pray that whoever receives the quilt can feel the love that this “pre-loved” quilt has to give, and receives the blessing of the positive thoughts that are sent along with it.

They need it, the quilt needs it, and so did I.

Just like people, and animals, sometimes “pre-loved” is the best.

It’s now known as “The Second Act Quilt.”

Sometimes the second act is far better than the first and just what the doctor ordered!

Bon voyage my friend…

Susannah (maybe) Hart (c1740-before 1805), Marcus Younger’s Mystery Wife, 52 Ancestors #168

Actually, we’re not even positive Susannah is her first name. I should have titled this “Maybe Susannah Maybe Hart,” but then I didn’t want someone to actually think her first name was “Maybe.”  I can just see that showing up in a tree someplace someday:)

Susannah might be her first name, but if so, it’s a lucky accident in a legal document.

In Halifax County, even in the 1800s, forms and standard language were used for various types of repeat transactions – and it was a mistake on a form that named Susannah – years after her death. The one record that surely did exist at one time, Susannah’s marriage documentation, likely burned when the King and Queen County, VA courthouse burned in 1828, 1833 and 1864. What one fire didn’t consume, the others did.

For sake of consistency, and because that’s what she has been called….and because I have nothing else to call her, I’ll continue to refer to her as Susannah.

Susannah married Marcus Younger probably sometime in or before 1759, because their first child and only (surviving) son was born on April 11, 1760, named John. Note that the child was not named for Marcus, the father. Perhaps another son was born and named for Marcus, but didn’t survive.

We don’t know who Marcus’s father was as we believe that Marcus was illegitimate, probably born to a daughter of Alexander Younger, taking her surname. But we aren’t positive. We do know that Marcus’s descendant’s Y DNA through his only son, John, doesn’t match the Younger DNA line that the rest of the Younger males in the family associated with Marcus carry. Based on Y DNA results, we know who Marcus’s father wasn’t, and there weren’t any other known Younger candidates, so the probable conclusion is that Marcus was illegitimate and belonged to one of the daughters of Alexander Younger.

Illegitimacy at that time was a significant social barrier. If Susannah married an illegitimate man, she may have been illegitimate herself. There are a lot of “ifs, ands and buts” in there – but it’s the best we can do with what we have.

Is John Actually Marcus’s Son?

Now, if you’re sitting there scratching your head, saying to yourself, “But if John was Marcus’s only son, and his male descendant Y DNA tested, how do we know that Marcus was illegitimate, based on that DNA test? Couldn’t John have NOT been Marcus’s son, especially since we don’t have a marriage record that predates John’s birth? Couldn’t John have NOT been Marcus’s son, because Susannah, um, somehow got pregnant by someone other than her husband?”

The answer would be yes, that’s certainly possible. It wasn’t terribly uncommon for women at that time to have a child before marriage, either out of wedlock or by a first husband who died, and for the child to take the second husband’s surname.

However, before we go any further, let’s address this question here and now, so we don’t have to ponder this anymore.

Autosomal DNA provides some very compelling information.

I have eleven matches at two different vendors with people who descend from Alexander Younger, believed to be Marcus’s grandfather, through different children. Because several of the matches are at Ancestry, it’s impossible to know if we share common segments, but there are members of the Alexander Younger who match with me and in common with each other.

However, that’s at Ancestry, and even though their trees don’t show other ancestors in common with each other, we can’t really tell if common segments match unless they are also at GedMatch, or at Family Tree DNA, which they aren’t.

It’s unlikely that I would match 11 different people through Alexander Younger’s other children if Marcus wasn’t related to Alexander. And if the break was between Marcus and John, I wouldn’t be related to Marcus or the Younger family he is clearly associated with.

Other Younger descendants whose kits I manage also match descendants of Alexander Younger.

One last piece of evidence is that in Marcus’s will, he left John, as his son, his land, so Marcus certainly appeared to believe John was his son.

It’s extremely unlikely that John was not the child of Marcus, based on DNA matches. I think we can put that possibility to bed.

Susannah and Marcus

Susannah and Marcus were probably married before 1760 in King and Queen County, VA, where the Younger family lived before moving to Halifax County, VA, around 1785. They could also have been married in Essex County, as the Younger land was very close to the border and they had periodic transactions in both counties. King and Queen County is a burned county, and no Younger marriage records exist in Essex County that early.

In 1780, when they were about 40, Marcus and Susannah were living in King and Queen County, based on Marcus’s Revolutionary War Public Service Claim where he furnished 1 gallon and 2.5 quarts of brandy worth 39 pounds, one shilling and 3 pence. Alcohol was expensive even then.

This implies that the Younger family was in very close proximity to the soldiers, if not the fighting. I wonder how that affected the family. Anthony Hart is a Revolutionary War Pensioner, living in Halifax County in 1840 and stated he served from Essex County in an affidavit signed for Edmond Edmondson. A William Young (Younger?) signs for Edmondson in 1782 in Essex County when he marries. William Younger is also found in Halifax County later, living beside Moses Estes, whose family is also from the same part of King and Queen County. Moses was the father of George Estes who would one day marry Mary Younger, daughter of Marcus Younger and Susannah.

What, you say, this sounds like a circle. Indeed, it does – or a continuation of a drama crossing 3 generations and as many counties too.

But this gets messier yet, because Marcus’s only son, John Younger, eventually married Lucy Hart.

In 1782 and 1785, Marcus and family are living in Essex County and are taxed under Anthony Hart. By this time, Marcus and Susannah were in their early mid-40s.

This Hart connection becomes very important. These families are close, possibly related…in fact, we know they are related because of DNA results, but we don’t know exactly how.

In Anthony Hart’s pension application submitted in 1832, he states that he was born on October 14, 1755 in King and Queen County and lived there until 1802 when he moved to Halifax. He states that Lucy Younger and Mary Gresham can prove his service. Given the fact that Lucy married John Younger who is about Anthony Hart’s age, it’s very likely that Lucy was Anthony’s sister. Lucy, in her deposition says, “I lived with Anthony Hart when we were both children.” Mary Gresham/Grisham says exactly the same thing.

Why don’t they just spit it out? How are they related? If they were siblings, why wouldn’t they have said that?

Was Anthony’s father’s sister married to Marcus Younger? Or maybe Anthony’s oldest sister? Of course, we don’t know who Anthony’s father was, so we can’t reassemble this family any further. All we do know is that Anthony Hart as also found taxed with one Robert Hart.

There are also other Hart family members, such as John Hart who are born in Essex County about 1777, moved to Halifax and subsequently died in neighboring Charlotte County. I, as well as other Marcus descendants, not descended through John Younger who married Lucy Hart also match to John Hart’s descendants. Someplace, there’s a connection.

Back to Susannah

We know very little about Susannah’s life between the time she and Marcus moved to Halifax County in 1785 and her death probably sometime before 1805. In reality, we aren’t positive she was alive in 1785, but it would be unusual for a man not to remarry for that long, especially at age 45 with children to raise.

Susannah probably died between 1785 and 1805.

Marcus Younger wrote his will in 1805, but he did not die until 1815, a full decade later.

I, Marcus Younger of Halifax Co, do hereby make my last will and testament in the manner following; First, after the payments of my last debts, I give my daughter Susannah 50 acres of land where my house stands during my natural life. Also one negro girl (Fanny), one mare, one bed and furniture, one cow and calf to her and her heirs forever. To my grandson Younger Wyatt one mare. The rest of my estate to be equally divided between my 4 children namely John Younger, Elizabeth Clark, Mary Estes and Susannah Younger. Appoint son John executor. Signed with X. Witness John Hannah?, Armistead Bomar, Sally Hannah?. At a court held for Halifax Jan. 25, 1815 will proved. John Younger executor. Phil Carlton security.

As you can see, there is no mention of a wife in 1805. Susannah is stated to be his daughter. Furthermore, Susannah is listed on tax lists as having a life estate. While Marcus’s will appears to convey this land in fee simple, later records infer that she only had a life estate – which would be what a widow would have had – not a daughter.

However, on March 9, 1816, we find the following deed:

Halifax County VA Deed Book 25, Pg. 568, July 1815, registered Mar 1816

Susannah Younger, Younger Wyatt and wife Sally, George Estes and wife Mary, all of the County of Halifax of the one part, and John Younger, of the same, of the other part are entitled to an allotment of land as described below, as distributed by Marcus Younger, dec’d., which by the consent of all the parties are as surveyed, after mutually agreeing to make a survey to Susannah Younger, who becomes entitled to the part allowed her under the will of said Marcus Younger, dec’d. and by the consent of all the parties, the unmentioned tract was sold to the highest bidder at auction on 12 months credit and commanded the sum of 421 pounds, 60 shillings. Now this indenture further witnesseth that for the above consideration the said Susanna Younger and all of the above mentioned have granted, bargained and sold released and confirmed to the said John Younger a certain tract of land in Halifax County on the draughts of Bannister River containing 62 acres beginning at a Post Oak on John Younger’s land. Signed by all thirteen parties

Thomas Clark and wife Peggy
William Clark
John Henderson and wife Sarah
Edmond Henderson and wife Elizabeth
John Landrum and wife Polly
George Estes and wife Mary

It appears that Susanna and the rest of her siblings sell their jointly held land to her brother, John Younger, and that Susannah’s individually held land was sold independently.

The following chart shows who is mentioned in the 1805 will versus the 1816 land sale.

Marcus 1815 Will, written 1805 1816 Land Sale
Susannah Younger – daughter 50 acres where house stands, Fanny (slave), mare, bed, furniture, cow, calf, her share of rest of estate Lays off allotment, sells
Younger Wyatt – grandson (mother Sally deceased) One mare Yes – Younger and Polly Wyatt
John Younger – son Equal share Yes, purchases
Mary Estes – daughter Equal share Yes, Mary and George Estes
Elizabeth Clark – daughter Equal share No
John and Sarah Henderson No Yes
Edmund and Elizabeth Henderson No Yes
John and Polly Landrum No Yes
Thomas and Peggy Clark No Yes

If one is to assume that the reason Marcus left a mare to Younger Wyatt is because his mother, who married a Wyatt male, is deceased, then what we are left with is that Elizabeth Clark has died and her children and heirs are listed in her stead in the 1816 deed, being the 5 individuals not listed in the 1805 will but listed in 1816.

Susannah Younger never marries and dies in 1831, and she leaves a will too that frees slaves Fanny and Harry and leaves them $50 each. In addition, she leaves her clothes to Susannah Estes and Mary Wyatt and the rest of her property to Younger Wyatt, the son of her deceased sister. Mary Wyatt is probably Younger Wyatt’s wife. The names Mary and Polly were often used interchangeably during that timeframe.

Then, in 1842, a chancery suit is filed to clear up the title on Susannah’s land. This was a lawsuit that was not contested, but likely had to be filed to obtain clear title from everyone, especially since it seems that brother John “bought” the land in 1816 and died in 1817, without title ever being filled or legally passing. In the following document, however, you can see why the confusion exists about Susannah.

The chancery suite does answer one question and that’s the name of Younger Wyatt’s mother – Sally. The chancery suit answers a whole lot more too.

Younger, Marcus Chancery Suit 1842-057, Halifax Co. Va. – extracted and transcribed in June 2005 by Roberta Estes sitting mesmerized in the courthouse basement.

The worshipful county court of Halifax in chancery sitting: Humbly complaining sheweth unto your worships your orator Thomas Clark that a certain Marcus Younger died many years ago leaving a small tract of land containing about 53 (58?) acres to his wife Suckey Younger for life and at her death to be divided amongst his children. That after the death of the said Suckey Younger, the rest of the children of the said Marcus Younger (the wife of your orator being one) sold the said land to your orator, put him in possession of the same and have received from him the whole of the purchase money, but have not as yet conveyed to him the legal title.

That one little word was problematic…wife. Suckey, a nickname for Susannah, may well have been Marcus’s wife’s name as well, which may have been why it was so easy to slip that word, wife, in there. But Susannah was clearly Marcus’s daughter, at least the Susannah alive in 1805, according to his will.

The next sentence then refers to the “rest” of the children, implying that Suckey is a child as well.

Perhaps Marcus’s wife’s name as well as his daughters was Susannah. Susannah was also the name of one of Alexander Younger’s daughters. Was Susannah perhaps also the name of Marcus’s mother? It’s certainly possible. Marcus had a daughter Susannah and grandchildren named Susannah as well. Too many Susannahs!

It’s also worth noting that in 1805, none of Marcus’s children appear to be underage, so all born before 1785, which makes sense. In 1815, his grandson, Younger Wyatt had married, so he was at least 25 or so, being born by about 1790, meaning Wyatt’s mother would have been born before 1770, so this too fits.

Furthermore, we have another problem. Elizabeth Clark is mentioned in the 1805 will, but Thomas and Peggy Clark are mentioned in the 1816 sale, along with several other people not previously mentioned. I surmised that Peggy, often short for Margaret, is the grandchild of Marcus, but according to the 1842 chancery suit, that wasn’t the case at all. Peggy was Marcus’s child. So, if Peggy is his daughter, is she the same person as Elizabeth Clark? If so, that means that Elizabeth didn’t die, so the 3 Henderson and Landrum families were not her heirs. So, who were they? Elizabeth Clark is the only name missing from the 1816 sale that was present in the 1805 will document.

And of course, all of this assumes that Susannah was the only wife of Marcus and that all of his children were her children as well. I hate that word, assume.

You can clearly see why I never thought we’d ever solve this conundrum unless some previously unknown records magically surfaced out of either burned King and Queen County (I wish) or neighbor, Essex (unlikely, since they the records show they lived in King and Queen.) Or maybe that e-Bay Bible, I’m still hoping for that.

The Chancery suite continues:

The names of the said renders(?) are John Henderson and Sally his wife, John Landrum and Sally his wife, Edward Henderson and Betsy his wife, Robert Younger and Mary his wife, Samuel Younger and Mary his wife, Thomas P. Anderson, Joel Younger and Fental his wife, Vincent Carlton and Nancy his wife, Joel Anderson and Sally his wife, Thomas Younger and Betsy his wife, William Estes and Rebecca his wife, James Smith and Polly his wife, Susanna Estes, Marcus Estes, William Clark and Mary his wife, Anthony Younger and Nancy his wife, John Younger and Betsy his wife, Younger Wyatt and Polly his wife, John Estes and Nancy his wife, Thomas Estes and Sally his wife. In tender consideration of the promises and in as much as your orator is remedyless therein at last?. To this end therefore that the above named renders? Be made parties to this suit and required to answer the allegations herein contained under oath. That in consequence of the said partys being numerous and widely dispersed in the United States that the said court decree that the legal title to the said land be conveyed to your orator and that the parties to the said contract as vendors? Be required to do so and unless they shall do so within a reasonable time that the court appoint a commissioner for that purpose and grant all other recipients relief. May it please the court to grant the Commonwealths writ of subpoena.

Next document:

The joint answer of John Henderson and Sally his wife, John Landrum and Polly his wife, Edward Henderson and Betsy his wife, Robert Younger and Mary his wife, Samuel Younger and Mary his wife, Thomas P. Anderson and Betsy his wife, Joel Younger and Fental his wife, Vincent Carlton and Nancy his wife, Joel Anderson and Sally his wife, Thomas Younger and Betsy his wife, William Estes and Rebecca his wife, James Smith and Polly his wife, Susanna Estes, Marcus Estes, William Clark and Mary his wife, Anthony Younger and Nancy his wife, John Younger and Betsy his wife, Younger Wyatt and Polly his wife, John Estes and Nancy his wife. Thomas Estes and Sally his wife to a bill of complaint exhibited against them in the county court of Halifax by Thomas Clark – These respondents saving? Do say that the allegations of the complainants bill are true and having answered pray to be hence dismissed.

Next document

This cause came on this day to be heard on the bill of chancery and answered and was argued by counsel and consideration and decise? that Jonathan B. Stovall who is hereby appointed a commissioner for that purpose do by proper deeds convey the lands in the proceeding mentioned to Thomas Clark in fee simply with special warranty.

Two attached pages in file as follows:

Page 1

Marcus Younger left 83 acres for life to Sukey Younger for life and at her death to be divided among his children. (Note – after this statement, in a different handwriting, begins the list of his heirs. Does this mean that Sukey Younger was not considered to be his heir, because she was his wife?)

Elizabeth Clark, Sally Wyatt, John Younger, Mary Estes, children of Marcus

Thomas, Sally Henderson wife of John Henderson, Polly Landrum wife of John Landrum, Betsy wife of Edward Henderson, William Clark, Children of Elizabeth Clark (inferring that she is deceased)

Younger Wyatt child of Sally Wyatt

Robert, Polly wife of Samuel Younger, Anthony, Joel, Betsy wife of J. P. Anderson, Nancy wife of Vincent P. Carlton, John, Thomas, Sally wife of Joel Anderson – children of John Younger

John Estes, William, Susannah, Sally wife of T. Estes, Polly wife of James Smith and a grandchild name Mark Estes – children of Mary Estes

Elizabeth Clark’s children are entitled each to 1/5 of 1/4th
Younger Wyatt entitled to ¼th
John Younger’s children are each entitled to 1/9 of 1/4th
Mary Estes children are entitled each to 1/6 of 1/4th
Mary Estes grandchild is entitled to 1/6th of 1/4th

Next page:

Thomas Clark and Peggy his wife – Halifax
John Henderson and Sally his wife – Halifax
John Landrum and Polly his wife – Halifax
Edward Henderson Jr. and Betsy his wife – Halifax
William Clark and Mary his wife – Patrick County
Robert Younger and Mary his wife – Halifax
Samuel Younger and Mary his wife – Halifax
Anthony Younger and Nancy his wife – Franklin
Thomas P. Anderson and Betsy his wife – Halifax
Joel Younger and Fental his wife – Halifax
John Younger and Betsy his wife – Pittsylvania
Vincent Carlton and Nancy his wife – Halifax
Joel Anderson and Sally his wife – Halifax
Thomas Younger and Betsy his wife – Halifax
Younger Wyatt and Polly his wife – Rutherford County Tennessee
John Estes and Nancy his wife – Rutherford Co Tennessee (actually ditto marks and John was actually in Claiborne by this time it is believed)
William Estes and Rebecca his wife – Halifax
Susannah Estes – Halifax
Thomas Estes and Sally his wife – Montgomery County Tennessee
James Smith and Polly his wife – Halifax
Marcus Estes (son of Mark) – Halifax

(Note – Marcus Estes the son of Mary Estes died in 1815 shortly after his marriage. Mary’s daughter, Susanna Estes also had a son Marcus Estes, not to be confused with the Marcus Estes, son of Marcus Estes, deceased, above.)

Is this not THE chancery suit to die for? Not only does it give you three complete generations, and pieces of the 4th – it tells you where the descendants were living in 1842. Never mind that the county for my John Estes is actually wrong – he and Nancy lived in Claiborne County, Tennessee but for all I know they could have originally gone to Rutherford County. John Estes did marry Nancy Moore. This was the ace in the hole that confirmed my lineage beyond dispute.

I think they heard me all the way upstairs in that old brick courthouse when I found these loose documents.

Now for the bad news.

  • I still don’t know when Susannah Younger, wife of Marcus, was born, other than probably 1740 or earlier.
  • I don’t know when Susannah died, other than probably between 1785 and 1805. She probably died before 1805 when Marcus wrote his will. But if Susannah in the will is actually his wife and not his daughter, then she died in 1831, at about age 90 or 91. That’s certainly possible.
  • I still don’t know her first name, for sure, nor do I know her birth surname, although I think there’s a good chance it’s Hart based on a variety of evidence.

Autosomal DNA

DNA may have come to the rescue, at least somewhat and has graced us with a clue that Susannah, if that was her name, was perhaps a Hart.

Marcus Younger is living with Anthony Hart in 1785 in King and Queen County, according to the tax list.

Anthony Hart and Marcus Younger both moved to Halifax, albeit 17 years apart.

Those dots could have been connected by genealogists years ago, and that connection then turning into a family story of Marcus’s wife being a Hart. It is, indeed a possibility, because that family legend certainly existed. What we don’t know is whether or not it descended through the family or was introduced later by genealogists.

In November of 2013, the seemingly impossible happened and several people from the Younger family matched a descendant of Anthony Hart – and I’m not talking about only descendants of John and Lucy Hart Younger. I match too, and I descend through Marcus’s daughter Mary who married George Estes. I don’t have any known Hart DNA from any other source. I wrote about this wonderful happy dance adventure in the article, “Be Still My H(e)art.”

Since that time, additional Hart matches have continued to accrue. However, the Hart family prior to Halifax County suffers from the same record destruction that the other King and Queen County families do.

Unfortunately, since this line does have a known illegitimacy with Marcus’s paternal line, it makes it more difficult to understand what an autosomal match really means. It could mean we’re matching Marcus’s father’s family lines and just don’t know that since we don’t know who he is, although the Y DNA does not match Hart males.  Hart could be found on any other line, however.

Unfortunately, with all of the unknowns, I’m still unwilling to call Susannah a Hart. In fact, I may never be willing to step out on that limb with any degree of certainty.

We don’t know who Marcus Younger’s parents were, although we can say with almost certainty that his mother was a Younger. Of course, we don’t know who Susannah’s parents were either, and we do know the Younger and Hart families were allied before coming to Halifax County.

The connection between the families could have been because Marcus married Susannah Hart. It could have been because the Hart family married a Younger. It could be because one of Marcus’s parents had a Hart ancestor or because Marcus’s parents and the Hart family had a common ancestor. Or all of the above. We just don’t know.

If we knew something more about at least Marcus’s heritage, I’d be much more likely to make a “call” that Susannah is a Hart based on the DNA matches. Unfortunately, for now and the foreseeable future, both Susannah’s first and last name will remain in question, but by utilizing mitochondrial DNA, we might be able to determine at least some things – and maybe eventually – her ancestry.

This is where we left Susannah’s story, until just recently.

Finding Susannah’s Mitochondrial DNA

Sometimes wishes do come true. I had just about given up hope of ever finding anyone who descends from Susannah through all females to the current generation, which can be male. Women contribute their mitochondrial DNA to both genders of their children, but only females pass it on. Someone descended from Susannah through all females would carry Susannah’s mitochondrial DNA, contributed by their mother, and straight back through the direct matrilineal line.

Susannah’s children were:

  • John Younger was born April 11, 1760 and died just two years after his father, on July 17, 1817. He married Lucy Hart. Sons were Robert Younger (c 1790-1877) who married Mary Polly Moore, Anthony Younger born c 1791, moved to Tate County, Missouri and died about 1877, Joel Younger (1791-c1877), John Younger and Thomas Younger. Daughters were Elizabeth (1790-1875) who married Thomas Anderson, Nancy born (1798-1865), Sally (c1800-after 1842) who married Joel Anderson, and Mary “Polly” (died 1873) who married George Wray.
  • Mary Younger born before 1767 married George Estes and had three daughters. , Susannah had 3 daughters that carried the Estes surname, Polly who married James Smith and had daughters and Sally who married Thomas Estes and had daughters as well. Mary Younger Estes also had sons John R. Estes (1787-1887) who married Nancy Ann Moore and moved to Claiborne County, TN, Marcus Estes (c1788-c1815) who married Quintenny, surname unknown and William Y. Estes (c1785-1860/1870) who married Rebecca Miller.
  • Sally Younger married a Wyatt male and both had died by 1805. The only known child is a male, Younger Wyatt, so this line is not applicable to mitochondrial testing. Younger Wyatt was married by 1816, so Sally Younger would have been born in 1775 or earlier.
  • Elizabeth Younger married William Clark and had three daughters.   Elizabeth was dead by 1816. Daughter Sarah/Sally married John Henderson, Elizabeth/Betsy Clark married Edward Henderson and Mary Polly Clark married John Landrum. Son Thomas Clark married a Peggy and William Clark married a Mary.
  • Susannah Younger, never married, born before 1785 given that no child in Marcus’s 1805 will was underage, died in 1831.

Only two of Susannah’s daughters had female children, Mary and Elizabeth, so there weren’t many descendants who fit the bill in order to test for Susannah’s mitochondrial DNA. Thankfully, one, cousin Lynn, descended through the daughter of Susannah Estes, granddaughter of Susannah Younger, stepped forward.

Thank you, thank you, cousin Lynn.

The Younger Cemetery

If we assume that Susannah and Marcus were married when she was about 20, which was typical for the time, and she had children for the next 23 years, she would have given birth to a total of between 12 and 15 children, depending on whether she had children every 2 years, every 18 months or perhaps even closer if a child died during childbirth. Of those, we know that 5 lived to adulthood, assuming that Susannah who died in 1831 really was a daughter and not Susannah (wife of Marcus) herself.

The sad, silent, untold tale is that Susannah buried more children than she raised, by a 2 or 3 to 1 ratio, leaving most, if not all of them, behind in 1785 when she and Marcus moved to Halifax County. Children who died after that are certainly buried in the old Younger Cemetery on the land owned by Susannah and Marcus. Today, the land is forested with periwinkle carpeting the forest floor, perhaps planted by Susannah’s own hands.

This too is likely where Susannah herself, as well as Marcus, are buried, in an unmarked grave beneath a fieldstone, as well as son John, daughters Susannah and Sally, and possibly, daughters Mary and Elizabeth too. Susannah’s children and grandchildren would have known exactly which stone was hers, but as they moved away, died and were buried as well, the last few in the 1880s, that memory faded away with them and the land eventually passed out of the Younger family in the early 1900s.

By the time I was hunting for the Younger Cemetery in the early 2000s, the only way to find it was by tracking deeds backward and forward in time and from an old letter, found in the neighboring Pittsylvania County library detailing another researcher’s search for that same cemetery sometime between 1930 and 1960, when phone numbers only had 5 digits.

Fortunately, with the help of locals and a very nice property owner, I not only found the cemetery, but was taken to visit.

 

Susannah’s Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren

Susannah’s great-grandson through daughter Mary Younger Estes, Ezekiel Estes is shown below in what was probably a funeral photo.  He carried Susannah’s mitochondrial DNA, contributed by his mother Susannah Estes, but since only women pass their mitochondrial DNA on to their children, his children don’t carry Susannah’s mitochondrial DNA.

Susannah’s grandson, John R. Estes, shown below, son of Mary Younger and George Estes.  He also carried her mitochondrial DNA, but didn’t pass it on.

J. E. and Mary Anne Smith, youngest son of Polly Estes (daughter of Mary Younger Estes) and James Smith.  J. E. is a great-grandson of Susannah, and he too carried her mitochondrial DNA, but he didn’t pass it on either.

I look at this picture of his eye patch, and I know there is a story just aching to be told.

Joel Younger, Susannah’s grandson through son, John Younger and Lucy Hart. Joel didn’t carry Susannah’s mitochondrial DNA, but that of Lucy Hart, his mother.

Lynn’s great-great-great-grandmother, and Susannah Younger’s great-granddaughter, Mary Mildred Estes Greenwood is pictured below. Mary’s mother was Susannah Estes, daughter of Mary Younger Estes.  Mary Mildred did carry, and pass Susannah’s mitochondrial DNA on to her offspring, who continued to pass it on down the line of women to Lynn today.

Looking back 8 generation in time. We may not know her name for sure, but we have Susannah’s DNA, through her great-granddaughter, Mary Mildred!

What can we tell?

Susannah’s Mitochondrial Story

Susannah’s haplogroup is H1a3a. That tells us that she is of European origin.

She does have full sequence matches, and 3 with no genetic distance, meaning they are exact matches. Does this mean we can find the common ancestor?

Possibly.

One match didn’t answer the e-mail, one person’s e-mail bounced and the third person is brick-walled in another state in the 1800s.

In the paper titled “A ‘Copernican’ Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root,” we find that Dr. Behar has calculated the most likely age of haplogroup H1a3a to have been born about 3,859.4 years before present, with a standard deviation in years of 1621.8. This means that the range of years in which the mutation occurred that gave birth to haplogroup H1a3a was most likely sometime between 2238 years ago and 5480 years ago.

The only other mutations that cousin Lynn carries are a few that are typically not included in aging calculations because they are found in unstable regions of the mitochondria. So, we don’t have any further clues as to how long ago a common ancestor with everyone who matches Lynn exactly might be.

Clearly, Lynn’s matches’ ancestors migrated to the US, and clearly, they share a common ancestor with Lynn (and therefore with Susannah) at some point in time, but we just don’t know when. It could have been in the US, or hundreds or even thousands of years before.

However, even if their common ancestor was prior to immigration, where, exactly was that? Can we tell something more from Lynn’s matches?

In order for a match to show up on your Matches Map, the test taker must complete the Ancestor’s Location, beneath the map.

Unfortunately, none of Lynn’s exact matches did that. However, several of her matches at the genetic distance of 2 and 3 did enter locations, and are found in Sweden and the UK.

Another barometer we can look at is where in the world are other people who are included in haplogroup H1a3a from? Clearly, they shared an ancestor with Susannah at one time in history.

On the Haplogroup Origins page, at the HVR1 level, we find a significant number in Germany and Sweden with several throughout the UK as well:

These people don’t necessarily match Lynn today at the personal mutation level, but they do share a common ancestor with our Susannah at the point in time that H1a3a was created. From that location, descendants have clearly spread far and wide.

This distribution would strongly suggest that haplogroup H1a3a originated in continental Europe and subsequently, some people with that haplogroup migrated to what is now the UK. The Native American indication found in the US are likely from people who believed their ancestor was Native American, or didn’t understand the instructions clearly, or don’t realize that haplogroup H1a3a is not Native, but European.

Lynn’s exact matches are shown below:

Given that Ireland and the UK are the locations I would have expected at this point in American history, especially in King and Queen or Essex County, VA., this information is very probably accurate. When evaluating matching, full sequence always trumps HVR1 or HVR2 matches, being much more specific.

The Ancestral Origins page shows the locations where Lynn’s matches say that their most distant matrilineal ancestor originated.

Of course, Ancestral Origins depends on accurate reporting of the genealogy of Lynn’s matches.

What additional information can we glean?

Checking Lynn’s autosomal DNA matches and searching by the name of Hart, we find 150 matches. Hart is not exactly an uncommon name, and this also includes a few names of which “hart” it only a portion, like “Chart,” for example.

Unfortunately, with Marcus’s uncertain parentage, even if the matches do descend from this same Hart family, and triangulate, we can’t say for sure that the Hart lineage is through Susannah. Interestingly, Lynn and other descendants of Marcus through children other than John (who married Lucy Hart) have matches with descendants of Anthony Hart, who we already met.

Hart is the recurring theme here that won’t go away. There’s an awful lot of smoke for there not to be any fire. Of course, with the 4 parents of Marcus and Susannah all being unknown, except for a suspected Younger female as Marcus’s mother, the Hart connection could be just about anyplace, or multiple places.

Summary

It’s ironic somehow that while we don’t know Susannah’s name, for sure, and even less about her surname, we do know about her ancient history from her mitochondrial DNA which was passed to her descendants, written indelibly, but her name was not.

We know she was European and that sometime around 3800 years ago, her ancestors were probably in the Germanic region of continental Europe. After that, they probably migrated to the British Isles with a group of people who would settle those islands.

We may be able to utilize her mitochondrial DNA to further confirm her family ancestry, especially in combination with autosomal DNA. At this point, all we can do is wait for another female to test and match cousin Lynn, with the hope that they have some sort of genealogy records back to a matrilineal Hart ancestor.

While that seems a long shot, then so was finding cousin Lynn, or more accurately, cousin Lynn finding me. I’m not giving up hope! I have confidence that we will unravel this puzzle one day. Now, thanks to cousin Lynn, it’s just a matter of time and patience.

Durham DNA – 10 Things I Learned Despite No Y DNA Matches, 52 Ancestors #167

First and foremost, I want to thank my Durham cousin for stepping up and taking both the Y DNA and Family Finder tests to represent the Thomas Durham Sr. line of Richmond County, Virginia.

My cousin descends from Thomas Durham Jr., son of Thomas Durham Sr. and wife, Dorothy. Thomas Durham Sr.’s parents are unknown, which is part of why we needed a Durham male to take the Y DNA test.

What Might a Y DNA Test Tell Us?

A Y DNA test would tell us if our Durham line matches any other male Durham who had tested. In addition, if we were be lucky enough to find a match to a Durham who knew their ancestor’s location in the UK, where we presume our Durham family originated, we would have significant clues as to where to look for early records of our line.

What Did the Y DNA Test Tell Us?

The Y DNA test told us that our Durham cousin matches exactly no one, at any level, on his Y DNA test.

What, you might be asking? Is that even possible?

Yes, it is. I write the Personalized DNA Reports for customers, and I do still see people with absolutely no matches from time to time. When I drop their DNA results into a frequency chart and look at the percentage of people with their values in their haplogroup at each location, it’s usually immediately obvious why they have no matches. They have several mutations that are quite rare and those, cumulatively, keep them from matching others. In order to be considered at match, you must match other individuals at a minimum number of markers at each panel level, meaning 23, 15, 37, 67 and 111.

Now, this isn’t all bad news. It’s actually good news – because with rare markers, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to match a group of men by chance or just because your ancestor hundreds or thousands of years ago was very successfully prolific. I see some men in haplogroup R that have hundreds and thousands of matches, especially at 12 and 25 markers, so while no match is frustrating, it’s not a disaster because one day, our Durham line WILL have a match and it will be relevant.

The Durham Project

Being a curious skeptic, I visited the Durham DNA project and checked to be sure that my cousin’s DNA really didn’t match anyone, even distantly. I wanted to be sure that my cousins’ results weren’t “just one” marker difference in terms of allowable genetic distance to be considered a match.

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

My Durham cousin’s haplogroup is I-M223.

There are no other people in the I-M223 Durham group. Checking my cousin’s markers, they are quite distant as well, so no Durham matches, even at a distance.

Now, here’s some good news.

Looking at the project’s Patriarch’s page, we can see which lines we don’t match.

We don’t match any of these lines, including the two that are from England. Two lines down, several to go.

Autosomal DNA

About this time, I began to have this nagging thought. What if my cousin’s Durham line isn’t really the right Durham line? What if the genealogy was wrong? What if the genealogy was right, but there was an adoption someplace in the 9 generations between Thomas Durham Sr. and my cousin? Those “what-ifs” will kill you, being a genetic genealogist.

So, I decided to see if my cousin’s autosomal results matched any of those known to be descended from the Durham-Dodson line. Thomas Durham Sr.’s daughter, Mary Durham, married Thomas Dodson. This line was prolific, having many children, so surely, if my Durham cousin descends from Thomas Durham’s son, Thomas Jr., some of the Dodson/Durham descendants from Thomas Durham Sr.’s other child, Mary, will match him, hopefully on a common segment.

Perusing my Durham cousin’s Family Finder DNA matches, and searching by Dodson, I found 27 matches.

I checked the Ancestry Surnames of those matches, and yes, 5 included both Dodson and Durham.

Checking pedigree charts, I verified that indeed, these people descended from the same Dodson/Durham lineage.

Thankfully, 4 of 5 matches had pedigree charts uploaded.

I selected those 5 people and viewed their results in a chromosome browser, compared to my Durham cousin.

As you can see, there are two sets of results where more than one person matches my Durham cousin on the same segment.

On chromosome 9, the green and orange person match the Durham cousin on segments of 12.36 cM

On chromosome 21, the pink and yellow person match my Durham cousin with a segment of 8.83 cM.

Now, as we know, just because two people match someone on the same segment does NOT automatically means that they match each other. They could be matching you on different sides of your DNA – one on your mother’s side and one on your father’s side

Next, I utilized the matrix tool to see if these individuals also match each other.

This matrix shows exactly what we would expect.

The bottom person, Gwen, matches the Durham cousin on chromosome 1 and doesn’t match any of the other cousins on that segment. The matrix tells us that Gwen doesn’t match either of these other two cousins either.

The matrix tells us that both kits managed by Ted match each other. This could be one person who uploaded two kits, but the photos are different. These two kits are the chromosome 9 match.

Then, the matrix tells us that Odis and Diana match each other, and sure enough, those are our chromosome 21 matches.

While this alone does not prove triangulation, because we can’t confirm that indeed, Gwen and Odis do match each other on this segment, at least not without asking them, my experience suggests that it would be a rare occasion indeed if this was not a triangulated match – indicating a common ancestor.

Triangulated matches minimally require:

  • Three people or more who are not close relatives
  • All matching each other on a common reasonably sized segment
  • Common ancestors

We Can Do More

We aren’t done yet. Next we can look to see which of these matches might ALSO match someone else in common with our Durham cousin.

Take each match, one at a time, and do an In Common With (ICW) search with them. You can read about the various options for in common with searching in the article, Increasing “In Common With” (ICW) Functionality at Family Tree DNA.

First, I just searched in common with the Durham surname, and none of these folks matched anyone else on the Durham surname match list.

To do this, search for Durham, select a match, then click on ICW, leaving Durham in the search box.

Second, I searched by selecting the match by checking the little checkbox by their name, but removed Durham from the search box so that I could see if my Durham cousin matched this person in common with anyone else on his match list, regardless of their ancestral surname.

As you would expect, many of the people returned on the ICW match list don’t have ancestral surnames listed.

When you have a few people to compare, the chromosome browser is wonderful, but for a lot of comparisons, there’s an easier way.

If I were my Durham cousin, I’d download my full list of matches with chromosome segments and see who matches me on those Durham/Dodson segments on chromosomes 9 and 21.  I would then look to see if they have pedigree charts uploaded, or contact them asking about genealogy.

You can download all of your match results at the top of your chromosome browser by clicking “download all matches.”

This enables you to sort the resulting spreadsheet by segment number and chromosome. You can read more about that in the article, Concepts – Sorting Spreadsheets for Autosomal DNA.

Of course, that’s how genetic genealogy addicts are born. You’re never really done.

What Did We Learn?

What did we learn, even though we had no Y matches, and are understandably disappointed.

  • We learned that the Durham Y DNA is quite rare.
  • We learned that the Y haplogroup is I-M223, found in the following locations, according to the SNP map tool at Family Tree DNA.

  • We can, if we wish, order additional SNP testing or the Big Y test to learn more about the ancestral origins of this line – even though we don’t have any STR matches today. We will very likely have Big Y matches because the Big Y test reaches further back in time, generally before the advent of surnames. Generally, the further down the SNP tree, the smaller the geographic range of where the SNP is found – because it’s closer in time.
  • We eliminated 18 different Durham groups, based on the Durham DNA project, that we now know aren’t our ancestors, including several in the US and some in Europe.
  • We confirmed that this Durham line is the Durham line that also married into the Dodson line- so the Durham Y DNA has not undergone an NPE or undocumented adoption between my cousin and our common ancestor. If there was an NPE or misattributed parentage in this line, then my Durham cousin would NOT match people from Thomas Durham’s daughter’s line – unless they all shared a different common line with my Durham cousin AND on the same segments.
  • We have confirmed some Durham DNA autosomal segments – passed all the way down from Thomas Durham to his descendants today.
  • We can tell our Durham/Dodson lineage cousins that certain segments of their Dodson DNA are actually Durham DNA. How cool is that?
  • Our Durham cousin now knows that those same segments are Durham DNA and not introduced in generations since by other lines.
  • Our Durham cousin can continue to identify the DNA of his various lineages by utilizing matching, trees, the matrix and the spreadsheet.
  • We’re not dead in the water in terms of Durham Y matches. We just have to be patient and wait.

Not All is Lost

I know it’s initially very discouraging to see that someone has no Y matches, but truly, all is not lost.

Not only is all not lost, we’ve learned a great deal. Y DNA testing in conjunction with autosomal is an extremely powerful tool.

Not to mention that our Durham cousin’s Y DNA results are now out their fishing, 24X7, 365 days per year, just waiting for that Durham man from some small village in the UK to test – and match. Yep, that’s my dream and I know, I just know, it will happen one day.

Thank you again, to my Durham cousin. When men Y DNA test, they not only serve their own interests, but those of others who descend from the same ancestral surname line.

James Lee Claxton/Clarkson (c1775-1815), Died at Fort Decatur, Alabama, 52 Ancestors #166

James Lee Claxton or Clarkson was born about 1775, but our first hint of him is found in Russell County, Virginia in the court records that begin in 1799.

The surname, Claxton, has become Clarkson in several subsequent generations – but even today, in Claiborne and Hancock Counties when people refer to this family who spells their last name Clarkson, it’s pronounced like Claxton or Claxon.

I’m transcribing the names as they are spelled in the records, but I’m referring to James as Claxton. His earliest records are found spelled that way, as are most of his DNA matches.

Russell County, VA

In the Russell Co., VA Court Minute Book 3, 1799-1808:

February 25, 1800, Page 47 – James Claxton, Surveyor of the road in place of James LeMarr and that John Tate furnish a list of tithables.

June 13, 1800, Page 62 – John Tate assigned to furnished Thomas Johnson and James Claxton, surveyors of the road with a list of tithables.

August 26, 1800, Page 80 – Commonwealth vs James Claxton, dismissed.

I’d love to know what that was about.to

February 24, 1801, Page 109 – William Tate, Jr. be surveyor of the road in place of James Claxton and that Thomas Johnson furnish him a list of tithables

March 24, 1801, Page 118 – Commonwealth vs James Claxton, dismissed.

Again? Maybe this has something to do with why his position as surveyor of the road was assigned to William Tate.

February 23, 1802, Page 177 – Zachariah Fugate, Peter Counts, Richard Davis, James Claxton, to view a road from the forks of the road where it takes off Davises until it intersects the road the side of John’s cabins.

James couldn’t have been in too much trouble, since he is still given a position of responsibility.

June 22, 1802, Page 195 – Commonwealth vs Nathan Hobbs, presentment, Jury: Littleberry Robinson, Edward Monahon, Jacob Castle, Peter Starns, Thomas Stapleton, William Hall, John Williams, Robert Lawson, James Claxton, Henry Goodman, John Hall and Peter Alley, def found not guilty

The fact that James Claxton is on a jury list strongly suggests that he is a landowner, but no land records for James have ever been found in Russell County.

Tax lists exist for 1787-1800, 1802 and legislative petitions exist for 1785 and 1810. Some are only partial lists.

The first year that we find James Claxton mentioned is in 1800 in the lower district of Russell County. The upper district is missing.

This timetable is reasonable, because that’s about the time he married Sarah Cook, whose father, Joel Cook also lived in Russell County.

In 1801, we again find James in the lower district and Clayton, John and Joel Cook in the upper district.

In 1802, we find James Claxton in the Upper District of Russell County, along with Joel Clayton, George John Cook.  The tax list is in alpha order, so we don’t know the proximity to each other.

However, there were no other Claxtons by any spelling of the name. Where did James Lee Claxton come from, and why?

Don’t I wish I knew!

Not long after they are married, James Claxton and his bride, Sarah Cook, migrate south across the border of Virginia into Tennessee.

In Russell County, Sarah’s father lived near present day Honaker, Virginia. The wagon trip to Claiborne County would have taken between 6 and 11 days and covered about 110 miles. A 2 or 3 hour drive today, through the mountains, but then it would likely have meant that Sarah seldom, maybe never, saw her parents again.

James and Sarah weren’t the only people from Russell County moving south. The Riley family and likely other Cook family members as well accompanied them and are found as their neighbors in their new location on Powell River.

Claiborne County, Tennessee

Claiborne County at that time encompassed the current Claiborne and Hancock Counties. Hancock was split from Claiborne in the 1840s, so the entire time that James Lee Claxton lived there, it was Claiborne.

The northern part of the county, now Hancock County, where James lived, is quite mountainous and the mountain ranges form the border with Lee County, Virginia.

The Powell River, where James Lee Claxton settled snakes between those mountains, having cut its way through granite – undulating back and forth and back and forth. You can see those bends in the river, below.

The location below, with the red arrow, is Claxton’s Bend where James Lee Claxton lived.

We don’t know exactly when James moved to Claiborne County, but we do know that he is not found on Russell County, VA tax lists after 1800. His eldest son, Fairwick, reports that he was born in 1799 and that he was born in Virginia, so that too is a clue.

Mahala, the next oldest child born in 1803 claims that she too was born in Virginia.

We first find James in a Claiborne County record in 1805.

It would be safe to say they moved between 1803 and 1805, although birth locations gleaned from census records have been known to be wrong before.

Claiborne County, TN Court Notes

June 16, 1805 –  page146 – William Bales overseer of the road from Williamson Trent’s to the Bald Hill near Martin’s Creek intersecting the Virginia line – hands Nathan Morgan, William Morgan, Mark Morgan, Zacharish Stephens, James Claxton, William Allen, Charles Rite, George Spencer, Elijah Smith, Joseph Mourning, William Hatfield, Henry Smith, Jacob Smith, William Evans, John Allen, James Allen, John Riley and John Parrot.

Sept 1805 – page 164 – James Claxton appointed constable, took oaths and gave securities John Husk and Isaac Southern

Sept 1805 – Henry Fugate allowed the following hands to work on road on the North side of Wallen’s ridge in Charles Baker’s company:

  • Nathan Watson
  • David Watson
  • James Poe
  • James Hist or Hust
  • James Morgan
  • John Colter
  • Isac Armstrong?
  • John Jones
  • Thomas Jones
  • Elisha Jones
  • John Rash
  • Zach Stephenson
  • William Pice
  • Isaac Southern
  • Charles Baker
  • William Crosedale
  • William Parton
  • Shelton Parton
  • Drury Lawson
  • James Claxton
  • Goen Morgan
  • William Morgan
  • Obediah Martin’s hand
  • William Martin
  • Johnston Hanbleton
  • Gainford Grimes
  • William Rutherford
  • Jacob Smith
  • Elijah Smith
  • Henry Smith
  • Mark Foster
  • Aleander Richie
  • William Dohely?
  • Thomas Harrison
  • Isac Fauster

Road lists are wonderful resources, because they give you in essence a list of the neighbors who live along that road. Everyone was expected to help. Later, we’ll recognize John Riley as a close friend, swearing he had attended James’ wedding, and he’s on both of the above lists.

The Martins are the Martin’s who lived at Martin’s Branch, quite close to the Claxton’s on the Powell River.

Sept. 1806 – page 71 – John Ryla admin of estate of William Ryla decd and for that purpose entered into bond of $1500 for the lawful discharge of his duty – Isaac Southern and James Claxton securities.

Note, that’s really John Riley.

May 1808 –  page 184 – Deed from John Cage to Henley Fugate and John Riley 640 ac – witness James Claxton and William Bails

May 12, 1817 – page 342 – Sarah Claxton to administer the goods and chattels, rights and credits of James Claxton decd – bond Josiah Ramsey

Sarah Claxton be allowed $15 out of estate of James Claxton decd for her serviced rendered in the administration of estate.

August 11, 1817 – Sarah Claxton administrator of the estate of James Claxton decd returned inventory of personal estate – order of sale granted to sell personal estate of deceased.

Is that not sad? It’s bad enough that she lost her husband with a houseful of children, and now she has to lose everything else as well. Men were presumed to own everything and the widow was provided only one third of the value of the estate.

Unfortunately, there is no estate inventory in any of the surviving books.

Feb. 11, 1818 – page 41 – On motion William Graham and Mercurious Cook appointed commissioners to settle with Sarah Claxton administrator of James Claxton decd and make report to the next court.

The great irony is that this was exactly three years to the day after James’s death.

I had always wondered if Mercurious Cook was a relative of Sarah’s, but if he were, he would not have been appointed to settle with her on James’s estate.

James married in 1799, but he was dead by 1817, less than 18 years later. Early deaths always make me incredibly sad, because I know full well what that means to the widow and children.

How did James die? We’ll find out shortly.

Land

By 1810, James owned land in Claiborne County.

1810 – John Hall to James Claxton, 1810, book C-58 (looked up in later Hancock County book for description – 100 acres on the North side of Powell River, Hobbs line, granted in grant 2051 to John Hall from the state of Tn.) – this is the power of attorney to Walter Evans to sell his land entry “after it ripens into a grant” to James Claxton – dated October 29, 1810, registered April 1811

1811 – John Hall to James Claxton, 1811, D-94 for $10 – original states Dec. 4, 1811, John Hall of Sumner County and James Claxton of Claiborne, $300, 100 acres adjacent the land of Thomas Hobbs on the North side of the Powell river, bank of Powell river, up said river, land originally contained in grant 2051 granted to said Hall by the state of Tn. Oct 27 1811. Signed John Hall by Walter Evans his attorney.

By piecing deeds and surveys together over time, we know that the Claxton family all lived adjacent.

Fairwick Claxton, James’s son, was granted land in 1833 which abutted his brother Henry’s and his mother Sarah’s land.

The Claxton’s lived on the Powell River, at a place still known as Claxton’s bend.

We are quite fortunate for an 1834 deed that lists the children of James Claxton and Sarah.

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

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

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

Yep, that’s James original land from 1810 and now Sarah owns it free and clear, in fee simple.

And again, we find John Riley involved with the family.

Visiting the Claxton Land

 In 2005, with the help of a local woman who was able to find the “ford” crossing the Powell River, I was able to visit the Clarkson land. Actually, this was rather happenstance, because I was actually looking for the McDowell Cemetery. What I didn’t realize at the time, is the wonderful vista it would provide of the adjacent lands on the Powell River.

It was also before the days of Google maps, and before my visit to the Clarkson/Claxton cemetery in which I was trapped in the cemetery with a cousin by a lovelorn bull. So, at the time I first visited and forded the Powell River, I didn’t know exactly where the Claxton land was, but I knew that is was nearby because of the hand-drawn surveyor’s map that so helpfully labeled Claxton’s bend.

The McDowell land is within sight of the Claxton land and because the McDowell land is high, appropriately known as “Slanting Misery,” even yet today, you can climb to the top of Misery Hill and view the surrounding lands. And trust me, having done it, not once, but twice, in the dead of summer, it’s very aptly named.

On the map above, the Claxton family cemetery, where I’m sure that Sarah is buried, along with her son Fairwick and many other family members is shown with the left red arrow.

The middle arrow is where I waded, yes, waded, across the Powell River and the right arrow is the location at the top of the hill on Slanting Misery where I climbed to survey the area.

Here’s a closeup on the Claxton Family Cemetery, now called the Cavin Cemetery, named after the current owners. It’s fenced and located in a field at the intersection of Owen Road and River Road, shown above. You can see the square fenced area.

Do you want to come along on my little River adventure?

Actually, I had to go twice, because I was unable to find the McDowell Cemetery the first time. I’ll spare you the story about the bull chasing us away the second time. It seems that every farmer in Hancock County has their own bull. In Indiana, where I grew up, farmers shared one bull – but he was always an extremely happy bull.

The first visit was much more serene, probably because I didn’t realize the level of bull-related danger, so come along.

To begin this chapter of our story, let’s look at the Powell River as seen from Cumberland Gap.

If you wonder why I love this country, one look at this picture and you don’t have to wonder anymore.

Deep breath.

The Powell River cuts a deep swath through the mountains in both Claiborne and Hancock County, Tennessee. This picture is looking east towards Hancock County from the summit and overlook at Cumberland Gap.

The Powell River is certainly not a small river, and it can vary from lazily running along to a raging torrent, depending on the water level and the rain.

It’s pretty daunting to look across this river and not to know how deep it is. However, the only other option was to attempt to drive, and I can swim a lot better than my Jeep.

And yes, for the record, I DO know how difficult it is to get yourself removed from being stuck offroad in Hancock County. Let’s not talk about that right now. I’m still embarrassed.

This is a really bad photo of me screwing up my courage and wading the river. I was half way across when I realized my partner in crime, or supposed partner in wading, was still standing on the riverbank. Her excuse was that she was going to take my picture. I really think she was waiting to see if I was going to have to swim for shore. For the record, it wasn’t deeper than about 3 feet which is why we had to look for the “ford” which is notoriously shallow. The locals told me that the alternative was a 25-mile drive – through the mountains, on two track roads. I’ll wade, thank you.

If you’re wondering what I had in the bag, it was a camera and notes about how previous searchers found the cemetery years before, with a hand drawn map. It didn’t help.

It started out with “cross the river.”

So far, so good.

Then “follow the road…”

What road? Where?

…to the well.”

What well?

“…near the barn.”

Ok, I should be able to see something as big as a barn.

What barn? Where?

You get the idea.

Standing in the middle of the river, looking towards McDowell Shoals. The local folks said there used to be a swinging rope bridge across the river above that island, until it got washed away in a flood. Now THAT made me feel a LOT better. They said it was some hellatious flood.

I don’t know which flood swept this bridge away, but the floods in the region are legendary. The rivers drain the mountains and then empty into each other.

This photo is of the 1977 flood in Sneedville, the county seat of Hancock County where the Clinch River did a great deal of damage. The Powell River empties into the Clinch. Sneedville saw about 15 feet of water and the river was about 33 feet above normal and believed to have been about 10 feet higher than in the previous all time high recorded in 1826.

Here’s a picture of the Powell River somewhat upstream, near the Cumberland Gap, during the 1977 flood. It would have been worse downstream.

So, maybe Slanting Misery wasn’t so miserable after all and provided a safe retreat in a flood.

I do wonder how the Claxton land fared in the floods. It was quite a bit lower.

A report prepared by the US Department of the Interior after the 1977 flood, from which these flood photos were extracted, reported that the 1977 flood resulted from 3 days of rain that saturated the ground, followed by another 4 days of rain a couple days later that caused most of the water to reach the streams as surface runoff. The second rain event dumped more than 15 inches of water on the area.

The 1977 flood levels were the greatest since 1826 on the Powell River. The Claxtons would have been living on their land in 1826, although James.had already died, so Sarah and her children would have had to deal with whatever happened.

In any case, the Powell river can be quite powerful, especially when upstream creeks and rivers receive rainfall. Had I known that, I might have been watchful of the weather – but ignorance is bliss.

I climbed to the top of the hill on Slanting Misery and recorded the vista for posterity.  And am I ever glad that I did, because this is the land of not only the McDowell family, but the Claxtons and (not pictured) the Herrell’s, all of whom intermarried.

The land beyond the barn (yes, THAT barn) is the Claxton land, laying across the river that you can’t see, of course, because it’s in the “dip” between the trees. And yes, you CAN see the barn from on top of the hill, but not from the river level. They probably built the barn where it wasn’t subject to the annual spring floods.

This land is as beautiful as it is remote.

There is nothing like looking at the land of your ancestors to make your heart skip a beat.

Three families that lived here, the Claxtons, the McDowells and the Harrells would intermarry to create my grandmother, Ollie Bolton.

Five generations of ancestors lived on this land as neighbors. The blood of my kinfolk waters this land and has for more than 200 years.

James Claxton’s Death

I was invited to Alabama in July of 2006 to give a DNA presentation. I wasn’t too cracked up about that – Alabama in the dog days of summer – but I decided to go anyway. DNA evangelists, in those early days, took every opportunity to spread the word.

My one and only visit to Alabama would prove to be quite interesting, in a very unexpected way, having nothing to do with the speaking engagement.

I realized after I accepted that invitation that my ancestor, James Lee Clarxton, had died at Fort Decatur, Alabama on February 11, 1815, a casualty of the War of 1812, albeit through disease and not direct warfare. Still, he died in the line of duty, a place he would never have been if he were not serving his country, far from home, in the middle of winter, with little or no food.

More than two years later, on August 11, 1817, Sarah Cook Claxton, his wife, was appointed administrator of the estate of James and the estate was settled May 11, 1818.

I wonder if that means that Sarah wasn’t informed of his death until two and a half years later. Surely not, but why the delay in probating his estate? Typically estates were probated within 30 days – generally at the next court session. But not James’s.

In 1815, Sarah would have only been married for about 15 or 16 years. She and James had 8 children, although some of their birthdates are uncertain and conflict, unless there were twins.

  • Fairwick (or Fairwix) was born 1799/1800, died Feb 11, 1874 and married Agnes Muncy sometime around 1819.
  • Mahala was born in 1801, died in March 1892 and married Andrew Hurst.
  • Elizabeth was born about 1803, died in 1847 and married John Plank.
  • Mary Polly was born about 1803, died in 1887 and married Tandy Welch
  • Susannah was born about 1808, died in 1895 in Iowa and married Levi Parks.
  • Rebecca was born in 1808, died in 1880 in Union Co., TN and married John Collingsworth.
  • Martha Patsy was born in 1811, died in 1898 and married Jacob “Tennessee” Parks.
  • James born 1810/1815 in the 1840 census with a wife and 2 daughters, but by the time Sarah die in 1863, neither he nor his daughters are mentioned as heirs
  • Henry was born 1813/1815, died August 1838 and married Martha Patsy Gillus Walker.

Sarah, James’s widow, seemed to be quite independent. She never remarried, even though she had small children. She lived 48 years as a widow, not passing away until December 21, 1863, and did things that most women didn’t do during that timeframe. For example, she obtained not one, but multiple land grants.

In 1834, Sarah purchased 100 acres from the “heirs at law” of James Clarkson i.e. their children: Fairwix, Mahala, Elizabeth, Susanna, Rebecca, and Martha. Children Mary (Polly) and Henry are not mentioned in the deed. Henry probably was still living at home but Mary (Polly) had been married to Tandy Welch for fourteen years. Perhaps she received her inheritance when she married.

James’s Pension Record

Most of what is known about James Lee Clarkson/Claxton and his family is taken from the service and pension files of the National Archives. The pension file is voluminous, containing thirty-nine pages. It’s always a good day when you receive a thick envelope from the archives!

In the 1850’s, Congress passed several acts benefiting military survivors and widows. It was during that period that Sarah Clarkson applied for both his pension and bounty land. We know about his death because Sarah applied for both.

According to the Treasury Department letter dated Dec. 30, 1853, James Claxton enlisted on November 8, 1814 and died on February 11, 1815. His widow, Sarah, had received a half-pay pension of $4 per month under the Act of April 16, 1816.

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

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

A second sworn statement is given below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tandy Welch, the man who was at James’ side when he died, five years later, on June 22, 1820, married James’ daughter, Mary.

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

The War of 1812 is a rather neglected war, as they go. We don’t know a lot about where these men were on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. What follows is a little information about his regiment from The Regimental Histories of Tennessee Units During the War of 1812.

The 4th Regiment, along with Colonel William Johnson’s Third Regiment and Colonel Edwin Booth’s Fifth Regiment, defended the lower section of the Mississippi Territory, particularly the vicinity of Mobile. They protected the region from possible Indian incursions and any British invasion. These regiments were under the command of Major General William Carroll. They manned the various forts that were located throughout the territory: Fort Claiborne, Fort Decatur, and Fort Montgomery, for example. Sickness was rampant in this regiment and the desertion rate was high. The regiment mustered in at Knoxville and was dismissed at Mobile.

And then this from one of the soldiers, Thomas David, at Camp Montgomery who kept a diary:

I now volunteered again and under Capt Henry Lane subsequently attached to Gen McIntosh. [Jones’ Regiment] I think it was the latter part of October 1814 that we were mustered into service at Fort Hawkins, and went soon (well supplied) to Fort Decatur, on the Tallapoosa river. We built boats to carry provisions down the river. We started overland to Fort Claiborne [Louisiana]. We got there eight days before the boats arrived with the food, and there was none at the Fort. We had bad times, some suffered extremely, some died. Before our supplies came reports came that the British had taken Fort Bowyer at Mobile point, and an attack upon the town fort was expected. What were we to do?

Sarah initially had problems collecting James’ pension and bounty land due to the difference in the spelling of his last name, Clarkson, under which she applied, vs Claxton. I fully understand that, because I have issues with James’s records today for the same reason.

Sarah did collect a widow’s benefit of half pay, $3.85 a month, for five years, although exactly when is unclear. During the 1850’s she also received a land grant of forty acres. However, she filed a deposition in March of 1854, claiming she was entitled to 80 acres. The 40 acre grant was cancelled (a copy of the cancelled certificate is in the pension file) and the 80 acre grant approved. In the for-what-it’s-worth category, the scanned version of his pension file at Fold3 is significantly incomplete.  More than half is missing, so I’m glad I ordered it from the National Archives years ago.

Sarah’s monthly pension ceased when the Civil War began. After the war, her son, Fairwick, filed an oath of loyalty in order to apply for restoration as administrator of her estate since Sarah had died. He also vouched for Sarah’s loyalty and testified about Sarah’s “heirs to wit”. Sukey Parks, wife of Lewis Parks, is said to have moved to Iowa some 20 years ago, Farwix and Polly are residents of Hancock County, Patsy and Mahala are in Claiborne County, and Rebecca is listed as living in Union County. Rebecca is reported as “disloyal”, meaning Confederate, but that “cannot be proven from personal knowledge.”

We know from James’s records that he was buried at Fort Decatur, on a hill not far from the fort. He never came home.  I wonder if Tandy Welch and Foster Jones, two of the local men in his unit, bore the responsibility of telling her about his death after they were discharged later in 1815. The war of 1812 ended just a month after James died – on March 23, 1815.

I decided that since I was going to Alabama anyway that I’d like to go and find James’ grave at Fort Decatur and pay my respects to him where he is actually buried.

That sounded much easier than it was to prove to be.

First, I had to find Fort Decatur.

Finding James

I began by trying to find the location of Fort Decatur. After many frustrated attempts, I finally discovered that the Fort was not preserved, but neither was it destroyed. It was simply abandoned and allowed to decay.

In subsequent years, the site had been purchased with a significant piece of other property by Auburn University for their Experimental Agricultural Farm. So one can get to the fort, if one can find the fort, which is another matter altogether. But then again, I thought, how difficult can a fort be to find?

I would discover that the answer to that question is not what it appeared.

I was fortunate to locate two local men who knew the area well and were raised there. Unfortunately, neither was able to accompany me during my visit. I arrived on a Sunday morning in one of the most remote places I’ve ever been. I pulled into the parking lot of a very rural church to ask directions, and the children were actually frightened of me. They literally ran inside to hide. I was both confused and felt terrible.

Then I realized I was literally right down the road from where the Tuskeegee Sylphilis Study infamously took place. Some things cast a very long shadow.

The local people didn’t even know there WAS a fort. Actually, I think they thought I was crazy. And the Experimental Agricultural Farm was completely deserted.

Fortunately, my friend had sent me an old drawing of the fort made shortly after its construction. It is located between the railroad tracks, which were not there when the fort was built, obviously, and the bend in the river.

I would wager that James is buried on that hill behind the fort. The documentation said it was near the spring.

My friend also sent me a photograph of the monument at Fort Decatur.  It was placed there in 1931 by the Alabama Anthropological Society (which ceased to exist long ago).  The inscription on the plaque reads:

FORT DECATUR

1814

Built by the 3d U. S. Inf.

You can see that it is illegible, but illegible or not, monument itself should at least be visible as it’s pretty good size, and fenced – right?

Fort Decatur was built by a contingent of NC militiamen in 1812/1813 as a fortification in the War of 1812 when our country was fighting with the English.

The Indians were backing the British because the British told them that if they won, they would return all of their lands. The Creek Indians were a particular stronghold, and these forts along the Alabama Rivers, plus some in Mississippi and Louisiana and Northern Florida provided protection for the then sparse residents and also for locations from which to fight.

Fort Decatur was relatively small, as forts go, and was only a militia stronghold, not a hospital or supply fort. Many of the soldiers from Fort Decatur traveled between Fort Montgomery and Fort Claiborne in Louisiana. Other contingents built other now defunct forts at the convergence of the Coosa and Talapaloose rivers – Fort Williams and Fort Strothers, also nearby, a large supply fort. Davis’s journal said that his regiment was dispatched, on foot, to Fort Claiborne but they beat the supply boat by almost 2 weeks and had nothing to eat. Getting troops someplace was one thing. Feeding them was quite another.

The regiments that were at Fort Decatur were devastated by famine, starvation and associated diseases. They probably also had typhoid, given the descriptions of what was going on. One soldier said that they lost 50% of their men, which according to the roster, is accurate. Most of the deaths were due to disease and starvation, not fighting the Creeks. All of this was incredibly sad, especially when I think of my ancestor’s last days.

I hate to think his death was for naught, but given that the war ended a month later, and that he wasn’t killed defending his country, but died a miserable death instead – I do feel that his life was wasted in the sense that his death was premature and pointless. I have to wonder what prompted him to join.

Most of these men didn’t even have horses, as soldiers had to supply their own, and they marched from Knoxville to Alabama, on foot, in the winter. Those who survived were discharged in May and then walked home again. In addition to James, there was a drummer and a fifer, typically boys between 12 and 15, as only 16 and over were allowed to fight. One of those young boys was possibly the brother of James’s wife, Henry Cook – so Sarah lost her husband and possibly her little brother or a nephew as well.

Very interesting indeed, and a devastating chapter in a War whose soldiers probably didn’t even understand why they were fighting. They were “drafted” or volunteered in the militia because they had no other choice. Both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War were passionate wars with a purpose, regardless of your perspective. This one was just something that had to be done.

Ironically, the Fort was built across from a very large Indian village that spanned 4 miles on the bends of the river. In 1815, the Indians came to the fort to ask for peace. Eventually, they were removed to Oklahoma along with the Cherokees. Some left and joined the Seminole in Florida.

One of the reasons I was able to find information about the fort is because the Governor of Tennessee, John Sevier, also died at the fort just a couple of weeks before James Claxton. Sevier was buried outside the fort on a hillside. The fort itself was built on the top of an Indian mound. Some years later, a contingent of men returned to Fort Decatur and exhumed Sevier, bringing him back to Tennessee and reburying him in Nashville. The location of Sevier’s body was marked at the time with a marble marker. Other graves were either entirely unmarked, or with wooden crosses. Given that half the men were dead, the other half likely sick, most of the graves were probably unmarked.

During a stop in the Tennessee archives in Nashville on my way to Alabama, I was able to unearth a great deal of information about the trip to exhume Sevier, but nothing that would definitively locate the cemetery or burial location today. Some think Sevier may not have been buried with the rest of the men, but I bet he was.

On the map below, the fort is marked, along with Sevier’s gravesite. Reports of the cemetery said it was near a spring, which is shown on the original drawing.

The roads have changed from the time that the “old Federal Road’ ran alongside the original Fort. The map below shows the current configuration.

A current topo map insert is shown below as well. Armed with all of this information, how could I fail to find the fort? The men who had grown up locally played on and in the fort as a child.

I gave this personal version of a scavenger hunt my best effort.

I found Milstead, which was located right on Highway 40. I found the University of Auburn farms, and the 4 brick houses where I’d guess the students stay. Not a soul was anyplace on the land. I went behind the big yellow building to the brick house back there too, and saw the road going on back. I followed the road, thinking either I’d find someone to ask or I’d find the fort. The road (2 track) went back and then along the railroad for maybe 1/8th mile, then crossed over the railroad track. From the maps I had found, it looked like the fort was between the railroad and the river, and that it was where the river bent to the west leaving the tracks. I have a GPS unit in my car, and I was at that location, and there is a hill, but the kudzu was so thick that I couldn’t see anything. I followed that road on for a ways and it shortly turned towards the river and there were “no trespassing” signs, which I ignored (against my better judgment) and followed the road down to the river. I thought maybe I could see the fort from that road down by the river, but I couldn’t.

I took a photo, which I now can’t find, and I left before someone started shooting at me. The area looked like it was privately owned after crossing the railroad track. In retrospect, I think I probably went too far. With kudzu covering everything, and I mean literally everything, it was impossible to tell.

I returned home very disappointed. It was a relatively miserable and disheartening trip. I seldom fail at finding something – especially a something that large.

I don’t mind tramping through the woods in 100 degree heat to find an ancestor – but not finding something as large as a fort, being miserable and having driven for more than 900 miles for the privilege was hard to bear.

My cousin, Daryl, and I were planning to return the following year, but life interfered and we have been unable to return to find the fort.

Fortunately, an unlikely source, YouTube has come to my rescue. Someone took a video “tour” of Fort Decatur, so we can all enjoy the visit.

Apparently nothing, or not much, is left of the original fort itself, just the earthworks. In part, this explains why I was unable to find a “fort.” Knowing that James died there while watching this video was a very moving moment. I couldn’t be more grateful for this man’s kindhearted posting of this video.

Above is a clip from the video within the “fort” itself, and below, the ditch that surrounded the fort.

And look, there’s that marker in the video! It does still exist.  I guess this is the closest thing to a grave marker that James Lee Claxton will ever have.

I found the location on Google maps, but try as I might, I can’t see the marker or the remains of the fort. However, the bend in the River is distinctive and we know that the fort is located right beside the river, about where the T is in Tallapoosa.

The tiny village of Milstead is in the lower left corner.  The Auburn farm is the circle driveway and the farm to the left of the circle driveway.  I believe they own the area from 40 to the river.

The fort would have been located in the forested area below, between the hill and the river, and the gravesite wouldn’t have been far. Looking at this area today, compared with the map that shows John Sevier’s grave, it certainly looks like the gravesites were near the railroad.

Utilizing the various maps and hints, I think that the fort is right about where the tip of the red arrow is located, below. The green area below the fort would be the hill, as draw on the original map and current day topo. The two blue arrows to the left would be the old road that fords the river, and the road approach on the far bank. The two blue arrows on the right side are the spring and the stream. This leave, of course, the hill in the middle between the fort, the railroad tracks,and the various blue arrows. If James was buried on the hill, near the spring, he could have been buried on the right side of the hill area, probably not far from the road cut today, which you can see between the right blue bottom arrow and the railroad tracks..

Additional research and working with the University revealed that during the time when the railroad tracks were laid that human bones were unearthed and pretty much ignored. I have to wonder if those bones were the bones of the men who died during the War of 1812. We know that several soldiers died at this location, roughly half of the men stationed here were reported as deceased during their enlistment, although only about 6 were noted on the roster as having died in January and February.

However, given that the fort location was near the Indian village and mound, the bones uncovered could also have been Native bones. None were salvaged. They were quickly “reburied” by recovering them with dirt.

I know that the chances of me going back to Alabama AND finding Fort Decatur are slim to none, but I have certainly gotten closer to the gravesite of James Clarkson than any other family member ever has. I paid my respects, such as they were.

I suspect James’ widow, Sarah, always wanted to visit his grave. She never really got to say goodbye. His youngest children never knew him.

Tandy Welch, James’s future son-in-law was with James when he died and was probably one of the men who buried James. Sarah and his children would have had to be content to know that at least James had two old friends with him, Tandy Welch and Foster Jones. James too would have taken comfort knowing that Tandy would help look after his young family. That’s probably how Tandy came to marry James’ daughter.

Sarah never remarried.

James Claxton’s Y DNA

We had two burning questions when we began DNA testing on the Claxton line.

First, were the various groups of Claxton, Clarkson, Clarkston and similar surnames one group, or many?

To some extent, we’ve answered that question.

There are several unrelated groups of men, as you can see when looking at the Claxton Y DNA project. By the way, we welcome all Claxton and Clarkson descendants, so please test at Family Tree DNA and join the project. If you are a male Claxton or Clarkson, take the Y DNA test at 37 markers or above, in addition to the Family Finder test. For everyone else descended from any of these lines, take the Family Finder test and please, join the Claxton project.

What is surprising is that some men found in or near the same geographic locations do not have matching Y DNA, meaning they don’t share a common direct paternal line.

In some cases, based on their genealogy, we know these men who don’t match are truly descended from different lines. In other cases, we may have encountered some new lines, meaning those through uncertain parentage or adoption whose surname has remained Claxton, but their Y chromosome is reflective of a different ancestor.  We consider those “new” Claxton lines, because they are clearly Claxton from here forward.

Our second question was the geographic origins of our Claxton line. Where did our ancestors live before they immigrated? Of course, the best way to tell would be for a Claxton male from that location to take the Y DNA test, and match our line, but so far, that hasn’t happened.

One of our Claxton men took the Big Y test. Thank you immensely!

The Big Y test scans virtually the entire Y chromosome for mutations called SNPs that point to deep ancestry on the paternal line. In our case, the Claxton’s terminal SNP, meaning the one furthest down the tree, is haplogroup R-FGC29371. This by itself doesn’t mean a lot, but in context, it does.

This Claxton cousin’s closest matches on the Big Y test are men with the following last names:

  • Parker
  • Joyce
  • Grigsby
  • Gray
  • Daniel

This suggests that he doesn’t necessarily match these men in a genealogical timeframe, and in fact, he doesn’t match them on the regular STR marker test panel at Family Tree DNA – but it means that those families and his are probably from the same place at some time before the advent of surnames.

Utilizing the SNP utility at Family Tree DNA, we see that there are only three locations of clusters where this SNP is found, so far, and all 3 are in the UK.

Of course, as luck would have it, one is in Ireland, one in Scotland and one near the Scotland/England border.

The Unresolved Mystery

We still haven’t identified the parents of James Lee Claxton. I’m firmly convinced that his middle name, Lee, given in 1775 when middle names were only purposefully given, is a clue. Middle names at that time in the colonies were generally only bestowed when they were family surnames. Everyone having surnames came in vogue not long thereafter, but I strongly suspect Lee is a family name.

Unfortunately, Lee is also a rather common name, but I have been on the lookout for decades now for any Lee or Lea connection. So far, that has been another blind alley wild goose chase…but hey…you never know which of these goose chases might actually net something!  One thing, none ever will if we don’t pursue those geese.

In a future article about James’ potential father’s, I’ll step through what we’ve done and who we’ve ruled out.

In the mean time, nearly 13 years after founding the Claxton/Clarkson surname project, I’m still waiting for that person to test someplace in the UK that will match our Claxton line.

While waiting for that person to test, I’d settle for a definitive line out of Virginia, perhaps!

If you are a Claxton male, please consider both Y DNA and autosomal testing (the Family Finder test) at Family Tree DNA and joining the Claxton project.