Backtracking John Rivers Roberts

Some of us are drawn to cemeteries.  I can’t explain it.  Finding the final resting place of our ancestors becomes a quest.  It completes a picture for me.  I want to know where they were born, walk the land they walked and visit the place they were buried.  Strange.  I can’t explain it.  But somehow it connects me.

I’ve “met”, corresponded and visited by phone with a number of Roberts cousins over the past few weeks.  One of the newest ones is Charles Roberts of Calloway County, Kentucky.  He is the 2 x great grandson of Newton T. Roberts, the brother of my 2 x great grandfather John Rivers Roberts.  Charles asked me if I could “shed some light” on where my great great grandfather John Rivers Roberts and his wife Rebecca Ann Giles are buried.  I believe I can (or at least I have an opinion).  Here’s the story.

I grew up knowing little or nothing about the Roberts family except the names of my grandparents Gus and Emma Lee Roberts.  I peppered my dad Burton Lee Roberts with questions as a teenager.  He either couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me what he knew.  I believe he knew little or nothing.  About 30 years ago in the middle of my own growing family and ministry work a couple of college professors, amateur genealogist, shared with me the name and burial place of my great grandfather John A. Roberts.  I did nothing significant with this information until 2012.  Perhaps it was age or opportunity but I’ve always been curious and had to know some answers.

I backtracked the John A. Roberts family to Calloway, Kentucky.  I placed a small ad in the personals section of the Murray Ledger and Times and ran it from Wednesday through Sunday hoping to reach the people who buy the paper for the Thursday ads or Sunday morning paper.  My email address was included in the ad.  On Thursday I received an email from Deborah Outland of Lexington, KY the 3 x great granddaughter of John Rivers Roberts and his first wife Sarah B. Smithson.  Her longtime friend Shirley Parrish had called her and told her about the ad.  Shirley and her husband L.B. Parrish live in Murray.  L.B. had recently had eye surgery and was looking for some small print to test out his “new” eyes.  He read my ad to Shirley and she called Deborah.  We arranged a phone visit (one of several over the past 3 years and she has been so generous with her family knowledge).  Deborah put me in contact with Rudy Holland back in Calloway County.  He’s also the 3 x great grandchild of John Rivers Roberts and Sarah B. Smithson.  Rudy owns his grandfather’s old farm place which I believe sits next to the John Rivers Roberts’ original farm in Calloway.  I believe it was Rudy who shared over the phone with me the name John Rivers Roberts and “sent” me to Williamson County, Tennessee.  In other words, you can’t do good genealogy without a lot of wonderful people’s help!  (Note added 7/30/2015, My “newly discovered” cousin Charles Roberts points out that Rudy Holland was also the 2 x great grandson of Newton Roberts on the Holland side.)

I’ve learned much about the Roberts family since “striking” the trail in 2012.  By 2013 I thought we (my faithful wife and research assistant Dee Ann) had enough information to make a trip to Tennessee and Kentucky.  We picked up the trail in Tennessee a few days after Thanksgiving and enjoyed the end of a weekend of celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Franklin.  The Carnton Plantation is well worth the visit.

On Monday morning we were in the Williamson County Archives as soon as the considerate and helpful staff opened the doors.  If you’re doing genealogy research for Williamson County ancestors, this is a must visit.  It’s a library, research center and courthouse all rolled into one.  We took pages and pages of document copies away from the center at very reasonable prices.  They have a computer database from which you can search, access and print records.  They have an excellent collection of genealogical volumes for research only purposes.  They have books and collections for purchase.  They have old maps.  And did I mentioned they have informed and helpful staff and volunteers?

I continue to mine the gold and assay the value of the nuggets we unearthed in our visit.  The story of my Roberts family continues to unfold in bits and pieces.  As we assemble the pieces of the puzzle, the picture becomes brighter and more certain.  I’m very interested in any piece you may have to add to the puzzle.

John Rivers Roberts was born October 14, 1800 in probably Lunenburg County, Virginia.  (We hope to pick up the trail there someday soon.)  Family lore says he was named after his father (John) and his mother’s maiden name “Rivers”.  I can’t confirm this.  In fact, I find evidence to the contrary.  However, I never discount family lore until I can completely discredit it.  Even if it’s not true, it often has an element of fact in it.  There is a possibility that our family lore is off by one generation and that it was his grandfather who was married to a Rivers and not his father.  We have yet to confirm the first name of John Rivers’ grandfather but believe we know where to pick up his trail.

Here’s a quick side note for those researching this family.  Pay close attention to allied families and neighbors in both Williamson, TN and Lunenburg, VA.  You will see many of the same names and find where the Roberts children obtain their mates.  Keep in mind that Lunenburg County changes configuration at least 3 times and maybe more during this Roberts family tenure there.  Look at the Roberts and their neighbors on Juniper Creek off of the north branch of the Meherrin River in Lunenburg.  This appears to be the beginning area of our specific Roberts family branch’s multiplication in America.  My candidates for John Rivers’ grandfather include William, Thomas and James.  My leading contender is James, the same name as John Rivers’ older brother who was born in 1798.  Keep in mind as you research that there appears to be two James Roberts on Juniper, Senior and Junior.  It’s possible that one of these is John Rivers father’s dad and the other his brother.  It’s possible that one is his father and the other is his grandfather.  It’s possible this is not the name of John Rivers’ grandfather at all!

We pick up John Rivers Roberts’ trail back in Williamson.  He and his family can be documented by tax records in the county as early as 1805.  Land and legal documents continue to build the picture through the late 1850s.  It appears they had land on the Harpeth River first and then settled for good on the headwaters of McCrory Creek which feeds into the Harpeth south of Franklin.  Besides James (1798), I have been able to identify two more brothers and one sister.  Frances “Fannie” Roberts was born in 1802.  Anderson G. Roberts was born in 1808.  I suspect he is the origin of my great grandfather John Anderson Roberts’ middle name.  Newton T. Roberts was born in 1811.  Some say there was also a Joseph but I haven’t been unable to document this person.  John Roberts Sr. (John Rivers’ father, I call him “My John Roberts”) may have had other brothers migrate to Williamson.  This makes unraveling the Roberts crew in Williamson that much more challenging.  (Hidden away in the woods off Roberts Rd. in Arrington, TN there is a “lost” cemetery known by old timers to be the Benjamin Roberts cemetery.  You find his son John D. in Williamson County documents.  Finding and visiting this cemetery is another story for another time.)

John R. (the name I usually use to identify John Rivers Roberts) married Sarah B. “Sally” Smithson in 1821.  Family lore says she was an exceptionally beautiful young lady.  She came from a large family with a large presence in Lunenburg, Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties of Virginia.  They also had a big presence in Williamson County through the 1800s.  They settled on Rutherford and Flat Creeks in the southern part of the county.  Brothers John R. and Newton would eventually buy land on these same creeks and begin their own families.

John R. and Sally Smithson Roberts welcomed their first child Clement Smithson Roberts in 1822.  He appears to be named after his maternal grandfather Clement S. Smithson.  Their second child was a son as well, they named James in 1825.  Was this in honor of my John Roberts Senior’s father?  I don’t know but it could be a clue.  Sadly, I have reason to believe the arrival of this son coincided with Sally’s death.  John R. now had two young sons to raise on his own.

John R. married his second wife, Rebecca Ann Giles, in January of 1827.  She too came from a large and significant family who lived south of today’s Bethesda, TN.  They obtained their marriage license from Maury County just to the south and east of this location and after marriage settled on Rutherford Creek.  Their children included William Claiborne, 1827, in honor of Rebecca’s father William C. Giles, Sarah “Sally” (1828) in honor of John R’s first wife (*See note below.), John Anderson (1830), Thomas Paschal (1832), and Lucy Jane (1833).  John R’s brother Newton would marry Rebecca Ann’s sister Sarah Jane Giles in 1838.  The brothers buy at least one piece of land together in 1838 on the waters of Rutherford and Flat Creeks.  Newton will eventually sell back his part to this land to John R. in 1849.  I have suspected this was in order to migrate to Calloway County, Kentucky.  But one or more of the cousins points out that Newton “drops off the radar” for 20 years and reappears in Calloway in 1870.  Wow!  Does anyone know where he went?  The year sounds like gold fields in California.  These dates also include the Civil War.  Can we document something?  Is there any family lore on the Newton family side? (*See note below.)

John R and Annie’s boys will all eventually migrate to Calloway.  Most will stay.  My great grandfather John Anderson will be the exception.   He migrates to Texas with his son-in-law J.B. Lassiter and family in about 1875.  John R. is the last of the Roberts from Williamson to arrive in Kentucky.  I suspect because his mother did not die until about 1857 in Williamson.  I failed to mention earlier that his father, John Roberts, died all the way back in November of 1823.  His wife, John R.’s mother, never remarried and lived on the McCrory Creek property until her death.  (Her name was Rebecca Sammons which may come as a surprise to most family tree owners with John Rivers Roberts in their trees.  But this is another story for another day.)  In the 1850 census she’s living on this property with her daughter Fannie (That’s Francis “Fannie” Roberts) and Fannie’s husband Alfred Tatum and their children.  The Tatum family also migrated from Lunenburg, VA and vicinity.  At one point we find Fannie and her family living next door to Anderson G. Roberts in Hickman County, TN in 1840.  He was her younger brother.  He married Alfred Tatum’s sister Celia in 1831.  So brother and sister married brother and sister. The Anderson G. family is back in Williamson County in the 1880 census perhaps living on the original Roberts place after a time in Marshall County, KY.  (Note:  This is where William Penn Roberts once commented he had lost track of them.  I’ll talk more about Penn when I write about Rebecca Sammons)

Now, what was that question?  Oh yeah, can you shed any light on where John Rivers and Rebecca Ann Roberts are buried?  Back on the trail…

Dee and I left Williamson County headed for Calloway in early December.  We had pre-scheduled visits to the courthouse in Murray and the Pogue Special Collections Library on the campus of Murray State University.  We had also arranged to meet with Rudy Roberts Holland and tour the Liberty/Shiloh area.  Only our visit with Nancy Roberts Thurman did not go as planned because of an illness in her family.

Rudy Holland is everything you would expect to find in a Kentucky gentleman.  He was warm and gracious, informed and helpful.  He shared family group sheets and a copy of his GEDCOM file he had on disc.  He allowed me to copy (I photographed) his Roberts family binder.  A few years ago Rudy had an old log cabin he was told John R. had built over 150 years ago moved up behind his farmhouse.  Rudy built a cedar exterior around it to protect it from the elements.  What a wonderful experience!  What a wonderful Roberts’ family treasure!  Then we were off to the cemeteries where we visited my great-grand-aunts and uncles’ final resting places.  There were plenty of cousins as well.  But what about John Rivers and Rebecca Ann Roberts place of rest?

I first read about this mythical cemetery on internet inquiry sites.  I saw mention of it in the Pogue Library.  It was called Roberts Cemetery #2.  Some of my cousins had heard of it and thought they might know where it was but had only visited as small children or had it pointed out to them at a distance.  Based on some of this information, I had previously found a map on the website Podunk and then used Google Earth software to locate what I thought was a contender.  I was wrong.  It turned out that I was looking at the Clement Smithson Roberts Cemetery.  Now, that was a fascinating visit in itself!  But…

Where was John R. and Rebecca Roberts?

John R. and Rebecca bought a farm in the Shiloh community Calloway prior to 1860.  They’re working the farm with a young John Childers whose family they knew in the area.  The farms adjacent to theirs are owned by the Hollands, Roberts (W.C. and T.P.) and Ivies.  By the 1880 census Rebecca is deceased and John R. has married his neighbor Malinda Holland.  Her maiden name was Miller.  She married Josiah Holland in January of 1843 and he died in 1862.  By 1880 she and their youngest son Henry B. Holland are living in the John R. Roberts household.  Without an 1870 census for this same Roberts household I can’t be any more accurate on death dates (at least not yet).  Rebecca died sometime after 1860 and John R. died sometime after 1880.  I’m hoping someone has more information than this.  Who knows, I may have it buried in a document I possess and have overlooked it.

The burial place.JRR 3

I asked Rudy if he knew where they were buried.  I understood him to say that he had never seen the graves but his father or grandfather had pointed out a place to him.  I asked him if we could go and take a look at this place.  On old Hwy 94 just south of Crabtree Rd. there is a small modern home.  It is believed to be the original home site of the John R. Roberts farm.  Rudy believed the graves might be located under a single tree to the left of this home as you face it from the road.  We made our way to the tree and saw nothing.  It sits in a spot that has been tilled in the past but on a cold day in December we saw only matted grass, flat matted grass.  Pulling back the grass we uncovered stones, several stones.  They were lying flat and in soil under the matted grass.  Some of the stones had writing.  Some were large, flat field stones with scrapes from what appeared to be tractor implements.  One recognizable name on an engraved monument stone was Mary J. Martin.  The birth date appears to be 1839 and the death date appears to be 1862.  The birth date may be 1849.  Sarah Ann “Sally” Roberts, John R. and Rebecca’s daughter, was born in 1828 and married Ivason Brooks Martin in 1847 in Williamson County, TN.  The dates don’t match her.  If the birth date was supposed to be 1849 she could be their child.  So, who is Sally J. Martin and why was she buried on the Roberts farm?

JRR1JRR 11JRR6JRR9

There were other flat field stones here.  Stones like you would use to mark graves.  Stones like we saw in Arrington, TN.  Kneeling beside these stones I felt connected.  I believe this to be the final resting place of John Rivers and Rebecca Ann Roberts.  For this reason alone, it will be a special place for me.

JRR12

Work needs to be done on this site and I encourage my Calloway cousins to consider if there are options to research, recover and mark this location.  (See map coordinates below.)

I want to express my appreciation to all who have assisted and added to my research.  Little gets done without people like you.  My online tree has a small part of my research and can be found on Ancestry.  My DNA results are on Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.  Follow my Roberts/Ingram/Byrd/Burns stories at:  https://backtrackingthecommon.com/

2015 GPS coordinates for John R and Rebecca Ann Roberts’ burial site

9446-9804 Kentucky 94

Murray, KY 42071

36.688823, -88.182096

Google Maps 2015

This property sits approximately 300 yards south of the intersection of Crabtree Rd. (1551) and Kentucky Hwy 94 in Calloway County.  Once you park in the drive way, look slightly to your left and there is a lone tree (2013) in the field that comes near the house place.  The gravestones are underneath that tree.  When I was there in December of 2013 they were covered over in matted grass.  This should mean this is the site of John Rivers Roberts’ old home place.

*Since publishing this post I have been able to document there are no missing years for this Newton Roberts family.

*I now believe John R. and Rebacca Ann Roberts first child Sarah “Sally” was named after John R’s grandmother who lived in Williamson County until her death.  Her name was Sarah Sammons but she went by Sally.

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Unwrapping Family

When it comes to present day family, we’re generally pulled in one of two directions.

  1. The family I grew up in was near perfect and that’s the way family should be.
  2. The family I grew up in was a mess and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

These are not correct but they’re the directions in which most of us are pulled.

Our twenty-four year old neighbor ran up to Dee and me while we were standing in our front yard last week.  We’ve known him since he was in the 3rd grade.  He blurted out something like, Mr. Gary, Miss Dee I’ve just got to know, do you ever argue?  Do you ever have disagreements?  I’ve known you most of my life and I’ve never seen you fight or disagree with one another.  LOL!  We assured him we have had many “lively discussions” through our married life.  We intentionally left our children and others out of these by having them in private.  We may have made a mistake.  For example, our friend was relieved to know we “fought”.  The idea of an ideal family is a myth.

Family dynamics can be a strange animal.  What is right to some can feel wrong to others.  What is normal to us is very abnormal to others.  Does that make us right?  I don’t think so.

These thoughts began to churn in my mind after visiting with a distant cousin and fellow family history enthusiast.  I “met” her after putting an ad in the Murray County, KY newspaper two years ago.  I was looking for Roberts’ family connections and knew next to nothing about them.  My cousin’s friend’s husband saw the ad and brought it to his wife’s attention.  His wife passed the information on to my cousin in another city.  She contacted me and the rest is as they say, family history!

She and I visited on the phone again last week and she shared an insightful nugget.  She said the Roberts family she knew could be cliquish.  They tended to stay to themselves and rarely had high regard for their mates’ families.  I thought about the family in which I grew up.  We knew so little about either side of our family and rarely saw or interacted with them, especially my mom’s.  I’m not sure of all the reasons for this.  I know Dad and his father, who had been raised as an orphan, rarely agreed.  He left home at 16, lied about his age and joined the military.  I’m not sure if it was always this way, but it seems that if you disagreed with dad or made him mad (not very difficult) he could just do without you.  He didn’t invite you to visit and he didn’t make an effort to visit you.  We rarely saw family.  My brother once correctly pointed out to me that if dad had not left his Veteran’s check coming to his parents address in Fort Worth we would have seen them even less.  I can’t remember ever meeting my mom’s father.  I thought I had a faint memory of meeting him once but after a conversation with her, I now realize it was actually my Grandfather Burns.  My memories are rare and cherished.

Is this the way our family is today?  No.  Not really.  I have some similar traits but we’re different in many ways.  I have tendencies but Dee helps me fight them.

Here is one way I’m very much like my dad.  If you can’t come see me or don’t want to come see me, I’m entirely okay with it.  I want you to do what you need to do.  I want you to do what you want to do.

Our ministry obligations early in marriage kept us from seeing our family as often as we would have liked.  I was no doubt primed and ready for this by my upbringing.  My parents understood this and were really great with it.  I never felt any pressure to visit them or perform in any way to meet their expectations.  They had a wonderful “come when you can” and “you’re always welcome” attitude, but don’t put yourself out.  I absolutely love this about mom and dad and believe it gave me the freedom to spend more time with my children.  Did I mention I love my mom and dad?

I’ve “given daughters away” and encouraged my sons to “leave their father and mother and cleave unto their wives”.  I often feel misunderstood and rarely ever (maybe never) asked to clarify my thinking.  I’ve told my grown children I’ll stay out of their lives unless they choose to invite me in.  (I know this doesn’t sound much like community.)  I want them to know they’re always welcome but never obligated.

Dee and I saw the conflict in families when you have hard fast traditions your children are expected to follow.  We chose not to have any.  We did holidays different, never doing them the same two years in a row.  Our grown and married children feel no obligation to be with us on the actual holidays and rarely ever are.  They’re usually off with their in-laws.  Good.  We took our kids on “nuclear family” vacations so we could have time away just to ourselves.  Was this good?  I don’t know.  We had regular meals and family discussions.  Was this good?  I think so.

We did things the way we did them.  Were they all right?  No.  Would we do some things different?  Yes.  Should you do things the way we did them?  No?  Should you consider doing some things differently?  Yes.

What part is nature and what part is nurture?  The good genealogist is always willing to consider both.

 

 

A Peek at My DNA Results

I sent my DNA samples off to Ancestry and Family Tree for autosomal testing in January.  While waiting for my results I hastily built a “cousin catching” online tree at Ancestry.  I received my results in March and enjoy the benefits to this day!

I plan to write a couple of full posts on DNA in the near future.  For now I want to highlight one benefit.

Autosomal DNA testing is a “family connections” type of testing.  That’s one way I think of it.  I’m told it allows you to find accurate connections to a maximum of 5 to 6 generations.  It allows you to connect on both your male and female sides.  The larger the test pool (total number of DNA contributors in any database), the more accurate the results.  I chose the two services with the largest and fastest growing databases.

My results give me a range or approximate amount of DNA compared to the known samples.  Both companies’ results were similar as you would hope they would be.  Here’s a broad overview.

I’m 99% European.  It breaks down with these approximate ranges:

  • Great Britain – Range 33% – 95% estimated at 65%
  • Scandinavia – Range 0% – 37% estimated at 16%
  • Ireland – Range 0% – 21% estimated at 9%
  • Europe West – Range 0% – 19% estimated at 6%
  • Italy/Greece – Range 0% – 4% estimated at 1%
  • Europe East – Range 0% – 5% estimated at 1%
  • European Jewish – Range 0% – 2% estimated at less than 1%
  • Caucasus Region – Range 0% – 3% estimated at less than 1%

Meaning

There’s nothing exciting here.  I’m about as white and European as you can get.  For generations now my ancestors have found and married others with genetic links to the same general part of the world.  Boring?  Those are the DNA facts and as you know in genealogy facts are good.

My DNA test results answers questions.

  • Who was my grandfather’s father?
  • Do I have Native American blood?
  • Am I related to a particular group of families?

My DNA test results help me make connections.

Some of the best fun and most productive genealogical results from DNA testing has been “meeting” so many wonderful new cousins.  They continue to add to my tree and my life.

One thing I would do different.

If I were doing it over, I would build a “cousin catching” tree on Family Tree like I did on Ancestry.  I encourage you to build a tree online and then order your DNA test.

A pleasant surprise

I wondered where my western European DNA originated and I think I found it!  I knew by the “paper trail” I’m related to the Nichols of Williamson County, Tennessee and Kerr County, Texas.   My Grandmother Emma Lee Ingram Roberts’ mother was a Nichols by birth.   I did not know until last week that through them I’m kin to the Schaffer family of South Carolina.  I found my newest and so far only sets of 5th generation great grandparents!  The paper trail clearly leads to:

Frederick Schaffer (1720 – 1786) and Maria E. Schaffer (1734 – 1787)

Johan G. Eichelberger (1729 – 1805) and Elizabeth C. Eichelberger 1740 – 1784)

The pleasant surprise?  All four were born in Germany.  Why is this pleasant to me?  Dee and I have two wonderful daughter-in-laws with clear and close German heritages (Katie and Katy).  In August we’ll add our third (Elizabeth)!  Well ladies, your husbands have always had the DNA in them.  And, by the way, 5 x great grandmother Eichelberger’s full name was Elizabeth Catherine Eichelberger!  I’m a proud great grandson and a proud father-in-law.

Thinking about DNA testing?  Build that simple pedigree tree.  Research your options.  Stay tuned.  Consider following this blog and signing up for updates.  I’ll post more on DNA in the future.

Happy hunting.

What Do You See In this 1860 Census Image?

How’s your eyesight?  What name is given for the the head of this household in the 1860 Federal Census in District 1, Williamson County, Tennessee? (The Image mirrors the quality of the original.)
1860 Roberts, Anderson G. Federal Census for Williamson County, TN

Source Citation

Year: 1860; Census Place: District 1, Williamson, Tennessee; Roll: M653_1279; Page: 170; Image: 346; Family History Library Film: 805279

Source Information

Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Original data: 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

Here’s what the indexer saw.

Name: Anderson F Roberts
Age in 1860: 53
Birth Year: abt 1807
Birthplace: Tennessee
Home in 1860: District 1, Williamson, Tennessee
Gender: Male
Post Office: Franklin
Value of real estate: View image

Did the indexer see it correctly?  Is it what they “saw” or could it have been “what they typed”?  Look at your keyboard next to the “F” key.  What do you see to the right?  Yes. That’s what I think this indexer did.  They made a typographical error.  They typed an “F” rather than a “G”.  They also failed to separate the Roberts family from the previous family in the column even though the original record clearly separates them.

What do we learn?

  • View the original when you can.  Don’t just take my word or the word of any other well-meaning person.  You are ultimately responsible for what you put on your tree.  Our lack of caution may confuse other online friends trying to “fill in their blanks”.  I found this relative in several other trees as Anderson F. Roberts when he is clearly Anderson G. Roberts here and in other documents.
  • Recognize your fallibility and the fallibility of others.  We all make mistakes.  Try to catch as many as you can.  Be open to correction.  We just want to get it right.
  • Take the time to put alternate information into the record when given the opportunity.  Remember, only put in what you see in the original document, not what you think or know it should be based on other research.

Can you Help!  Anderson G. Roberts is my 2 x great grand uncle.  Do you know anything about the Roberts or Tatums from Williamson County, Tennessee?  I would like to hear from you.  We may be cousins!  Also, if you enjoy this post or other posts on my blog, please share this blog with others.  You may also sign up to receive notice when new blogs are posted.  Use the “Follow” button on the Home Page.

Thanks for your help!

Dealing with Death Certificates

I love death certificates.  I sort of collect death certificates, well, at least for family history purposes.  They’re a wealth of information – and some of it is good!

Like all documents, the information contained on a death certificate is only as good as the informant. If the informant knows the correct dates, names or spellings, the document MAY be correct IF the document transcriber records it correctly.  As I wrote in an earlier post, good genealogists are good skeptics.

What can we learn about our ancestors from their death certificates?  What is the most valuable information found in these documents?  How should we approach them?  What cautions should we consider?

Consider the certificates of three brothers, three of my great grand uncles.

William F. Ashlock died 12 October 1922 in Wise County, Texas.  These facts and the cause of death are the most reliable facts on a death certificate.  Why?  Because they are the facts provided by an attending physician who is aware of the date, time and place of this event.  This information is found on the right side of the three samples we see here. We look here at only the left side of these samples.

1922 Ashlock, William F. Death Certificate

  • Place of death:  Decatur, Wise County, Texas
  • Name:  William F. Ashlock
  • Sex:  Male
  • Race:  White
  • Marital Status:  Widower
  • Date of birth:  March 18, 1837
  • Age:  85 yrs. 7 mo. 25 days
  • Occupation:  Farmer
  • Birthplace:  Illinois
  • Name of Father:  Joe Ashlock
  • Father’s birthplace:  Kentucky
  • Name of Mother:  Miss Elizabeth Norman
  • Mother’s birthplace:  Kentucky
  • Informant:  W. H. Ashlock
  • Address:  Decatur, Texas
  • File date and official who filed it:  November 6, 1922 by Carla Faith

Joshua Middleton Ashlock died 17 March 1923 in Wizard Wells, Jack County, Texas.

  • 1923 Ashlock, Joshua M. Death CertificatePlace of death:  Wizard Wells, Jack County, Texas.
  • Sex:  Male
  • Race:  White
  • Marital Status:  Married
  • Birth date:  March 27, 1848
  • Age at death:  74 yrs 11 mo 19 days
  • Occupation:  Farmer and Carpenter
  • Place of birth:  Dallas County, Texas
  • Father’s name:  Josiah Ashlock
  • Father’s birthplace:  Illinois
  • Mother’s name:  Elizabeth Nobles
  • Mother’s birthplace:  Illinois
  • Informant:  Mrs. Dora Crabb of Jean, Texas
  • Information recorded by Hattie E. Worley (I think.) on March 28, 1923

James Wesley Ashlock died July 23, 1936 in Wise County, Texas.

  • 1936 Ashlock, J Wesley death certificatePlace of death:  Wise County, Texas
  • Sex:  Male
  • Race:  White
  • Marital Status:  Married
  • Date of birth:  July 31, 1850
  • Age at death:  85 yrs 11 mo 22 days
  • Occupation:  Farmer, Retired
  • Date he last worked:  Dec. 1926
  • Years he worked at this occupation:  50
  • Birthplace:  Dallas, Texas
  • Father’s name:  Josiah Ashlock
  • Father’s birthplace:  Unknown
  • Mother’s name:  Elizabeth Norman
  • Mother’s birthplace:  Unknown
  • Informant:  G. C. Ashlock
  • Burial place and date:  Anneville Cemetery on July 24, 1936
  • Undertaker:  O.L. Christian of Decatur, Texas.
  • Filed July 28, 1936 by J.A. Chandler

Josiah Ashlock was born in 1814 in Anderson County, Tennessee.  He married my great, great grandmother Elizabeth Norman in Greene County Illinois in 1833.  She was born in Kentucky.  They began their family in 1834 with the birth of their daughter Nancy.  Their oldest son William F. arrived in 1837 followed by two daughters and a son. They arrived in Texas in about 1844 as part of the Peters Colony and settled on land along both sides of the Denton and Dallas County lines.  The original grant would be mostly north of the President George Bush Freeway east of where it intersects with with Stemmons Freeway (I – 35).  Joshua Middleton was the first of this Ashlock family to be born in Texas in 1849.  His younger brother James Wesley was born in July of 1850 also in Dallas County.  Josiah would die around 1852.  Elizabeth Norman Ashlock married my great, great grandfather Stephen Riggs.  He also had Peters Colony land surveyed in southeastern Denton County.  His first wife had died sometime before 1850.  My great grandmother Rachel Marinda Riggs would be born in Denton County in 1855.

So how did our three death certificate informants do at the death of these three Ashlock brothers?

The informant for William F. Ashlock was W. H. Ashlock.  I’m not sure who he was.  He may be a son or a grandson.  He knows his family.  He gets William’s birth date, birthplace, mother’s name and birthplace all correct.  He names William’s dad as “Joe” Ashlock.  While I can understand the 1820’s use of this name, I doubt I’ll ever find it in any official documents related to Josiah Ashlock.  He missed the place of William’s father’s birth.  All-in-all it’s not a bad performance.

The informant for Joshua M. Ashlock was Dora Crabb.  I’m not sure who she was. She gets Joshua’s name, place of birth, and father’s name correct.  She misses by one year the correct birth date.  She is also incorrect about Joshua’s father and mother’s birthplaces.  She also gives the wrong maiden name for Elizabeth.  This might confuse a well intended family historian.

The informant  for James Wesley was his son G.C. Ashlock (That’s Grover Cleveland).  He’s right about his father’s birth date, birthplace and name.  He gets his mother’s name correct.  He doesn’t know his father or his mother’s birthplace and he doesn’t guess.  He doesn’t know everything but he won’t confuse you with what he doesn’t know.

What do we learn from these death certificate examples and how we can use death certificates in our genealogy research?

  1. Death certificates are very reliable for the date and cause of death.  I will take this date of death over what is on a headstone or in a family bible.  Why?  Think about it.  Use the comment section.
  2. If the date on a death index is different from a death certificate, I’ll give more weight to the certificate.
  3. The information on any document is only as good as the informant and as reliable as the transcriber.  I like the information from an attending physician and treat everything else with less weight.
  4. What do we do with the other information on a death certificate?  Use it to corroborate other information you have.  Use it as clues on where to research next.

I love death certificates and what they provide family researchers!  I’m just a little skeptical and you should be as well.

Happy Hunting!

Samuel Byrd and the Texas Taxman

You can learn a lot from tax records.  Consider Samuel Byrd.

This Samuel Byrd was born in Tennessee on April 14, 1814.  He was the son of David Byrd and Jane Morehead.  His grandparents were Richard and Elizabeth Buster Byrd.  He (this Samuel Byrd) is one of my great, great grandfathers.  I say “this” Samuel Byrd because he’s often confused with his son Samuel Zedock Byrd (1852 – 1938) by people building online trees.  We know much about this son.  I visited his and his second wife’s grave a few weeks ago in Collin County, Texas.  I also, quite by accident, came across his first wife’s grave in a Hunt County, Texas cemetery while looking for another great, great grandfather.  His death certificate records his name as S.Z. Byrd.  There’s a good article about him and his family in a book on Collin County families.   (Collin County Texas Families, Alice Ellison Pitts and Minnie Pitts Champ; Cutis Media, Hurst, Texas; pages 69, 70.)  The article was written by Bryan Vicars, a proud family descendant.  I can’t prove some of the statements in the article (In fact, I can disprove some and doubt others.), but I do know “this” is Samuel Zedock Byrd, the son of my great, great grandfather Samuel Byrd.

I’m very interested in “my” Samuel Byrd.  I know so little about him.  I know more about his wife Elizabeth Horn Byrd.  I know a lot more about his other children.  I’ve spent considerable time trying to know him yet he remains distant and illusive to me.

Some say Samuel Byrd migrated to Texas in the middle 1850’s.  Someone reported on Find a Grave that he died September 11, 1857 and is buried in historic Pecan Grove Cemetery in McKinney, Texas.  I cannot confirm either of those statements.  The cemetery association was “officially” formed in or after 1870.  It is believed however that people have been buried in those grounds since the 1850’s.  According to land records, the land was originally owned by the McFarland and then fairly soon purchased by the Davis Family.  Both of these families previously lived in Wilson County, Tennessee before migrating to Texas.  It is believed by some that both Jeremiah and Elizabeth Horn were born in Wilson County.  Could their families, the Horns, McFarlands and Davis’s, known each other in Tennessee?

I know my great, great grandmother Elizabeth is buried in Pecan Grove.  I know her second husband Thomas Rodman is buried beside her.  I once thought my 2 x great grandfather Samuel was buried there in a vacant space on the other side of Elizabeth.  I no longer do.  Here are some reasons.

  • There is no record of his burial there. He is not in any plot records including the hand written originals in the cemetery’s safe.
  • The cemetery personnel believe someone may be buried in that vacant space but have no way of knowing who. It’s not in the records.  The plot is actually still for sale.  I give more weight to Samuel and Elizabeth’s six year old son Jeremiah David Byrd being buried there in 1861 and may explain Elizabeth’s decision to return here to bury her second husband and later have her children bury her there.  The name on those occupied plot deeds is Elizabeth Rodman dated from the 1870s.  She only purchased 2 plots when she certainly could have afforded 3 and a headstone for her first husband.  (BTW, my “abt” and “aft” date of 1855 for Samuel’s death date on my family tree is based on Jeremiah David’s 1855 birth date.
  • There are no records of any kind for “this” Samuel Byrd in the State of Texas.   No census.  No probate.  No obituaries.  No bank records.  No land records.  No tax records.  There is nothing you would expect from a man settling in to a new place…or dying!  And, I can find some or all of these for Elizabeth and her children in Texas beginning in 1860.

Death and taxes are the two certain things in life.  The tax man always cometh.  When I thought about this, I decided to firm up my suppositions with “negative proof”.  I would need to show myself there is no evidence “my’ Samuel Byrd ever arrived in Texas –  tax records.  Samuel Byrd was never to my knowledge, and I searched four likely counties, charged a tax in Texas. That means no taxes for land, occupation, income, etc.  None.

But, here’s something interesting.  I began tracking Samuel’s father-in-law Jeremiah Horn and his sons George and John’s tax records.  They began paying taxes in 1846 in Collin County and continued to pay taxes through 1857.  These included taxes on their wagons and we know they were teamsters and had a freight business.  Then in 1858, I lost them and did not pick them up again until 1860.  Why?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it was an oversight on my part.  But it wasn’t just Jeremiah, it was Jeremiah and George and John.  All three owned original survey land in Collin County.

OK, I don’t know what happened.

Here’s something I know.  In the 1860 Federal Census, Elizabeth and her children are living in Collin County near the Lebanon Post Office.  She is the head of her household and works as a weaver.  The community of Lebanon was named after Lebanon, Tennessee the previous home of many of the early settlers in this part of Collin County.  That’s Lebanon in Wilson County, Tennessee.  She lived about nine miles south of her father’s home place and about five miles west of another property once surveyed for him.  She was about nine miles north of her “missing” husband’s cousin James Byrd in north Dallas County and about eleven miles east of her son Pleasant Wesley’s future wife’s family in Denton County.

What if Samuel Byrd, yes “that” one, died in Alabama?  What if the Horns made the trip to where Elizabeth was living in order to help her, her five girls and young sons, finish crops, sale land, pack up and make the move to Texas in 1859?

I don’t know.  I really don’t.  I’m open to new documented evidence.  But here’s what I know so far…the Texas taxman never came for Samuel Byrd, but death did.


Have you ever used tax records in your family history research?  Interested?

Check out Susan Jackman’s great article on using taxes in your genealogical research.

http://www.archives.com/experts/jackman-susan/tax-records-in-genealogical-research.html

Ten Genealogical Lessons I Learned the Hard Way – New FREE webinar available for a LIMITED TIME

Here’s another great Legacy Family Tree seminar.  It’s FREE for a limited time.  Genealogist Warren Bittner shares his years of experience by sharing some of his mistakes as a researcher and how you can avoid them.  Humorous and Helpful.

Click on the link and press the “Watch Video” button.  Enjoy!

http://www.familytreewebinars.com/download.php?webinar_id=284

Tip # 7: How to Use Other Family Trees

Online family trees can be a blessing or a curse in your family research.

They are a curse if you…

  • Dismiss them as having no value to your research
  • Take them as “gospel” truth without question
  • Use their information without confirming its accuracy
  • Copy them to just fill in the blanks on your family tree

They are a blessing if you…

  • Use them as clues providing direction to your research
  • Ask, “Can I confirm or disprove these statements?”
  • Use them as affirmation when they agree with your completed research.
  • Connect you with other researchers interested in your family line

When I began researching my Byrd family, I met a 1st cousin I didn’t know.  Harold invited me to view his family tree on Ancestry and it has served as an invaluable guide in my Byrd family research.  Thanks Harold Byrd!  Some of the most exhaustive work done on our Byrd family has been done by Randall Byrd.  Much of his work was done in the difficult old fashion ways of the past.  Thanks Randall!

How you use family trees built by others is entirely up to you.  Keep this in mind.  Your decision will be a blessing or a curse to your family research.

Hurry! Two FREE online webinars for a very limited time. Check out these free resources.

Legacy Family Tree offers free weibnars for non-subscribers on an almost weekly basis. There are presently two FREE seminars for your viewing.  Check these out.  Simply click the view button.

American Revolution Genealogy (Until the 15th)

The War of Independence changed history; our history; our families’ history. It’s a story about which we want to know more. Did my ancestor help? …even a little? There’s much to be learned about our ancestors’ roles in this moment in history. In this class, we’ll discover where to start, what the best resources are, and how to tackle the research. So, let’s go in search of answers using the soldiers’ service and pension records and unit narratives.

http://www.familytreewebinars.com/download.php?webinar_id=260

Hookers, Crooks, and Kooks – Aunt Merle Didn’t Run a Boarding House (Until the 17th)

Each of us wants to ignore that scalawag, that counterfeiter, or that madam in our family, but the black sheep may prove the most interesting of all. Learn to examine clues in unusual and also common sources. Learn how they lead to locating more records.

http://www.familytreewebinars.com/download.php?webinar_id=262

Tip #6: Decide to find the facts and not just fill in the blanks.

The internet enables incredible research and collaboration with others on your family’s history.  It’s also fraught with potential traps and misdirection.  A research mistake by you or others is multiplied.  In the past, a person took a blank family tree chart or family group sheet and filled in the blanks on paper as they researched their family.  It was a simple way to keep track of the “facts” they uncovered in their research.  If they were wrong, if they made a mistake in their research, very few people knew or were affected.  That’s not true today.

Family history is not a competition.  We may use games to teach our family history but the research we do is not a game.  When we fail in our due diligence and rush to fill in as many blanks as possible on an online family tree, we confuse and potentially misdirect others.  We may leave behind lies rather than facts for our families to follow.

This is NOT a call to abandon or stop posting online family trees.  I would never do that.  The collaborative aspect is much too valuable.  I’m appealing for accuracy in our research before we post and when we’re not sure about our conclusion to be very clear about our uncertainty.  And there lies the problem with family trees.  They are made up of names, dates and lines connecting those names and dates.  They create blanks for us to fill in and discourage uncertainty.  Family trees are not theses or dissertations.  They’re a simplified expression of that kind of research and thought.

It’s OK to leave blanks on family trees when we’re not reasonably certain what should go in those blanks.  It’s OK for others to question what we have put in our blanks.  We should welcome this.  It’s OK to change the information in our blanks.  It’s OK to use “abt” or “ca” or “unknown”.  Doing so may be better for you and others.

Here’s the bottom line.  You have to decide.  As the genealogist/family historian are you going to focus on finding the facts or filling in the blanks as fast as you can?  Will it be a competition or competent research?  If it’s competent research, you’ll be able to fill in the blanks with confidence.