Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Two Margarets and Two Marshalls


What do you do when two children in the same ancestral household have been given the same name? Apparently, in some cases, the one easily gets confused for the other. 

This week, as I turn my attention to those DNA matches who claim the same John Carter as my fifth great-grandfather of colonial Virginia, I've been working my way through the lines of descent of John's children represented among my matches. Since I descend from Margaret Chew Carter, John's daughter by his second wife, Hannah Chew, I was rather dismayed to discover that John already had another daughter by that same name. This research, I thought, will not be easy.

Sure enough, that same fact stumped another researcher over one hundred years ago: Joseph Lyon Miller, who wrote the 1912 genealogy, The Descendants of Capt. Thomas Carter of "Barford," Lancaster County, Virginia. It was he who, a couple years before publishing his book, realized his error in confusing the one Margaret Carter for the other. This he noted in an article appearing in the October, 1910, edition of The William and Mary Quarterly, and correctly identified Margaret Chew Carter's husband as Zachariah Taliaferro. The other Margaret, according to Joseph Miller's article, was wed to a Captain John Marshall.

This discovery brings difficulties of its own, for John Marshall is not only a fairly common name, but also one of distinction in the early history of our country. In fact, searching through trees of matches at Ancestry, I was surprised to see one subscriber had appended a portrait of John Marshall for that other Margaret's husband—but it was the wrong John Marshall. Sure enough, double checking that for myself, I saw the familiar portrait did belong to Chief Justice John Marshall, whose parentage—and name of spouse, incidentally—did not line up with what the Miller book indicated.

As for the John Marshall supposedly married to John Carter's older daughter Margaret, I've found very little on him so far. The Miller book noted that he was "of Caroline" and that he must have been deceased before 1794, as that was the year a legal document was drawn up, including Margaret's name and indicating that she was a widow. The only other note about Margaret in the Miller book was that she had a son named Horace.

So, when I turned to my ThruLines readout at Ancestry.com to check all my DNA matches from Margaret's line, I was hoping at least one of the four matches there would descend through her son Horace. Wrong. Not a one of those four descended from a son named Horace. Instead, I got four matches descending from a son of Margaret said to have been named Carter.

While a given name like Carter might be a promising discovery, considering that was Margaret's own maiden name, I could find no record of such a name in that immediate family line. I couldn't find Margaret's husband's will—in itself a hunt and peck proposition, since all I know about his date of death is that it had to predate that 1794 document drawn up for Margaret as widow, plus her brother and sister-in-law. The actual date of death could have been years before that point. 

It is in research situations like this when I appreciate the sharing opportunities offered by the community surrounding genealogical services. While Ancestry.com is just this past year ramping up their effort to encourage subscribers to collaborate, over the years, I have seen other subscribers share documents they've discovered during genealogy road trips and other research efforts. As I examined the other trees, searching for someone—anyone—who might have discovered a record regarding this mystery Carter Marshall, I ran across a three page document scanned and uploaded to another subscriber's tree.

The document, labeled by the subscriber as "Carter Heirs' Survey," was supposedly from Caroline County, Virginia, location of the deceased Captain Marshall. The first of the three scanned pages had the heading, "April Court 1801," and whatever ledger the scan was drawn from had labeled that item as page 274. Alas, thinking I could simply scoot over to FamilySearch.org and search through Caroline County records, even those way markers offered me no help.

Still, the court document—showing as plaintiffs a listing of several men by the surname Marshall, including one "infant" Horace—named Margaret Marshall, "executrix of John Marshall," as defendant. Could this be the right Margaret? And the right John Marshall? At least the case was said to appear in Caroline County, home of the John Marshall who was our Margaret's husband, the entire county of which, at the time, had a mere seventeen thousand residents. What were the chances?

The fact that this Margaret was labeled as executrix and not administratrix tells me I need to get back to that hunting and pecking once more; there's a will to be found out there somewhere in Caroline County. And, if this posted document is any indication, John and Margaret Marshall certainly had more than one son. Perhaps those DNA matches leading back to one Carter Marshall are on the right track, after all.



  1. Replies
    1. Paging through all those court documents online can be exhausting. So glad for someone who was willing to post a significant lead!


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