Tuesday, March 7, 2017

There Were Three Brothers . . . Again

What's this with the three brothers bit? Almost like the family history version of "Once upon a time," that overused start to so many family legends has caught up with me, once again.

This time, rather than introducing my Lewis line, the phrase found its way into the next branch of descendants in the Lewis line—the pedigree of Isaac Estill, husband of John and Agatha Lewis Frogg's daughter, Elizabeth.

The Estill line is the one which, through the subsequent three generations, will lead us to that surname which prompted me to check about names of United States senators, so it will probably be wise to take a moment and review their family history. Like descendants of many other long-standing American families, someone in the early 1900s chose to assemble a history of that particular line. Today, we'll borrow from some of the notes on the Estill family from one particular book—John Holbrook Estill's 1903 collection, A Family History by One of the Family.

I call this a collection mainly because it seems to be just that: not one single family history, but an assembly of various family narratives written in the past by several individuals associated with the Estill family. That is a fortunate turn of events for us, because the book preserves what family members from prior generations had passed down—including, thankfully, more than one article about the very branch of the Estill family in which we are interested.

I had never found any mention of Elizabeth Strother Frogg's husband's parents. Of course, that is likely because I was focused on my own side of the family—a strange allegiance, considering "my" side was nearly two hundred and fifty years removed from me. The John Holbrook Estill book, however, provided the information on that detail—if, of course, the authors were reliable.

Still, when the first of the book's collection concerning this specific line of the Estill family mentioned the detail—Elizabeth's husband Isaac Estill was son of Wallace—in addition to the doubtful "three brothers" explanation, it came with contradictions.

The "three brothers" detail was inserted unobtrusively enough:

Wallace Estill was born in New Jersey in 1698, and was a grandson of Thomas Estell, one of the three brothers who settled in New Jersey in 1664. According to the record he was married three times, and after his last marriage removed to Virginia. The first recorded grant of land to him is dated November 3, 1750. It was in what was then Augusta county.

The subsequent pages following this introduction contained details which didn't quite support this statement, only adding to my doubt about the reliability of this old genealogy.

Apparently, Wallace had three wives—just as was noted in this introduction—but which children belonged to which wife seemed unclear. In the part of the collection called "The Ruth History," that 1853 record mentioned that Wallace's first wife—unnamed in the text—lived only three months after their marriage. Wallace's second wife—Mary Boude, whom he apparently married in New Jersey where five of their children were born—died after the birth of their sixth child, while they were living in Virginia. It was at that point in Virginia when in 1748, he married his third wife, seventeen year old Mary Ann Campbell.

Likewise, I felt some confusion in reading the listing of the children in the following text. After stating that Wallace and second wife Mary Boude had six children, the genealogy listed fifteen (including youngest child, Ruth, who composed that 1853 narrative). Corrected, on the next page in the book, was a listing of Wallace's nine children with his third wife, Mary Ann Campbell, including the one I had been looking for: Isaac, born in 1766 and married to our Elizabeth Strother Frogg, themselves eventually parents of twelve children. At least, that's according to this record—and provided the author had her information right. I certainly had no idea there were twelve children.

It may seem a trifling to fuss over such details, but I need to get this stuff right. After all, we are currently in the process of examining this pedigree, and it would help to be able to list the right parents for our Isaac—and the right children. It is almost as if inserting that "three brothers" phrase—having taken on such legendary proportions among our peers in the world of genealogy—makes me want to wince and pay closer attention to every single assertion.

While it's wonderful to be able to get my hands on an old genealogy like this part of the book's collection from 1853—closer to the time period in question than we are, no doubt—I often wonder how accurate a family historian from that era could have been. While we now can flip through a mind-boggling assortment of digitized documents, all at the touch of a fingertip, researchers from that time period had to rely on personally accessing privately-held family records, such as family Bibles, or church records such as baptismal verifications. Precious few governmental entities kept tabs on births and deaths at that time—in some cases, only marriage records, land records and wills were kept for public purposes. The author in 1853 had very limited resources to assure correct provision of such information.

When people post their family trees online now, I often remind myself that, while I would never copy that material, it still can serve as a trailblazer to point the way to possible right information. The genealogies of past centuries sometimes take on the aura of infallibility—as if old is better. Our research resources far surpass those of earlier generations, though, and it would best serve our interests to fact-check those revered genealogies of the past as carefully as we comb through the online postings—and even journal articles—of our current day.



  1. I would imagine that some of the history was also word of mouth and passed along :)

    1. Flipping through the pages of that book yesterday, I did get that feeling, Far Side. Some of the histories were only one or two pages long, and had the sound of one person's reciting of an oral history, more than what we are accustomed to reading in an actual genealogy. Still, that these were stories preserved from the early to mid 1800s is significant.

  2. I am very interested in your research on the Estill Family. My mother is an Estill from Marion County, Alabama. I have read the Estill Book by Caudle, John Holbrook Estill's book, and the Genealogy from Alma Lackey Wilson. I have a wobbly line and wondered if you might have more information that we could share? I would appreciate any help.


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