Family Research + Found Cousins = Fun!

Research and Cousins

I love “new” cousins!  I especially love new cousins pursuing their family’s genealogy/history.  They’re like gold to me – and should be to you as well.

Gary with Bill Wright
Gary with Bill Wright

Last week my friend Bill Wright and I were in middle Tennessee attending a non-genealogical conference.  This small detail didn’t keep me from sneaking into Williamson County after the conference and spending last Saturday doing family research.  I planned half a day in the archives and half a day with cousins.  Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

Plan Your Work

  • What do you need to further your research? Are any of these records available?
  • What records are housed in the county and where? Are they available on the day(s) you will be there?
  • What time will the records be available to view?
  • Does the repository have an online index? Search capabilities?
  • Are you allowed to take photos? Make copies?  What’s the cost?
  • Once you’ve decided to go, ask yourself IF you want to spend time with “new” cousins. If yes, contact them to check their availability and arrange times and places.
  • Pack your “research bag” with all your tools and don’t forget to take it!

The Williamson County, Tennessee Archives are a tremendous resource for families researching middle Tennessee ancestors.  It’s located in Franklin.  This was my second visit.  When my wife and I visited in 2013 I was only aware of my Roberts and Giles lines in the county.  I’ve since discovered my Neelly (Neely), Nichols, Sammons, Smithsons, Tatum, and possibly Rivers lines in the county.  Using the Archives online search capabilities, I was able to locate around ninety documents available on microfilm of interest to me.  There’s no way I would be able to view or collect them all in half a day.  I prioritized them, printed out a list and put it in my bag.

I contacted two of my cousins from two different family lines and asked about their availability to meet Saturday afternoon and evening.  These are two very busy women and of course they both had plans for the day.   But due to circumstances and their sheer determination, they graciously made a way for us to meet for the first time and share some family research.  The bonus?  I also met some of their wonderful family members and visited three family history sites!

Work Your Plan

Bill and I were at the Archives in Franklin when it opened at 8 am Saturday morning.  He began to enjoy the museum housed in the building and I headed for the microfilm files.   Bill would later slip away to visit the many Civil War sites in the city while I would stay focused on my list and pulling the microfilmed documents I wanted.

I was able to collect just over one-third of the documents on my list.  This would include over 150 printed pages and three pages of hand written notes primarily from tax documents.  I specifically targeted wills and specific deeds first.  Then moved on to tax records.  I didn’t spend time viewing and trying to analyze them.  I only viewed them long enough to know I had the right one – hit print – and kept moving.  Like long-lost friends, we’d spend time together in the days to come.

Family  

Gary with Pam and Gary Fisher
Gary with Pam and Gary Fisher

I packed up my bag as the noon hour approached and made a restroom stop.  As I came back into the main hall of the building I was approached by a soft-spoken southern lady and asked if I was Gary.  My cousin Pam Fisher and I were meeting in person for the first time in person.  She’s lived in Williamson County all her life.  I joke that she’s related to most of the families in the county.  If you have family from Williamson County, you may be kin to Pam.  We share 3rd great-grandparents William Cleaton and Lucy Standley Giles and met online through a DNA match in November of 2015.  She’s also related to my 2nd great-grandfather Roberts by his first wife who died as a young mother.  Pam introduced me to her husband Gary and over lunch we discovered that he and I also share a family surname.  Small world.

I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have family in the county of my ancestors.  I look forward to collaborating with them for the rest of our lives!  Imagine how fun it was to share a meal with Gary and Pam and a waitress they’ve known for over twenty years!  Now that’s what I call service – and great food.  Thanks guys for including me in your lives.

Gary and Pam lead tours to Israel.  If you’re interested in booking a tour, let me know and I’ll connect you with them.

John Ian Neely Home
John Ian Neely Home

The Fishers dropped me back at the Archives just in time to meet – again for the first time – my cousin Janice Mills.  She and some of her family had just wrapped up a yard/garage sale to clear out space for a classic car.  We met the rest of them at a wonderful New York style Italian eatery.  I really enjoyed meeting husband Denny, daughter Kelly and Kelly’s friend David.   Janice soon had me back in the car and headed south to see the house of our 5th great-grandfather John Ian Neely and his wife Suzanne Griffith Evans.  They built the Federal style home in 1813 on the Columbia Pike between Franklin and Columbia, TN.  I’ve blogged about it in the past.  It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Janice took a picture back then and sent it to me before I wrote about it, but this would be our first time to walk the property.  We were particularly interested in the rumor of a cemetery surrounded by a rock wall that no longer stood.  The owners were welcoming and informative.  They’d lived on property for forty-four years!  They were not aware of any cemetery surrounded by a rock wall but told us about a cemetery on the original property less than a mile from the house.  We found the cemetery (A funny story for another day).  We found grave stones with the family surnames of others who had lived in the Neely house but no stones with the name Neely clearly etched on them.  Janice plans to do further research to confirm if this is the original Neely cemetery.

I always enjoy walking the land of an ancestor.  Our footsteps meet for a moment in time with the hope we’ll spend eternity together someday.  Thank you Janice for taking time to carry me to this special place in Williamson County.

Gary between the headstones of Thomas and Elizabeth Gibson Blackwell in Franklin, TN
Gary between the headstones of Thomas and Elizabeth Gibson Blackwell in Franklin, TN

Like a flash Janice whisked me away to a subdivision near where she lives.  I had heard about this place and seen pictures of it online but this was my first visit.  Here among ranch-style houses on nice sized lots we parked in a driveway.  We weren’t here to visit the owner or his neighbors.  We were here to visit the cemetery in their back yards!  Tucked up under a tree in the back right corner was the final resting place of our 4th great-grandparents Thomas and Elizabeth Gibson Blackwell. The Blackwell’s son William, said to be one of the first physicians in Williamson County, is also buried here along with a few other family members and according to the property owner/caretaker about five beloved pets.  This land also once felt the fall of ancestors’ footsteps.  What a privilege for me to walk it as well.

Gary with the Mills
Gary with the Mills
Dennis Mills classic car and trophy from previous weekend.
Dennis Mills classic car and trophy from the previous weekend.

Janice and I actually met online this past March through Find a Grave.  She wasn’t raised in the county and isn’t kin to as many people as Pam, but I think she knows most of the people.  She met many of them serving for years as a school board member.  We share a rich heritage in the county through our Neely, Blackwell and Gibson families.  Now that Janice is retired, she has more time for genealogy.  She’s full of life and lives it to the fullest.  She and her family were fun and funny.  I enjoyed their hospitality.  I can’t wait to go back.

Genealogy Trip Tip   

When my wife Dee and I visited the Williamson County Archives in 2013, I found a deed abstract for some land on McCrory Creek between my 3rd great-grandfather John Roberts and Jesse Weathers in the year 1811.  Names were mentioned but like many genealogical abstracts, specific points and measurements were not given.  When I searched for a copy of the original I was disappointed to find it missing from the records.  I learned through others that this land was part of a land grant given to James Moore.  He was a Major General in the Revolutionary War and granted for his service 12,000 acres of land in today’s Williamson County.  That’s a lot of land in which to find my ancestors small parcel.  Why was it so important to me?  I believe this is the most likely burial site for my 3 x great-grandparents John and Rebecca Sammons Roberts.

While in the Archives last week I located and obtained a copy of an original deed which until then I had only had an abstract.  This was one of my top “targets” for this most recent trip to the Archives.  It was a deed gift from John Roberts Sr. to his son John Roberts Jr. in 1823.  It was made not long before Senior died.  He also gave a deed gift to his daughter Frances “Fanny” Roberts who would marry Alfred G. Tatum in 1824 within three months following her father’s death.  Based on later records, I believe these two children would assume the principle care of their mother and the original property.  These two deeds together described the property owned by John and Rebecca Roberts on the “headwaters of McCrory Creek”.  I found more records of James Moore, while living in Washington County, TN, assigning land to many people in Williamson County.  One of those men was Samuel Jackson, a distant cousin of General Andrew Jackson.  The cousins would later have a dispute over land and Andrew would run Samuel through with a cane sword.  (Another story for another time) I was then able to find a copy of an original deed between Samuel Jackson and Jesse Weathers from 1806.  Does that name sound familiar?  Based on the physical description of the land from the two gift deeds to the Roberts children and the description of the 1806 deed between Jackson and Weathers, I believe these two properties are the same property.  I do love it when a plan comes together.

I’m prepared now to work my way forward through the deed records with the hopes of finding the exact location of this parcel of land in today’s records.

A Small Sample                 

These few deeds represent a small sampling of the documents I collected from my half day in the Archives.  I left feeling thoroughly blessed.  Plan your work.  Work your plan.

This post represents a very small expression of my appreciation for “new” cousins and the fun I had with the Fishers and Mills.  I’ve told you only a small part of it.  Some because of time and space and some because my cousin Janice said, “Remember Gary, what happens in Franklin stays in Franklin!”  I can’t wait to get back.

Janice Mills and Denny's other ride.
Janice Mills with Denny’s other classic.
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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)

Burton Lee Roberts: A Tip of the Cap

My dad was born in the small Texas Hill Country town named after his grandfather, a grandfather he never knew.  He knew neither of his grandfathers.  His father knew neither of his grandfathers.  His grandfather John Anderson Roberts knew only one of his grandfathers, his mother’s father.  I assume he knew him because they lived in the same part of Williamson County, Tennessee for the first fourteen years of my great-grandfather’s life and the last fourteen years of my 3 x great grandfather William Giles’ life.  He died in 1844.  There weren’t many models for parenting and grand parenting in our Roberts line.

Burton Lee Roberts was born in Ingram, Texas on February 24, 1919.  It was a Monday.  I doubt Dad ever knew that.  I wonder if it surprised Dad to discover he wasn’t given a name on the day he was born?  My grandfather had to apply for the following amended certificate in 1977.  My Dad’s original name?  — Roberts.  No given name.

B.L. Roberts ammended birth certificate

That’s one reason I’ve titled these most recent posts using Dad’s full given name.  His

Burton and BG Chessman
Burton and BG Chessman

name was Burton Lee Roberts.  He was, to the best of my detective work, named after his mother’s sister BG Chessman’s husband and his mother Emma Lee Ingram Roberts.  I suspect his naming was delayed because my grandfather Gus was not in attendance at Dad’s birth and probably not even in town.

Ingram is a small town in western Kerr County located about 83 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas.  My great-grandfather J.C.W. Ingram located his store and post office on the original wagon road from San Antonio to San Angelo in 1883.  The historical markers all say he bought the land from the Morriss family in 1879 but the recorded deed is clear, it was 1883.  The six acres were part of the original Francisco Trevino land grant.  The Ingrams could not have been there in 1879 because they didn’t leave California for Texas until December of 1881.  I’ve documented and written more about that in an earlier post.

In the times in which Dad was born, it was common for expectant mothers to temporarily move in with or very near their mother or other female relative who would assist with the birth and/or after-care.  My widowed great-grandmother’s name was Sarah Alice “Sally” Ingram.   She was the offspring of a Nichols/Neely union from Williamson County before their families migrated to Texas.   She would later accompany her pharmacist/preacher husband to Carrizo Springs, Texas where my grandmother Emma was born in 1898.  She returned to her home in Kerr County after J.C.W.’s death.  Great Grandmother Sally’s presence was no doubt the reason Grandmother Emma Lee was in Ingram the day my dad arrived.  So, where was his father Gus?  I suspect he was 83 miles away, a two or three-day journey, in San Antonio, Texas.  It’s all supposition on my part.  Gus Roberts registered for the World War I draft in September of 1918.1918 Gus Roberts WWI Draft Reg. side 1 only  The war would end two months later and another two months later my dad arrived.  Gus and Emma were newlyweds living in San Antonio according to his registration.  They lived at 2118 Nebraska St.  He worked for Otis Elevator Company and was probably at work the Monday morning his firstborn child arrived – OR, he joined the service and was away.  There are some unknowns here I have yet to uncover – a matter of an early photo of a young granddad Gus in a military looking uniform.  (???) I love a good mystery!

My Dad answered to several names.  According to Veteran Affairs records (Ancestry.com. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011) he was Burton Roberts.  According to the Social Security Administration record “Nov 1938: Name listed as BURTON LEE ROBERTS; 11 Mar 1988: Name listed as BURTON L ROBERTS”.  (Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.)  Thus the S.S. Death Index list him as Burton L. Roberts.  (Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011.)  He often signed his name B.L. Roberts.  Therefore, when I wrote or spoke of him through the years I’ve referred to him as “B.L.” or “Old B.L.”  His friends and family of his generation called him “Bob”.  My children call him “PawPaw”.  These were some of the names of Burton Lee Roberts.

My dad had one more name I’ll mention.  It was a name few called him.  In fact, I’m the only one I remember ever calling him by this name.  In my precocious teen years, I began calling my dad “Pop”.  I doubt many even noticed, but he did.  We talked about in one day.  I brought it up.  I asked him if it was okay with him.  His response, “I don’t care what you call me.”  But I think he liked it.  I know I did.

"Charlie and Lee Chan"
“Charlie and Lee Chan”

The idea came from the old Charlie Chan mystery movies.  Actor Keye Luke played Lee Chan in the majority of those old black and whites.  He was the oldest son of the main character, detective Charlie Chan.  In the series he called his father “Pop”.  He was the first one I remember using the term and the only one of the Chan children (ten or eleven I believe) who called their father by this name.  It could have been seen as insolent in their culture (or mine for that matter); but it felt endearing to me.  It must have felt that way to the writers of the series because Charlie never corrects his son.  Dad never corrected me.

Grandparents don’t always have a say in what their grandchildren eventually call them – but they generally try.  The fact is most of us are stuck with the name our first grandchild can pronounce.  When my wife Dee (MeMaw) and I were discussing what we wanted our first grandchild to call us, I said I wanted to be called “Pop”.  It stuck.  It’s my tip of the cap to “Old B.L.”.

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/

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!