More Connections: Roberts, Smithson, Giles and Nichols

While researching my files for a series of posts on J.A. Roberts, I came across this in his father’s file. In 1838 John R. Roberts and his younger brother Newton bought a tract of land on Rutherford Creek in Williamson County, Tennessee.1838 Roberts, John and Newton land deed from William Tignor (2) W.O. Smithson and Paschal Giles serve as the the two witnesses to this transaction. Giles was the brother of John R. Roberts’ wife Rebecca Anne Giles. Smithson was the brother of John R.’s first wife Sarah B. Smithson (She died perhaps giving birth to their second child). William Overton Smithson was born, as was John R. in Lunenburg County, Virginia. Now, here’s the interesting connection. (I know, you thought I had already shared it.) W.O. Smithson had a son named W.O. Smithson. He was born in Williamson County in 1831 and died in Montague County, Texas in 1900. The surprise: He married Mary Jane Nichols, the sister of my 2 x great-grandfather Frederick Shaffer Nichols.  Both were born in Williamson County. And this reminder from a previous post, My father’s father Gus Roberts, grandson of John R. Roberts, married the granddaughter of Frederick S. Nichols and Sarah Elizabeth Neely. Her name was Emma Lee Ingram and they had to meet in a Children’s Home in Fort Worth to make it happen! I’m certain my grandparents Gus and Emma knew nothing of these earlier relationships in Lunenburg, Williamson or Montague Counties, but now we do!

Gary stands beside grave of W.O. Smithson in Starkey Cemetery in Montague County, Texas (September 2015)
Gary stands beside grave of W.O. Smithson in Starkey Cemetery in Montague County, Texas (September 2015)
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Is DNA a genealogical miracle?

DNA imageIs DNA a genealogical miracle?  Is DNA the answer to all your genealogical problems?  No. And no.  So, why send your DNA sample off and pay someone to work-up your profile?  Because DNA is solid science and fast becoming an invaluable option in the genealogist/family historian’s toolbox.

I sent my DNA samples off last January.  I did some research first.  I decided on an autosomal test and chose two companies.  One sample went to Ancestry.com.  The other went to Family Tree DNA.  The results reached my inbox about eight weeks later within a few days of one another.  Here are some benefits I experienced in the first week of having the results:

  • Confirmed the family identity of the male DNA contributor to my grandfather and therefore confirmed my suspicion of who did not contribute DNA to him.
  • Confirmed we have yet to identify a family surname in another line of our pedigree chart. (Some researchers think they know but the DNA says it isn’t so.)
  • Confronted (and for me settled) the family lore of having Cherokee descendants in our specific family lines.
  • Confirmed my connections to cousins I met in “the old fashion way” of doing genealogy AND connected me to new cousins across America.

Sound like a miracle?  Maybe, but it’s not.

Here are some things DNA cannot do for you.

  • Build a family tree. (At least not yet!)  If you’re hoping to use DNA to breakdown your genealogical brick walls, you had better get to work on your tree!  Your DNA results may tell you you’re related by DNA to another contributor but good luck on knowing who, how, when and where without doing the hard work of genealogy.  I’m amazed at the number of people I match and they have no tree uploaded.  I can see some applications of DNA which would not need a tree but not if you’re doing genealogical/family history work.
  • Go to the library, research center or courthouse for you. Your DNA results can’t travel on your behalf and make the connections that help tell your story.  Where did the people with my DNA live?  Who were their neighbors?  When and where did these DNAs “marry”?  How did somebody with my DNA get where I am geographically?
  • Fill in the gaps and make your family history rich. Your DNA results cannot interview family members.  They cannot take you to a home place and fire your imagination.  They cannot show you a picture to put a face on that contributor.  They can’t tell you the stories of a 95-year-old great-aunt.
  • They can’t do the footwork of emailing, messaging or calling the other matches to compare notes. And if the two of you don’t have well-built trees, you may not accomplish much when you do visit.
  • They can’t interpret themselves. You or somebody else must interpret your results if you’re going to get the most out of them.  For me, this has been a steep learning curve.  I’m in my 8th month and some days feel as if I haven’t learned a thing!  DNA results 100.  Gary 0.  I like learning new things.  I like a challenge. But, honestly, I’ve got my hands full with this one.

And so you ask, would I do it all over again?  Would I spend about $100 per sample to have my DNA tested?  Absolutely!  As I write this post, I can’t wait for my sister’s mtDNA test results to come back!  It’ll be a wonderful addition to our research.  I just have to do the hard work of understanding and using the depth of knowledge and insight it provides to better tell our family’s full and fascinating story.

Here are some steps you can take if you are serious about using DNA.

  • Go online and do a search using the terms “Genealogy” AND “DNA”. Do it just like I typed it with the quotation marks.
  • Go to the YouTube site and plug in the same terms. Watch a couple of videos on the basics.  (BTW, if you’re not using YouTube in your genealogy “how to” learning, you’re missing a great tool.)
  • Now, spend some time. Do some research.  Don’t be discouraged by the complexity.  Visit with someone who loves the science and technology of it.
  • Find and read blogs specific to the subject of DNA testing. Most of the people on my Blogroll (to your right probably) have written on this subject.  Go to their blog and plug the letters “DNA” into their site search box.

Once you get your tree built, gedcom file ready to upload and DNA results available, use these two other wonderful free online tools:  Gedmatch and Genome Mate Pro.  The future is here.

Here’s how I could use your help.

  • If you have family with the surname “Roberts” who’s ancestors have lived in Lunenburg, Charlotte or Mecklenburg Counties, Virginia since the 1760s please put us in contact with one another. I’m laughing as I write this.  It sounds so crazy and presumptuous!
  • If you know a family with the surnames “Wray”, “Ray”, “Rhea”, “Whitson” or “Eagan” and they had relatives in or around Wilson County, Tennessee ca 1799 – 1840, please put us in contact with one another. (Use the comment section.)
  • And, if you have old family photos, please do not destroy them before some family member can identify them and get them up on the internet to bring joy and context to some future researcher. You may possess the only “bread crumbs” leading to your family’s past.  Treat them as treasure.

Happy Hunting!

Now, where is that Genome Mate Pro instructional video…?

Happy Trails: Finding surprises in my research

It’s always a happy coincidence to cross the trail of an ancestor while tracking an entirely different prey.

My dad’s mother and father met at the Masonic Home for Children in Ft. Worth, Texas in about 1905.  They would marry after their graduation from high school at the home in 1916.  It’s doubtful they ever knew their families had crossed paths 100 years earlier in Williamson County, Tennessee.  It’s doubtful anyone knew…until now.

Gus Lee Roberts 1916
Gus Roberts portrait done in about 1917

Gus Roberts was born in Lamar County, Texas in 1898.  His father, John Anderson Roberts was born in Williamson County in 1830.  If you do the math he was nearly 68 years old when my grandfather Gus was born by his second and much younger wife Mary.  He was the only child of this union.  John A. or “Jackie” as he was known, died in 1901.  I doubt Gus had many memories of him and would have certainly not remembered any stories of his origins.  Gus would be raised as an orphan.  (That’s another story for another time.)  John Anderson’s story was very different.  His father’s name was John Rivers Roberts.  He was born in Virginia but arrived in Williamson County as a very young boy in or before 1804.  All of his children would be born in Williamson County and all seven which are known to us would survive to adulthood.  Their place was on Rutherford and Flat creeks.  John R would be the last of the males in his family to leave the county of Williamson, waiting until after the death of his mother in about 1857.  The majority of them would migrate to Calloway County, Kentucky.  His father is known simply as John Roberts.  I call him “My John Roberts” because I don’t know his middle name and I can’t find his father.  He was born in Virginia and arrived in Williamson County by 1804.  He is in the 1805 tax list.  He and Rebecca’s first children, like John R., were born in Virginia.  They would go on to have other children born in Williamson.  He died in the county in November of 1823 and I believe he is buried on the old original Roberts home place somewhere near the headwaters of McCrory Creek.  I wish I knew where.

Emma Lee Ingram Roberts
Emma Lee Ingram Roberts

Emma Lee Ingram was born in Dimmit County, Texas in 1898.  She had a twin who did not survive the birth.  Like her future husband, she was the offspring of her father J.C.W. Ingram’s second wife.  JCW would die in October of 1902 leaving nearly four year old Emma fatherless.  Emma’s mother was named Sarah Alice Nichols when she was born.  Most people knew her, like her namesake aunt, as “Sally”.  She was born in Tennessee in 1861 (Although she is often confused by Ancestry tree builders with some Nichols in Arkansas).  I believe she was born in Williamson like her older siblings but concede it could have been Marshall County.  Her father Frederick Shaffer Nichols, however, was most certainly born in Williamson in September of 1834.  He would eventually migrate to the Hill Country of Texas and die in Kerr County in 1896.  Emma would never know her grandfather.  Frederick Shaffer’s father Allen Frederick Nichols was born in Newberry, South Carolina in 1787.  He and his family were in Williamson before 1816 when his son Andrew was born.  Allen Nichols appears on the same tax records as my 3rd great grandmother Rebecca Roberts and two of my 3rd great Roberts uncles Newton and Anderson (my great grandfather’s middle name namesake).

And so there they are.  Two kids meet in a children’s home in Ft. Worth, Texas without knowing their families had crossed trails and no doubt travelled the same trails 100 years earlier in Williamson County, Tennessee.  The county “marked” both sides of my father’s family and perhaps his family helped shape the county in some small way.

But, that’s not all.  My 2nd great grandfather Frederick Shaffer Nichols married Sarah Elizabeth Neely in Franklin, Williamson County, in 1854.  This was Sarah Alice “Sally” Nichols mother and the grandmother of Emma Lee Ingram, my grandmother.  Sarah Neely’s father was named William L. Neely and was born in Williamson County in 1804.  His father, my 4th great-grandfather, was named James Neely and was born in Virginia in 1783.  He died in Williamson in 1833.  The Neely family was somewhat prominent and influential in the county and spilled over into the northern part of Maury County (Goodspeed histories mention them and their descendants in both counties).  You can find their “fingerprints” all over various records in Williamson County.  There is this one in particular that surprised me.

My 3rd great-grandfather John Rivers Roberts married Sarah B. Smithson before he married my 3rd great-grandmother Rebecca Anna Giles.  John R. and Sarah had two sons together, Clement Smithson Roberts and James S. Roberts.  Sarah may have died giving birth to James in 1825.  Sarah’s father, Clement Smithson, had previously died in Williamson in 1814 when she was about eleven.  His death and subsequent probate produced a considerable number of document pages which continued growing all the way through the 1849 court session!  (It was timber rights and land values based on land and timber on land sold following her father’s death.)  Sarah was a beneficiary and her name appears in those earliest documents and on through and including her sons’ names and her surviving husband John R. as their representative.  And found in the early days of these documents there is the signature of one of the appraisers of the estate in 1815.

James Neely 1815 signature

That’s right.  It’s the 1815 signature of my 4th great-grandfather James Neely on a Smithson/Roberts probate record!

And that’s not all.  William O. Smithson was born in Williamson in 1831.  He married Mary Jane Nichols who was born in the county in 1838.  Yes, that’s the same Smithson and the same Nichols families.  This couple and their family migrated to North Texas, then the Hill Country of Texas (Kerr and Kendall Counties) and then back to Montague County in North Texas.  Just this week the management responsibilities for Mary Jane’s Find A Grave memorial was passed to me.

I’ve only just begun to really look at the Neely family.  I haven’t said much about my Giles family of Williamson and Maury Counties.  I’m sure I’ll find many more connections.  I’m also researching the remarkable number of all family connections between Lunenburg County, Virginia and Williamson County, Tennessee.  If you’re researching families in Williamson and lose their trail, look in Lunenburg, Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties, Virginia first for their ancestors.

Emma Lee Roberts with Debbie & Gary
My sister Debbie Roberts Scroggin and me with our “Nanny”

It’s always exciting for me to “strike” the trail of an ancestor as I backtrack the common.  It’s especially exciting to see those trails intersect and at times merge with the trails of other DNA contributors.

Happy Trails!

(This, as with most of my backtracking work, is dedicated to my grandchildren.  GFR 2015)

https://backtrackingthecommon.com/