Thursday, February 29, 2024

One Last Detail


Exploring the court records of colonial Virginia in search of information on my fifth great-grandfather John Carter has been quite the education. The process opened my eyes to the business transactions and family matters of the well-to-do during that era of time. Wills, deeds, guardianship bonds, and other records provided the first glimpse of everyday events, at least at the crisis points of life. But in addition to discovering documentation to support the existence of a previously unrecognized wife of John Carter—Sarah Kenyon, mentioned in her father's will clearly as John's wife—there is one last detail before we close out this month's research, another aspect of life which needs to be examined.

My fellow genea-blogger Patrick Jones of Frequent Traveler Ancestry mentioned it to me as we exchanged notes regarding our discoveries this past month—and included his observations in at least two of his blog posts on the Carter line. The fact of the matter is that John Carter, along with the related families I examined—Kenyon, Chew, Beverley—owed much of their business success to the labor of enslaved workers.

It may not have been quite as evident, when examining John Carter's will, since he did not name any enslaved persons in that document, but the indication is there. Abraham Kenyon, John Carter's father-in-law, was more specific in his will, specifying a man named "Jerey" and a woman named "Jeney" to be given to his daughter Sarah, John's wife. Examining more records from Spotsylvania County where these ancestors lived would provide more details on names and identities—and, at some point, will be discovered to be the ancestors of other people now researching their roots.

Finding a way to share this information has been the thrust of several presentations and articles I've experienced over the years. I had first grappled with the question of "what to do" the same year I heard LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson make the call for genealogists to be a "force for social change" at the 2019 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.

I've since run across many suggestions for taking action to share information found in slave-holders' estate papers, the most recent being an article appearing in the online version of Family Tree Magazine, written by NGS Board member and genea-blogger Cheri Hudson Passey. Cheri advises: "Do something positive with the negative when finding out that your ancestors were enslavers." Indeed, she has posted documents and extracted information to share in several of her blog posts to help descendants of the enslaved find their roots.

One of the websites Cheri recommends for guidance in how to follow suit on this process is The Beyond Kin Project. Noting that the descendants of slaveholders are "uniquely positioned to revolutionize genealogy for [our] African American colleagues," Beyond Kin provides introductory explanations regarding the rationale behind the project, details research strategies, and how-to descriptions of the process of sharing the information we are finding on our ancestors. The project's goal is a collective effort to help each other find what we are all looking for: more information on our ancestors.

While finding specific names from the estate of John Carter will be somewhat of a challenge for me—I can't even find any records for one of his wives—I have done research regarding the formerly enslaved individuals from other parts of my family. Hopefully, that will provide one tiny clue to help other researchers advance their own quest to discover the stories of their family's past.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Genealogy by Wikipedia
(and Other Modern Conveniences)


Every so often, a researcher might get lucky and discover an ancestor so well-known as to appear in widely-distributed publications. Such was the case, I discovered, when I began wrestling with the question of the likely kin of my fifth great-grandfather John Carter of colonial Virginia. As it turned out, not only was there more than one John Carter in that particular colony, but there was conjecture that our John Carter might have been related to the likes of Robert "King" Carter, considered the richest man in the colony.

Fine, I thought: I'll just look him up on Wikipedia. And from that start, I gleaned the basics of a possible family tree for Robert Carter. Among other details about the man's life, the key detail I sought was Robert Carter's parentage. Sure enough, his dad was another someone named John Carter. But was this the right John Carter, same as the John Carter who was supposedly my John Carter's father? After all, that Robert Carter had a half-brother named John Carter, too.

As you can imagine, I went from online entry to entry, tracing details on family related to this well-known colonial Carter. Indeed, in one of the Wikipedia entries, while the senior John Carter was noted to have "founded the more famous branch" of the Carter family, the writer of the article considered the founding immigrant of the other branch—our John Carter's ancestor, Thomas Carter of "Barford"—to possibly have been related, "since both came from the same English village" and both eventually settled in Lancaster County.

Looking at the Wikipedia entry for that Barford estate—also known as Verville—I can see the history of the property was outlined, detailing the purchase by Thomas Carter's father-in-law Edward Dale as a wedding present to the couple. And yet, even there, the article theorizes that Thomas Carter "may have been related to planter Col. John Carter" (father of Robert Carter), supporting that conjecture by observation of business transactions between the two.

While we may easily gain entry to a wealth of information through our modern access to technology, there is one other modern convenience which we may credit for untangling this volley of conjectures. That "convenience" is based on the science of genetics—putting the question of kinship to the test through the tool of DNA testing.

A paper published in 2020 by the Lancaster Virginia Historical Society examined the possibility of relationship between not two, but three Carter men in colonial Virginia. One of those three was John Carter, father of the famed Robert "King" Carter. The other was Thomas Carter—my John Carter's ancestor "of Barford," as Joseph Lyon Miller of the 1912 Carter genealogy portrayed him. The third Carter man, also named Thomas, was characterized as "Thomas Carter of Isle of Wight."

Authors Robert Mike Terry and Robert D. Lumsden used for their research the database from the Carter Y-DNA surname project hosted by testing company Family Tree DNA. Comparing the readouts from three groups of Carter participants specifically identified as descendants of one of the three target Carter ancestors—John, father of Robert "King" Carter; Thomas Carter of "Barford" (or more correctly, of Lancaster County); or Thomas Carter of the Isle of Wight—the researchers compared differences in mutations of each subject's DNA results to draw conclusions about their research question.

Their observations? After explaining the concept of genetic distance in comparisons of Y-DNA test results in general, the authors looked at the specific count of mutations between the subject groupings descended from each of the three Carter ancestors. Finding a genetic distance of thirteen between the group of Thomas of Lancaster descendants and those of John of Lancaster, they explained that any distance scoring over  five would push the relationship beyond what they called a "genealogical time frame." In other words, there would likely be no way to confirm relationships by documentation, as the common ancestor shared between the two groups would have to be someone alive nearly two thousand years ago.

Worse, comparing descendants of John to Thomas of Isle of Wight yielded a genetic distance of fifteen. Comparing descendants of the two Thomases stretched to a genetic distance of seventeen—pushing the likelihood of a shared common ancestor back over 2,500 years ago.

In their conclusion, while authors Terry and Lumsden noted that "only traditional genealogical research can document a family history," DNA testing—in their particular case, the use of Y-DNA—"can validate the stated pedigrees." Through their examination of test results for several documented descendants of the three Carter lines, Terry and Lumsden have provided compelling reasons to discard the reports of Carter descendants from previous centuries regarding conjecture over family connections. In addition, their lead in applying this modern tool to one genealogical question opens my eyes to ways to resolve other questions about our Carter ancestors—particularly the question of our John Carter's wives, which could also be put to the test using another tool, the mitochondrial DNA test for the matrilines leading back to each possible wife.

As Terry and Lumsden noted, while authors of those past works on the Carter lines may have offered their speculations "based on the then best available information...we must now disregard these assertions in light of the genetic genealogy tools that earlier researchers did not have."

For now, that settles my sister's question about whether our Carter line was related to the famed "King" Carter family. It certainly spares me from endless hours of attempting to find documentation as I pushed back through the generations. However, having spent the first part of this year traveling through the many records of John Carter's related lines, there is one more item of research business I need to bring up before we close the chapter on February's pursuit of my Twelve Most Wanted. Tomorrow, we'll look at that last detail on my to-do list.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Aunt Fanny's Stories

...And I have heard said we are kin to old Robert Carter who is buried at old Christ Church in this County but have never found out how. He was very rich—some say the richest man in Virginia.

It was while telling one of those typical immigrant stories—in this case, it was about two brothers—that Aunt Fanny Carter recounted the family's stories to a John Carter who preserved them in a manuscript dating back to 1858. This John Carter, however, was not my John Carter, but another man dubbed John Carter of "The Nest," most likely his residence in Lancaster County, Virginia.

As he recalled this Aunt Fanny recounting, my fifth great-grandfather John Carter was a descendant of someone named Thomas Carter. Yet, she like so many others couldn't stop the tale just there; she went on to suppose there were "two brothers" who made their way to colonial Virginia, one of whom settled on the other side of a river, "but further I can't say."

It was Fanny Carter's words above which were supposedly quoted, first in the 1858 Carter manuscript, then by Joseph Lyon Miller in his 1912 genealogy book, The Descendants of Capt. Thomas Carter of "Barford." Perhaps from this slight introduction, you might be wondering, who was Robert Carter?

When I run across little enigmas like that in pursuing my family's story, I first take the simple route of checking online for a quick answer. My go-to website? Wikipedia, which let me know that this particular Robert Carter was a merchant and politician from Lancaster County whose skills in those areas prompted his peers to dub him "King" Carter.

It was this same Robert Carter whose fame prompted my banker sister to inquire whether our family was actually related to him. After all, this is the kind of minutiae which family historians are supposed to keep at their fingertips, right?

It did not help that Robert Carter was son of a man named John Carter. Born about 1664, his father John could not have been of the same generation as my John Carter. But he could indeed have been a relative, based on both men's birth in the same colony, despite being years apart.

Frustratingly, my John Carter was also said to have had a father named John. That father was himself born in 1674. Adding to that detail was another curiosity: our John Carter's father, at least according to Joseph Lyon Miller, had as his godfather a man also named John Carter—of "Corotoman." To complicate the narrative—though the Miller book doesn't come out and say so—Corotoman was the name of the family residence purchased and settled by the John Carter who was father of Robert "King" Carter.

To be asked to stand in as godparent implies some sort of family connection between the one Carter line and the other. If it can be found at all to be documented—barring ravages of time, weather, war, and courthouse fires—we'll be pursuing that possibility in the next couple days before the close of this month. 


Monday, February 26, 2024



Have you ever come to the end of a school semester and somehow realized you were not able to complete the course work? That's how I feel today, facing down this week and seeing the end of the month looming large. Still to do: find any documentation which can either directly or indirectly confirm the marriage of my fifth great-grandfather John Carter and a woman by the name of Elizabeth Armistead. At the end of this month, I'll likely concede I deserve a grade of "incomplete."

Problem: just because everyone says it's so does not make it true. Everywhere I've turned, wondering if anyone else has found what I've failed to find, all I uncover is the same litany: that the couple did get married. How do these people know? Because a genealogy book published in 1912 said so. No documents. Not even any indirect evidence or thorough proof arguments. Nada.

I can see some ways that more research could possibly lead to answers. Prime among those ways is embedded in a likely Elizabeth Armistead's father's will. According to the 1719 will of one Francis Armistead, his daughter Elizabeth was bequeathed eighty five acres of land in Richmond County where her father had been living at the time of his death.

The beauty of that discovery is that Elizabeth, when her father died, was not quite three years of age. It would be a long time before this child would come into her own and possess that land. In the meantime, based on the traditions of the time, she would likely have had a guardian appointed to oversee the care of her property, even if her mother were the one taking care of her personal needs. And those guardianship proceedings would have been noted in court records.

In Elizabeth's case, if that guardianship appointment had been recorded, it should have shown up in Richmond County court documents for us to see. I have yet to find any such mention. I'm still looking, of course. The hope is that, having made that discovery, it might reveal where Elizabeth grew up, and where she was living at the time of her marriage to John Carter—if, indeed, that is what became of her before her untimely death. It's all a matter of completing the process by closing in on the minutiae of her life story, and letting those details lead us one step further.

Tracking any record of that property itself should also reveal some information in our search. For instance, if the land was sold, there would be a court record of the sales transaction. If the land remained Elizabeth's property as she entered into marriage—and then died, likely intestate—there should be some way to trace how the land was inherited, and by whom. Of course, any disputes over the disposition of the land after her passing should also show up in court records. Yet, do I find any? Not yet. That's still an incomplete task, no matter how I've searched so far.

This same search process yielded us information on another wife of John Carter who many researchers had not even been aware of—Sarah, the daughter of Abraham Kenyon who became mother of at least two of John Carter's children, yet whose name was not even mentioned in the Carter genealogy book so many still rely on. And yet, for Elizabeth Armistead, I have not yet been able to find any source to show the disposition of her inherited property after her death.

Searching through court records can be a tedious process, definitely not one that makes for scintillating reports. Though I will likely keep up the process through the rest of the month—and revisit it at a later date—let's move on tomorrow to the next point in my agenda for this month's research goals: to see whether our John Carter had any family connections with someone who was considered the wealthiest man in the colonies: Robert "King" Carter.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Since it's her Birthday


Though—warning!—we are about to traipse down a rabbit trail, please indulge my escape from the main research path to remark on a curiosity in my struggle with Armistead-Carter liaisons in colonial Virginia. Yes, I'm getting ahead of myself with today's post, but hey, today would have been her birthday. Can't miss an opportunity like that.

It was February 25 a long time ago—four hundred fifty nine years ago, to be exact—when Colonel John Armistead's wife Judith gave birth to a daughter. They named the child after her mother, and soon went back to everyday life at their home in Gloucester County. After all, they had two more daughters and four more sons to welcome in the next twenty five years. Baby Judith Armistead was just the beginning.

That, at least, was what her "About" page reveals on FamilySearch, though her Find A Grave memorial insists that her date of birth was actually 23 February 1665. Not for any reason to quibble about date discrepancies do I bring up this Armistead connection, however, but for the identity of the person whom she married about twenty three years later. That, incidentally, was the man once dubbed "King" Carter by his contemporaries in the colony's political and financial spheres, otherwise known as Robert Carter.

Her headstone memorialized several details of Judith Armistead Carter's life: not only her parents' names and that of her spouse, but also the length of her marriage and how many children she bore. Yet, it's not for that reason I bring this up, either. I have plans to touch on the subject of our John Carter's connection to the far better-known Robert Carter before this month is out.

What I am looking at is how often the same surnames seem to cross paths in families of the colonial era in Virginia. In fact, though I have not yet checked out this point for myself, those same parents of Judith Armistead—later the wife of Robert Carter—supposedly happened to have a son named Francis Armistead, at least according to information on FamilySearch. Is that actually so?

Francis Armistead, in turn, was father of Elizabeth Armistead, the young woman whose early death confounded our ability to find documentation on her marriage to our John Carter. Did these colonial Virginians really keep things all in the family?

Bright shiny objects like this have a strange pull on my attention. After all, I do mean to check on the possible relationship between my fifth great-grandfather John Carter and the famed "King" Carter. And I will get to that before this coming week is out, I promise. But I am now up to four counties' record collections which I'm scouring for mentions of the Armisteads—any Armisteads—and I am becoming easily distracted.

I'm sure you understand. After all, it was her birthday. Perhaps.  

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Road Ahead


Sometimes, piecing together a family's story involves not only the immediate relatives, or what some people call the direct line. I've found many cases which I could not solve without branching out to siblings—sometimes siblings over several generations. In the case of our Carters, though, those collateral lines (and the records of their property) are leading us on a merry chase through many counties in colonial Virginia. At this point, I need a plan for sorting out each iteration of the research road ahead.

With this month's research puzzle, the closing days have brought me to a point in which I wonder whether my fifth great-grandfather John Carter ever had a wife named Elizabeth Armistead at all. There is no record that I can find of a marriage between the two in colonial Virginia where they lived. 

Logically, there would be no mention of Elizabeth in John Carter's will, simply because she predeceased him—if, that is, she was ever his wife. That has concerned me, ever since we learned that there was another woman named Sarah Kenyon who had been John Carter's wife before his final marriage to Hannah Chew, but who was not mentioned in genealogy books focused on the Carter line. Why no mention of the one, yet no documentation for the other? The only way I can see out of this tangle is to reach further among extended family members for any sign of Elizabeth or other members of her Armistead family.

That prospect brings me to the point of expanding this search far and wide beyond the simple task I originally thought it would involve. Let's take a look at the research road ahead, to see what this effort might require.

First of all, if the possible marriage between John Carter and Elizabeth Armistead ever did happen as the Carter genealogy book asserted, any record of the event might have been filed in a county other than John's final residence in Spotsylvania County. Looking for signs of the Armistead family yesterday, I realized that trail would lead us to search court documents in at least four counties. Besides Spotsylvania, we saw yesterday that a likely father for Elizabeth filed his will in Richmond County. Then, too, John Carter had property in Caroline County, another possibility for a marriage arrangement. Even farther-fetched than that, Elizabeth's young widowed mother Sarah had remarried, bringing her—and possibly her two young Armistead children—to her second husband Joseph Russell's home in the colony of Maryland, giving us yet another location for records regarding a marriage.

Besides that direct search for any indication of a marriage between Elizabeth Armistead and John Carter, we will likely need to find records affiliated with each branch of the respective families to locate any mention of others in the extended family—particularly any additional mentions of Elizabeth, herself. It may be a long, winding trail that leads us to the answer of when—and whether—Elizabeth and John Carter were married.

As these multiple documents become part of our search, it will be even more important to draw up a timeline to help track the dates of each occurrence in the extended family's story. I already find my head swimming as I consider the events in Elizabeth's family history; melding hers with her brother's and with other members of the blended Russell family—not to mention the multiple people on the Carter side of the family—will take some timeline work.

That said, hopefully the court documents which will provide the answers are still in existence and digitized for our benefit. Beyond that, hopefully they will make their appearance before the month runs out at the end of this coming week.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Before Hannah

Sometimes, it seems as if ancestors disappear into thin air. Though we may find assertions about their lives, these are the ones who leave no trace of their existence. Such may be the case with one wife of my fifth great-grandfather John Carter—the one whom he supposedly married before taking my ancestor Hannah Chew as his bride.

Before Hannah—at least according to the 1912 Carter genealogy by Joseph Lyon Miller, The Descendants of Capt. Thomas Carter of "Barford"—John Carter was married to a woman named Elizabeth Armistead. Elizabeth was the daughter of Francis and Sarah Armistead. Author Miller gave as his source for this information a Carter manuscript dated 1858. Miller explains this manuscript further in the introductory pages of his book: written by yet another John Carter, this one of "The Nest" in Lancaster County, the text was derived from the oral reports of that man's aunt, Fanny Carter, who was born in 1738. Presumably, if that John Carter's report of Aunt Fanny's stories held true, we could assume she got it right about this first wife preceding my Hannah Chew's marriage to my ancestor John Carter.

Joseph Miller gave Elizabeth Armistead's date of birth as March 28, 1716, born to Francis and Sarah Armistead of Richmond County. This information becomes helpful, not only for tracing Elizabeth's family line, but because it points us to a different location in the colony of Virginia than John Carter's residence in Spotsylvania County.

Indeed, thanks to transcriptions and abstracts of crumbling colonial records, we can find mention of Elizabeth's birth in Richmond County—entered as July 12, 1716 instead of Miller's March 28 of the same year—as well as that of her brother John nearly two years later, and their father's passing in 1719. Thankfully, in the same county, an abstraction of the will for Francis "Armstead" that year lists his two young children and his widow Sarah, including the helpful mention that young Elizabeth inherited eighty five acres of her father's land in Richmond County, a detail which might help us trace her later associations.

Complicating matters, we also learn from a document many years later that Elizabeth's mother Sarah had remarried. Regarding a will presented in court in Richmond County concerning a Joseph Russell "of the province of Maryland," the record's transcriber noted that Joseph's "beloved wife Sarah" had previously been the widow of Francis Armistead. At the date of Russell's 1748 will, Sarah was living in Maryland, but if she didn't accept and move to the property Joseph Russell was leaving her in Virginia "within three months" of his death, the bequest would be revoked.

This brings up the question of what became of the two young children left fatherless at Francis Armistead's passing. The transcriber's note to the Russell will indicated that Joseph married Sarah by November of 1722. By then, her daughter Elizabeth would have been barely six years of age. At some point, both Elizabeth and her younger brother John should have been appointed a guardian, providing yet another court record to check. Depending on whether Elizabeth remained in her mother's household—and where her mother eventually moved upon the subsequent marriage to Joseph Russell—that location will likely reveal which county's marriage records would provide the missing detail we are seeking: documentation of Elizabeth Armistead's marriage to John Carter.   

Thursday, February 22, 2024

On Hog Island


Sometimes, our family history discoveries may put us in hog heaven. At other times, we may run across histories which seem to have gone hog wild. But when I see a narrative which states that my Chew ancestors first lived in a place called Hog Island, I remind myself that this researcher is not hog tied; I can let my fingers do the walking through all those online resources to examine the records.

If we wind our way backwards through time, from my seventh great-grandfather Larkin Chew to his father, Joseph Chew, we see that the family which in more recent times had lived in Colonial Virginia was now in neighboring Maryland. Yet, before Joseph Chew's supposed 1716 death in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, his family had come to Maryland from York County, Virginia. That, in fact, was Joseph Chew's likely birthplace.

According to the Joseph Lyon Miller book, The Descendants of Capt. Thomas Carter of "Barford," the founding ancestor of this Chew family line was John Chew, Joseph's father. The Miller book states that John Chew came to Virginia about 1620 and "settled first at Hog Island."

Unfamiliar with Virginia geography, I had to look up that reference to Hog Island. I like to use Wikipedia entries for a quick, thumbnail sketch of a location as I do family history research, just to get a general idea of what the place was like, its history and neighboring cities and counties. But looking at the Wikipedia entry for Hog Island showed me right away that someone got something wrong in this narrative. According to the Wikipedia entry, Hog Island was first settled in 1672 by a small group of English colonists.

Oh oh. That 1672 date far exceeds the Miller claim of John Chew's arrival in 1620. And yet, the book also mentions that John Chew served in the House of Burgesses, representing Hog Island in 1623, 1624, and later in 1629. This discrepancy calls for additional verification.

A quick check indicated that the colonial Virginian government established in 1619 as a precursor to the House of Burgesses was known as the General Assembly. A list of those first representatives and the settlements which they represented in 1619 shows, of course, no mention of John Chew yet—but it also reveals there was no mention of anyone representing Hog Island. On the other hand, an alphabetical listing of all representatives to the House of Burgesses from that first year through 1775 included someone by the name of John Chew (and also someone named Larkin Chew), so it is likely John was part of that governing body. At least the Miller book explains that John Chew also served as representative of York County in the House of Burgesses at a much later date.

Regardless of this discrepancy in times and locations, another book echoed the same history. A genealogy written by a Chew descendant, Frank Chew Osburn, and printed posthumously by his estate in 1945 affirms that same Hog Island location with an early settlement date of 1621.

With that tale of the immigrant ancestor John Chew, we move from those whose lives can be at least partially documented on this continent to conjecture about which parents came before, and from which homeland location—Somerset? or Worcestershire? The latter is not one of my goals for this month's Twelve Most Wanted research, nor, I think, will it ever be. Though I never expected the Chew line in this country to have extended so far, it was certainly satisfying to have trailed it all this way.

From this point, we'll wind our way back to John Chew's descendants to check what else might be learned about the spouses associated with this line in the next few days. And then, there's one more detail I need to examine, back at the point at which we started with Hannah Chew and her husband John Carter: just how it is, if at all, that John Carter was related to the famed colonial Virginian dubbed King Carter.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Worth his Weight in . . . Tobacco?


Reaching back through time to view the court records of my seventh great-grandfather Larkin Chew, I realize how different than ours that time period had been. Rather than rush through the document chase, that realization caused me to slow down and savor the contrast. Life was so very different back then, not only for manner of dress or speech, but in day to day interactions that comprised the social fabric of the Colonial Virginia community.

In a spate of financial transactions in Spotsylvania County in 1723, for instance, Larkin Chew was mentioned several times in those court records. Most were deeds recording the exchange of property ownership, and one would expect—just as it is now—that such sales would involve the trading of money for title to a specific parcel of land in the county. Not always so; apparently Larkin Chew was worth his weight in, um, tobacco? If that was what the abbreviation "tob" meant in one 1723 entry, that was apparently the medium for at least two business transactions I found concerning this ancestor.

Recorded in Spotsylvania County court records on April 2, 1723, for instance, the exchange of one hundred fifty acres in Saint George's Parish was consummated, if I am right here, with a payout of 2,100 pounds of tobacco. Of course, there were many other deeds bearing Larkin Chew's name which were facilitated by an exchange of money—specifically, so many pounds of sterling silver. But, pushing back far enough in the records, I saw another such exchange involving tobacco show up, linked to Larkin Chew's name.

Moving back in time another twenty years or so, in nearby Essex County on April 11, 1701, a document was drawn up specifying an exchange of Larkin Chew's contracting services for a payout "in the sume [sic] of one hundred and ten thousand pounds of good sound merchantable tobo." This payout was for "certaine proposicons" regarding the building of a new courthouse with "ye exact dementions" as that of the King and Queen County courthouse, which apparently had also been built under the supervision of Larkin Chew. 

That was how the transcription put the exchange: for his services, a certain weight of "tobo." Tobacco? I needed to verify that. The only reason I had found the information regarding that court document was thanks to a transcription posted in the notes section of an entry for Larkin Chew's genealogy found at a website which had been shared in his blog by Patrick Jones of Frequent Traveler Ancestry. I have yet to see the handwritten document itself.

While an abstract of Essex County court records is available in digitized format on some genealogy websites, the earliest date in that collection at is two years after this business exchange was recorded. However, in the specifications for the original contract in 1701 was a stipulation that the work was to be finished in 1703—the first year of the court records abstracts.

I looked to see what I could find. There, on an entry bearing Larkin Chew's name in 1706, was an entry for a judgment regarding an unpaid debt owed to Larkin Chew. The amount owed? Once again couched in the same terms, the amount was two thousand pounds "tobo." 

So what was "tobo"? I sometimes saw the term coupled with another: "tobo & cask." I took my question to Google, but even then the question stumped the Answer guru...until I found this readout on the first century of interactions between British settlers and the Native population in the region around Jamestown. In a spreadsheet of abstracts of colonial papers, I used the "find" mechanism to look for the abbreviation, "tobo." 

There were 128 instances of that term. And yes, I clicked through them all. Finally, at entry number 67, I located a line which not only included the abbreviation, but then spelled it out as tobacco.

Tobacco as a form of money in the early days of the colonies? I hadn't thought of it that way. That gives an idea of just how many other details about everyday transactions in colonial Virginia we might have missed, as we sift through those old court records, trying to imagine what life was like for our seventh great-grandparents. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

A Speedy Overview

Mostly, family trees are assembled step by step. After all, each new entry from the previous generation needs to be carefully inspected by comparison with documentation on the specific individual in question. Perhaps, in following the work of genealogical trailblazers in my pursuit of my sixth great-grandfather John Chew's parents, I hadn't expected to run into such a speedy overview. But that is indeed what I've stumbled upon.

In exploring some old genealogical publications of the previous century yesterday, we discovered that John Chew's parents were Larkin Chew and his wife, Hannah Roy. From those same resources viewed yesterday, it was easy to see the trail moved quickly from Larkin Chew to his father, Joseph, and then onward to yet another generation—all still in the British colonies in North America.

Here's the overview, as found in a few resources posted online. First, from last month's research into another of my mother's colonial lines, John Carter, I discovered a brief overview of the Chew family in the 1912 Joseph Lyon Miller book, The Descendants of Capt. Thomas Carter of "Barford." While the section began with the founding immigrant, we'll continue our exploration by connecting with the generation immediately preceding Larkin Chew.

According to the Miller book, Larkin Chew was the only child of Joseph Chew and the unnamed daughter of a "Mr. Larkin of Annapolis." With the mention of Annapolis, we immediately recognize that we are no longer researching ancestors living in colonial Virginia, but from neighboring Maryland. In fact, though Larkin may have lived his adult life in Virginia, he was likely born in Maryland. Joseph Miller speculated that Larkin's father Joseph, though born in Virginia, had moved to Maryland sometime after 1659.

Joseph Chew, whom Miller pinpoints as having been born in 1641 and dying in Anne Arundel County in 1716—though I have yet to find support for that—was apparently born a colonist, despite the early date of his birth. According to Miller, it was Joseph's father, another Chew man named John, who was the founding immigrant. This pushes the timeline of the family's arrival in the New World to a fairly early date. 

John, the immigrant ancestor, was said to have been born in England in 1598 and arrived in Virginia "about 1620," according to Joseph Miller. Putting that date in perspective, the passengers on the Mayflower reached land in that same year. England first established the Jamestown settlement in 1607 in Virginia. So whenever it was that John Chew arrived in the New World, he was among some of the earliest arrivals to the continent.

That, of course, depends on whether that information was all correct. While the Miller book may be fascinating to follow (at least for those readers who can claim the book's subjects as their ancestors), I can find very little in the way of notes regarding sources. And yet, I can find other publications which echo that same information—some, more or less similar though not entirely agreeing with the specifics. A wry thought sometimes passes my mind that this seems not entirely unlike our modern avocational researcher's tendency to copy other people's online trees. More repetition does not necessarily make a statement become truth.

Fortunately for us, our Chew ancestor's point person—Larkin Chew, whom I'm currently researching—had ample mentions of his name in court records, back in Spotsylvania County and elsewhere. Thanks to a tip from fellow blogger Patrick Jones of Frequent Traveler Ancestry, one website he shared includes a running catalog of several of those court records for Larkin Chew, along with abstracts of the legal issues in which he was mentioned. That, at least, can give us a jump start on the tedious process of sifting through the details of one man's life in colonial Virginia.

Monday, February 19, 2024

First, Check the Road Map


When you don't know where you're going—when you haven't traveled this way before—it's important to first check the road map. The same goes for moving into new territory on our family history journey. We're heading into new research terrain as we move backwards in time from my sixth great-grandfather John Chew to his parents' generation. To prepare for the journey, let's first check what those trailblazers might have found.

Yes, I know: we've already seen that some of those genealogical trailblazers have made mistakes. And that can be disconcerting in research, just as it is in travel—ask me about the time our phone's brand new map app turned us in the opposite direction on one trip out in the middle of nowhere. It happens. We'll watch for that as we move through those century-old genealogy tomes.

For instance, I've already spotted one problem in a genealogy book from 1883, Lawrence Buckley Thomas' Pedigrees of Thomas, Chew, and Lawrance. The author, in an entry about our John Chew, identifies the father of John's wife Margaret as Robert Beverley, when we've already found that her father was Harry Beverley. But what about the rest of that entry? I've also found information in that book which can certainly be verified before accepting it.

If this book is correct, our John Chew was the second son of a man by the name of Larkin Chew and his wife, Hannah Roy. Immediately, if this is so, we can see that my fifth great-grandmother Hannah Chew, John's daughter who married John Carter, was namesake of her paternal grandmother.

Above the entry for John Chew in this book, we find the entry for his father, Larkin Chew. If that name bears out, I will be quite pleased. One would think that searching for a name like Larkin would be far less prone to name twins than would be a name like John. From Larkin's own entry in the Thomas genealogy, we learn that he, in turn, was son of a man by the name of Joseph Chew. Joseph's wife's name was apparently unknown to that author, except for her maiden name—Larkin—which explains how their son came upon such an unusual given name.

The note in this entry stated that Larkin Chew was in Virginia before 1700, and that his wife Hannah was daughter of a man from Port Royal, Virginia, by the name of John Roy. We are now pushing back even farther into the colonial period, as Port Royal was one of the earlier colonial settlements, established along the Rappahannock River in 1652.

Fortunately, the place in Virginia where Larkin Chew had settled—whenever it was before 1700 that he arrived there—was the same Spotsylvania County we have been studying for my Carter ancestors, as well. I know that only because, once having gathered this tentative information from one (admittedly faulty) published genealogy, I used Larkin Chew's name to search through abstractions of the county's court records. 

According to information from Spotsylvania County Will Book A, a will for Larkin Chew was proved on April 1, 1729. Named in the document was Larkin's wife Hannah, their sons Larkin, Thomas, and John (my ancestor), and their married daughter Nan, wife of William Johnson. So far, the information first discovered in that genealogy book is holding out for Larkin Chew. And while the book didn't seem to know the given name of Larkin's mother, the abstract of Larkin's own will seemed to hint that his mother's name was Ruth—and that she was still alive at his passing in 1729.

Whether that was indeed so—it is possible that, as we saw with John Carter's will last month, the reference could have been to someone considered a mother figure, such as a step-mother—we will need to wait until we push back yet another generation. We'll follow this trailblazer's route for one more generation to Larkin's father, supposedly Joseph Chew, tomorrow.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Flummoxed — But Still Moving Onward


Among my teacher friends, there is an observation about the littlest learners, those first through third graders among whom the brightest seem to race through their lessons in those earliest grades. Reading assignments? Done. Math lessons, a breeze. If you let them, the brightest of these students seem like they'd be unstoppable, even if they could charge ahead all the way to high school level work.

And then, they hit a brick wall. Regardless of their previous prowess with words or numbers, something about the fourth grade seems to flummox them. It's a whole new world of learning. The rules have changed.

The same has seemed to happen for me, as I enter a whole new world of genealogical research. There is something to be said for tromping through collections of old court records: not as many ancient relatives get quickly added to the family tree when it is such a struggle to even find documentation confirming their connection. Not to mention, the bleary-eyed struggle to comprehend faded copies of impossible-to-read handwriting is real.

Still, at some point—at least for DNA matching reasons—after confirming an ancestor's place in the family tree, we then begin that long steep descent back to the present. The goal? To confirm by paper trail the evidence provided by DNA testing that a particular match is indeed related to me through a specific familial pathway.

At that point, the distant cousins start adding their weight to that family tree. Granted, the rapid pace of the additions has slowed, now that I'm on to my sixth great-grandfather John Chew. Though I may be finding signs in court records that he did indeed live in Spotsylvania County in colonial Virginia, reversing directions and following all his progeny back through the centuries to our present time can be difficult for those lines other than his daughter Hannah, who was in my direct line. It's all a challenge—but a different type of challenge now.

I say that as I still manage to pat myself on the back for having verified numerous descendants of that line and likewise for the previous task for John Carter's line earlier this month. After all, I did locate documentation on an additional 240 relatives in the past two weeks. That means my tree is now up to 37,742 documented individuals, thanks to these latest discoveries in my mother's colonial heritage.

In addition to that, judging from the increase in DNA matches over the past month, it looks like processed results are finally showing from all those who had received DNA test kits for holiday presents. Granted, these numbers are nowhere near the increases seen in previous years, but I'd say ten new DNA matches in the last two weeks is a good number for me. A month ago, I was only gaining about one to two new DNA matches per biweekly period, if even that many.

The challenge to trace all these descendants of my colonial ancestors John and Margaret Chew may be hampered by access to legible court records, but ever so gradually, the path becomes clearer. Thankfully, in Virginia, there are several online resources to consult. We'll be looking at some of them this coming week as we continue our search for the Chew line even earlier than John's own generation.

Saturday, February 17, 2024



"A nightmare is facing us...they'll all vanish."

The other day, I was talking with a friend about the latest genealogical mystery book she was reading. I happened to have a copy of another book by the same author and wondered if she had already read it, or would like to borrow my copy.

"Oh, no," she replied. "I download all my books on Kindle and read them electronically." For her, paper was out. Too much clutter.

True, she had told me in the past about wondering what to do with all her family memorabilia. Her son had long since showed her the way to shed "things" and live a simpler, less cluttered life. It sounded so organized. So freeing.

That, however, happened to be a conversation we had after the latest storm had wiped out not only my power source, but my access to Internet service—for three days. What does one do in such instances, given a moratorium on paper products in one's household? She admitted that she could only continue reading as long as her device's battery charge held out. Then what?

Perhaps in that same aftermath, a social media re-posting by Public History Ph.D. candidate Michael W. McCormick couldn't help but catch my eye. His entry on not-Twitter led back to a February 15 article in The Guardian written by Jessica Traynor.

Commenting on "the fragility of social and national memory," in Ireland, the article—"Power Grab: the Hidden Costs of Ireland's Datacentre Boom"—began simply enough. Coupling the author's recent visit to one of the many datacentres developing all around Dublin with a brief review of Irish history—namely, the Four Courts explosion which obliterated hundreds of years of Irish historical records—journalist Jessica Traynor interspersed multiple concerns about the thrust to replace "tangible records" solely by digitized copies.

The author cited Catriona Crowe, the former head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland, in looking ahead to such a possibility of digitized-only storage. She deplored "a fantasy of technological stability" and foresaw "a black hole opening in history" not only when tangible documents are replaced by storage in the cloud, but when even programs themselves become obsolete. Those tools we now take for granted, like spreadsheets, email systems, or word processing programs, will someday become obsolete, programs that can't even be read anymore. "They'll all vanish," Crowe predicts about government records. "A nightmare is facing us."

Such a warning may be well heeded in Ireland, if it awakens the memory of the country's past history. "Ireland is no exception to the rule that what we remember and what we forget are always contingent upon the power structures and hierarchies that shape our contemporary moment," concludes Jessica Traynor in her article's closing statements. But the same is true for those of us who live in countries other than Ireland. In the United States, a policy update nearly a year ago established new regulations on digitizing federal records. Many states also are following suit. 

While the National Archives recognizes that "sometimes source records have intrinsic value and the very paper itself is a physical object that needs to be preserved as part of our nation's history," there is policy currently in place for digitizing records, then discarding the original documents. 

Recalling Jessica Traynor's conclusion about those Irish records preserved only through the fragile thread of electronic resources—that history stored in the cloud is "intangible, vulnerable to exploitation, and degrading over time"—hopefully, our government has made provision for continuing to ensure that those updated versions of our nation's records will still be readable despite ever-changing technology. After all, those records not only contain the stories of the historic figures of our nation's past. Those documents preserve our own families' stories, as well.

Friday, February 16, 2024

With a Name Like John . . .'s easy to get lost in the crowd.

My sixth great-grandfather's given name was John. Granted, with a surname like Chew, that might help differentiate him from all the other Johns who lived in Spotsylvania County during Virginia's colonial age. But I'd guarantee that quite a few of his neighbors in that era, despite the county's population likely being less than ten thousand British subjects, sported that same common given name.

Besides that, as we enter the realm of seeking relatives solely through court records—the Chew family's Saint George Parish being among those whose parish registers are lost to time—we may discover that even amongst members of his own family, that name John will appear again and again.

Still, thanks to a glance through an abstraction of court records for Spotsylvania County, we can see that our Hannah Chew's father John had his will presented in court in 1756. We are fortunate in seeing that record—or at least its facsimile—preserved for posterity. Very distant posterity.

From that record, we can see that John provided for his as-yet-unmarried daughter Hannah by naming her guardian, likely her older sister Mary Beverley's husband, Joseph Brock, who also served as John's executor. From John Chew's will, we can see that Hannah had a young brother, also named John, whose appointed guardian, Harry Beverley, may well have been a relative from their mother's family. In addition to those two younger children of the elder John Chew, his will also named an older son, Robert. Finally, we can assume from the absence of any mention of John Chew's wife, that the woman was already deceased. She remains, at least for this point, unnamed.

Having all these names documented helps isolate this John Chew from any others. This is necessary as we push our way back through the generations in the American colonies, moving on to our next step in the process.

Going back to the old Carter genealogy by Joseph Lyon Miller, we see there is a brief entry on the Chew family line. We'll take a look at that in the next few days, but remembering how easily we can be led astray by not double-checking the author's assertions, we'll need to seek records to verify any statements—or at least adjust our path and point our research in the correct direction.

According to Joseph Miller, John Chew was a man well known in his county. He was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1731, according to Miller, and had previously married, in 1729,  Margaret, the daughter of Harry Beverley of that same county. (Lest you jump to the conclusion that this Harry Beverley was the one appointed as guardian to John Chew's son John, other notes I've located state that John Chew's father-in-law Harry had died in 1730, making quite impossible his appointment as guardian for his young grandson John.)

While I'm thankful for the identification of John Chew's surviving family members in his will, that document only provides information for those living members of the subsequent generation. Our goal, however, is to press backwards in time to learn who John Chew's own parents might have been. To help serve as the trailblazer which it can be, we'll turn again next week to Joseph Lyon Miller's Carter book to see what other brief comments on the Chew family he provides. In the meantime, you know I'll be busy this weekend locating any court records to verify the statements in the Miller book for myself.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Getting Back on Track

With all the uproar this month over discovering that John Carter's wife might not have been the one we had always presumed she was, I'm beginning to lose my confidence in quite a bit of old research assertions. While the question of whether Mary Elizabeth Armistead was John Carter's wife is still unresolved (at least in my mind), my fifth great-grandmother Hannah Chew still remains confirmed as John's last wife by documentation. For one thing, her name is mentioned in John Carter's will, drawn up in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, in 1783. In addition, we've since seen that there are other court documents which identify her as well.

What I still need to do for the remainder of this very short month is to get back on track with my research plan. That means, primarily, to wrap up what can be discovered on Hannah Chew's own line. According to this month's research plans for my Twelve Most Wanted for 2024, February was the month to focus on the Chew line as well as the Beverley line of Hannah's mother. And that we will do in the coming days.

There is also one other loose end to revisit from last month, when we began our exploration of the Carter line in colonial Virginia. That detail was to answer the question my sister had posed when I first mentioned that we had Carter roots: whether our family was descended from a man fabled to be the wealthiest Virginia colonist, as one age-old genealogy book had asserted. Somehow, before the end of this month, I hope to fold that conversation into the research mix.

For now, we'll stick to the straightforward question of Hannah Chew's direct line. For this, Spotsylvania County court records—or at least their transcription published almost sixty years ago—provide us with a start through the confirmation that Hannah's father was a man named John Chew.

From John Chew, the path back through colonial history gets interesting. I wouldn't want to run out of month before we get a chance to snatch a birds-eye view of that Chew line in Virginia and the rest of the colonies. While we'll take a quick look tomorrow, we'll discover that we won't have to go far to realize that, once again, we'll be plagued with the snags of multiple generations of namesakes.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Abraham's Grandson


If Abraham Kenyon took special care to name a grandson in his will, could we locate any other indications  telling us more about that same grandson's history?

We can quickly see what one genealogist reported in the 1912 publication, The Descendants of Capt. Thomas Carter regarding my fifth great-grandfather John Carter's son William. We are already leery of trusting that source wholesale, due to some discrepancies which we have already noted. For instance, William, the son of John Carter according to Joseph Lyon Miller's book, may not have been a descendant of John Carter's listed wife, Elizabeth Armistead.

However, I couldn't help but notice, in author Joseph Miller's book, two of William Carter's sons mirror names we have gleaned from the will we examined yesterday, which named one William Carter as Abraham Kenyon's grandson. According to the book, among William Carter's many children are two with names that resonate: a son named Abraham, and another son named Kenyon. Granted, those two choices could be a coincidence, but it seems a promising sign in considering Abraham Kenyon's grandson William Carter and our John Carter's son William as one and the same.

Just to make sure, though—errors in books being a risk—let's take a look at our William Carter's own will. Sure enough, among the seventeen items delineated in William Carter's 1802 will, there is mention of sons by those names. In fact, we can glean further information: some of the inherited property to be given to Kenyon Carter was to be held in trust for him by his older brother Rice. In addition, some of the inherited land given to Abraham Carter and another brother—William Aylett Carter—was in the state of Kentucky, pointing us in a new direction for tracing descendants for any possible DNA matching purposes.

At least within Spotsylvania County, where William Carter's will was drawn up in the state of Virginia, I did not see any indication of a second man by that same name, leading me to tentatively conclude that William Carter—whose will did mention his "mother-in-law" Hannah Carter (actually his step-mother, the former Hannah Chew, last wife of John Carter)—was one and the same as Abraham Kenyon's grandson William Carter, who was mentioned in Abraham's will in neighboring King George County.

That leads to the conclusion that the Miller book was in error in asserting that William's mother was Elizabeth Armistead. Instead, I'll be noting that William, son of our John, was also son of Abraham Kenyon's daughter Sarah. Remembering, too, that John Carter's daughter Elizabeth had named a daughter of her own as Sarah Kenyon Thomas, we need to conclude that Elizabeth was also a child of John Carter's wife Sarah Kenyon.

There may be more of John Carter's children who were born to his wife Sarah Kenyon. As yet, I haven't been able to identify their names, based on court documents, but that may come in due time. In early Virginia legal records, there were certainly many mentions of Carter family names. It's just a matter of sifting through them all to see if any further patterns emerge. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

It All Began With a Man Named Abraham


The listing of grandchildren in wills may be what leads us to the truth about the wives of John Carter.

Stumped by the one item in my fifth great-grandfather's 1783 will—John Carter mentioned his granddaughter, Sarah Kenyon Thomas—I had been puzzled that the child's own father, Owen Thomas, had identified her with a different middle name, Kenner. Searching last week for any indication of the origin of the Kenner name in that will, I found leads, but not any convincing arguments. Moving on to see what can be discovered about the alternate middle name Kenyon, we may be approaching more fertile ground.

Tracing back through the generations, John Carter's daughter Elizabeth apparently married Owen Thomas, who then died in 1772, leaving his wife and one sole descendant the only ones named in his will. That descendant was Owen's daughter Sarah.

Setting aside the question of which middle name the child actually possessed for the record, we need to consider where the family use of the name Kenyon may have originated. Could Sarah have been named for an older relative, such as a grandmother or aunt? If we look to Owen's side of the family, there are no leads. Owen Thomas was named after his father, who, based on the dates regarding his will, died in Spotsylvania County sometime in either 1759 or 1760. According to that will, we can possibly surmise that Owen's mother's name was probably Mildred (though that could have been the name of his step-mother, a detail which is too recently discovered for us to determine yet). Owen's only sister named in his father's will was Agatha. No Sarah mentioned there, and definitely neither a Kenner nor a Kenyon.

However, when we move to the question of where the name "Sarah Kenyon" came from, while it doesn't agree with the published genealogies I've found online from the previous century, there are some researchers who contend that our John Carter had another wife. Any guesses what her name might have been?

Earlier this month, when I complained about the difficulty in finding an ancestor in an as-yet-unknown parent's will, this is exactly the application I had in mind. If there was an additional wife for John Carter, what was her name? And, once learning that name, could I find her in her unnamed father's will?

Thankfully, one of the descendants of that "unnamed" wife of John Carter sent me a message detailing the missing links in my question. That descendant is fellow blogger Patrick Jones of Frequent Traveler Ancestry. When he fingered Abraham Kenyon as the unnamed father of John Carter's unnamed wife, looking at the man's 1749 will in neighboring King George County revealed much useful information. (In fact, his post yesterday included much clearer copies of the same will from the Library of Virginia if you, like I do, grow tearful over bleary microfilmed copies.)

Right away, the will of Abraham Kenyon shows a compelling connection. The very first item listed named Abraham's oldest daughter as Sarah Carter. After that entry, Abraham provided for each of his five additional daughters named. Besides Sarah, there was one other married daughter, Margaret Pollard, plus younger children Elizabeth, Ann, Frances, and Million.

Following several additional stipulations, Abraham named as his sole executor his son-in-law, John Carter, reiterating the link with the Carter family. Whether that Carter line is the same as mine, I can't yet be positive, but I'm drawing closer to being convinced.

There was one other detail in Abraham Kenyon's will which caught my eye. Much like a foreshadowing of John Carter's desire to care for a particular grandchild through his own will, Abraham made such a mention in his 1749 will. The grandson named in the Kenyon will was John's own son William, likely the eldest Kenyon grandson—perhaps the only one at the time.

With that additional bit of information, let's take some time tomorrow to look to grandson William Carter's own history to see if there are any indications that our John Carter's son William was the same person as Abraham's grandson.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Doubting Thomas


Having the guidance of hundred-year-old genealogy books may seem a gift to the puzzled researcher—I know I welcome such as trailblazers when I'm otherwise lost—but right now I'm beginning to doubt some of the information offered. Specifically, after inspecting both the will of my fifth great-grandfather, John Carter of colonial Virginia, and that of his son-in-law, Owen Thomas, I'm beginning to doubt Mr. Thomas.

Last week, I spent time searching for any mention of the name Kenner in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Kenner was the supposed middle name of Owen Thomas' only surviving daughter Sarah, and Spotsylvania County was where both the Thomases and the Carters lived—or at least filed their wills. While I did find several references to the surname Kenner—even ones related to the extended Carter family—they just didn't seem to represent pieces that could neatly fit into this family puzzle.

This past weekend, I began the second phase of this investigation: to discover what links, if any, I could find to open up my understanding regarding the alternate surname, Kenyon. That, as you may recall, was the middle name given to John Carter's granddaughter Sarah Thomas—the same Sarah Thomas, incidentally, who was daughter of the by-then dearly departed Owen Thomas.

While I still can't fathom why a father would know less about his daughter's middle name than a grandfather might, we need to pay attention to this discrepancy. It might show us something we hadn't already discovered. For instance, the doubting Thomas in me sees alternate scenarios: that Sarah, Owen's daughter, might not be one and the same as Sarah, John's granddaughter. Or, perhaps Kenner was a more important family name to the Thomas family than Kenyon. Likewise, Kenyon might be the Carters' significant relative whose namesake became little Sarah. There could be many reasons for the confusion between the two names in those two documents.

Thankfully, there is a tendency toward collaboration which seems to be growing once again in the genealogy world, and I owe it to my newly-discovered apparent kazillionth Carter cousin twice removed, fellow genea-blogger Patrick Jones of Frequent Traveler Ancestry for pointing me in the direction of other court documents. Without his observations as he revisits this family history puzzle along with me, my review of the Kenner-Kenyon controversy would have yielded the score Kenner 3, Kenyon zip.

This is where I realize that casting our research nets in a far broader circle than we'd assume reasonable can indeed pay off. In this Kenyon case, that means looking at wills and other court records for not just key ancestors, but for at least three generations of family members. In the case of the Kenyon and Carter link, that also means looking for documents in neighboring counties, such as Caroline County, and even further afield, such as King George County.

With that, tomorrow we'll begin exploring the 1749 will of one of John Carter's elders, a man by the name of—wait for it!—Abraham Kenyon of King George County, Virginia. 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Of Wills and Constitutions


In following the lines of my colonial ancestors, such as the families of John Chew and John Carter, there is sometimes no research recourse other than to find their names recorded in dusty old court ledgers. Thankfully, that task has been updated by the advent of, first, microfilming, and second, online access to those digitized records. Even so, it can be quite tedious reading through the old script faded by the centuries. But compounding the effect of those roadblocks is another question I have. While an ancestor might have expressed on paper what his will was in how he wished his belongings to be distributed, was his designated executor in possession of a constitution disposed to following those exact instructions?

It has taken tracking property down through the generations to awaken me to the possibility that perhaps those who were supposed to do as directed might not have actually followed through. This can cause research difficulties. Take the instance of an ancestor with a fairly common name—both given name and surname being claimed by more than one person in the community. How do we tell the name twins apart?

This can be key if, for instance, we are looking for someone named John Carter, a man possessed of not only one of the most popular given names for sons, but a widespread surname in the region of Virginia. When a discrepancy appears concerning the name of, say, a wife, do we assume this John Carter was married more than once? Or that we might just have the wrong John Carter?

One way to identify a specific person, back in that era lacking decennial census enumerations or death certificates, was to trace that person by mentions of his name in legal documents. What property one man might have inherited from a father would logically be described in a subsequent will when it came time for that person to bequeath the property to the next generation. Either that, or the property would likely be mentioned in a deed book, showing the exchange of ownership in court records in that alternate way.

Then, too, courts kept records of legatees' confirmation that they properly received what they had been granted in the will. One way or another, there should be a chain of documents demonstrating what became of an ancestor's property. And that way can become another method of identifying the right heirs of the right ancestor—if, indeed, the executor's personal constitution was to adhere to the instructions of the testator.

In the case of the Carter family I've been tracing this year, I'm beginning to wonder whether that personal constitution to stick to the rules was wavering, or whether the will I've been reading just wasn't the will for the right John Carter. I've followed the legal documents for three generations connected to my fifth great-grandfather, John Carter, and right now, I'm beginning to wonder whether I've actually identified the right man. This coming week, we'll take a closer look at some of the documents which show me that those age-old, revered genealogies published on this and related family lines might have gotten some of the details wrong.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

The Parallax of Previous Centuries


Can our viewpoint of history be distorted over the centuries by a form of parallax? That is what I wondered this week as I pondered the strange connection between names in the extended family trees of the Beverleys, the Carters, and the Chews of colonial Virginia.

When I first struggled with the two different middle names cited for the same young child—John Carter's granddaughter and Owen and Elizabeth Thomas' daughter—I was struck by the connection of the one possible name, Kenner, to another branch of the extended family tree. That Kenner name had made its appearance by marriage into the related Beverley family.

It was only when I sketched out the contorted branches of the merged family trees that I began to see my problem. What is it about blithely running through old genealogies of eighteenth century families and court records spanning those same years of the 1700s? It is as if time got compressed.

From my twenty-first century viewpoint, the 1700s were the 1700s, all in one lump. Never mind that one date was in 1734 and the other in 1783. They both seemed so close together, because I was the one who was far away. My perspective distorted my vision. The little girl whose middle name might have been Kenner was listed in the 1783 will of a grandfather who was born about 1715, and who in later life married a woman whose mother was older sister to another woman who married a man who was likely even older than the girl's grandfather. Put that spaghetti bowl of relationships in perspective!

The same trick blinded me when I considered another family connection: the mention of the surname Roy both in the Beverley line and in the Chew line. Yet, for Thomas Roy, Kenner's widow Judith's second husband, to be related to his brother-in-law John Chew's grandfather would put him as brother of John's mother. Hardly likely, when I think more concretely about the dates involved.

Perhaps the 1700s, seeming so far removed from our current time, can lull us into a complacent mood, as we struggle to focus our eyes on blurry handwriting of three hundred year old wills and other mind-numbing legal documents. Much like the risk of parallax can throw off measurements based on differences in one's relative point of view, looking back through time can bring with it the hazard of making far more assumptions about the time period than might be warranted. Sketching it all out, literally making the scenario we're researching into a visual diagram labeled with dates and positions, can serve not only to take a snapshot of the research question, but allow us to ponder whether our perspective from the sidelines gives the most accurate reading of our ancestors' reality.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Tying up Another Loose End


Sometimes, it is those loose ends we find while we race to pursue our ancestors' records that trip us up. 

This week's discovery started out innocently enough: I was looking for any reason for the discrepancy in the middle name of John Carter's granddaughter Sarah Kenyon Thomas given in his will, and the name provided in another will by her own father, which stated it was Sarah Kenner Thomas.

While finding several entries concerning people with the surname Kenner in colonial Virginia court records, I stumbled upon another puzzle: the introduction of the name of Thomas Roy, who seemed to be mentioned often in the situation of one deceased Rodham Kenner and his widow, the former Judith Beverley. Today, I need to tie up that unexpected loose end in our Kenner foray down the genealogical rabbit trail.

Barely five years after the Reverend Kenner's passing, a March 1740 entry in the court records of Caroline County showed someone named Thomas Roy was appointed as guardian for George, the young son of the widow of Rodham Kenner. A mere month later, a suit brought in the same Caroline County against the same Thomas Roy did us the favor of identifying Thomas' wife as Judith, executrix of Rodham Kenner's will. And later that year in August, the record showed that the jury in that case found the same Judith, now Thomas Roy's wife, entitled to the whole of Rodham Kenner's estate.

Indeed, since Judith was born a Beverley, I could have consulted the posthumously-published genealogy by John McGill, The Beverley Family of Virginia. There, the entry for Harry Beverley's daughter Judith listed two spouses: first husband Rodham Kenner, followed by her second marriage to Thomas Roy.

According to the book, Thomas Roy was born about 1712 and died in 1772. An interesting sidelight of the book provided the note that Thomas Roy, Judith's second husband, was a son of someone in Caroline County named John Roy. An earlier record in Caroline County showed that the will of one John Roy had been proved in 1734 by Dorothy—possibly his wife—and someone named Thomas Roy. The same Thomas as Judith's second husband? 

What I have yet to discover—though I'm still working on it—is whether Thomas Roy might have been related to yet another connection in this extended family: the in-laws of Judith's sister Margaret. Margaret Beverley was Judith's older sister who had married John Chew of my family line. Margaret's mother-in-law happened to also be a daughter of a couple named John and Dorothy Roy. While the timeframes may be off, discovering this still makes me aware of just how often these same colonial surnames seem to cycle through family histories of that era.

Whether it was this Kenner connection which, decades later, yielded us the name of Sarah Kenner Thomas in her father's will, I can't yet say. First, we'll need to discover what might be found for the alternate middle name for young Sarah, the one mentioned in her grandfather's will: Kenyon. We'll explore that possibility next week.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Kenyon or Kenner? Gets Stickier


I admit it: I'm already deep into the family history forest's latest rabbit trail. And with every step, the trail gets thicker and stickier.

Last month, I spent time trying to locate all the information I could find on my fifth great-grandfather John Carter of Spotsylvania County in colonial Virginia. This month, the plan was to move to John's supposed second wife, Hannah Chew, and examine what could be found on her family line. And yet, there was a snag. There's always a snag.

The problem is that John Carter may have had yet another wife. No, take that back: the wife we thought he had might not have been the right person. After all, even the D.A.R. entry for the Captain seems to indicate otherwise.

The complications, however, burrow deeper than just that glitch. For one, we spotted yesterday the possibility that the name he gave in his will for his granddaughter might not have been entirely correct. According to her grandfather, that child's name was Sarah Kenyon Thomas. But according to the will of her own father, her name was Sarah Kenner Thomas.

Which one was the correct name?

To try to answer that question, I began by first searching for anything I could find in county court records for the surname Kenner, followed by another search for the surname Kenyon, which we will consider in a later post.

As it turned out, there were several entries containing that Kenner surname in abstracts of Spotsylvania court records, from which we can piece together a story of possible relationships. And that's where things get sticky, when it comes to piecing together a family tree. Apparently—and I've heard this before—families in the early years of colonial Virginia were quite intermarried. We'll see this as we trace the Kenner connections.

Before we run through this obstacle course of court resources, to put this rabbit trail in perspective, the mention of Sarah Kenner Thomas was made in her father's will dated in 1772. Yet, the only other references I could find for a surname Kenner occurred several years before that point. Here's how they unfolded.

First was the discovery in Spotsylvania County of one and only one name attached to that search: a man identified as the Rev. Rodham Kenner. I found mention of him in several Spotsylvania County records, but then, since property owned by the man who got me started on this chase—John Carter, Sarah's grandfather—spanned the border between Spotsylvania County and Caroline County, I discovered more entries in that second county.

To set the stage—though not the order of original discovery—I found mention of the nuncupative will of the Reverend Kenner listed in Caroline County. The abstract mentioned the will was proved by Judith Kenner, and that the estate was divided by an unnamed wife and son. Digging further for Rodham Kenner's wife's name, I found a Spotsylvania County mention of a 1729 (or 1730) marriage license issued for Rodham Kenner and Judith Beverley.

Thus, the Judith Kenner mentioned in Rodham's will could very possibly be this same wife identified as Judith Beverley. The interesting point here is that we've already found a Beverley family connection in the mother of my fifth great-grandmother, Hannah Chew, who married John Carter. Hannah's mother, Margaret, was daughter of Harry Beverley, who also was the father of Judith Beverley. When Hannah's husband John Carter was drawing up his own will and thinking about his orphaned granddaughter, did he somehow recall the wrong name when he meant to identify his in-laws' Beverley connection?

A guardianship proceeding from Spotsylvania County brought up another tie-in to that same Beverley family: at about this same time, Hannah's father John Chew had been designated as guardian of his wife's younger sister, Agatha Beverley. Security for the appointment was provided by none other than this Rodham Kenner, in-law by virtue of his marriage to Judith Beverley.

While indications were solid that Judith Beverley was Rodham Kenner's wife, who was the unnamed son in his will? Back in Caroline County, abstract of a March 1740 court entry revealed the son's name to be George Kenner, specifically naming his father and noting that the man was already deceased. (An interesting side light, which we'll save for later, was that the guardian appointed for the still-underaged George Kenner was a man named Thomas Roy.)

The court record also indicated that young George Kenner, through his new guardian, was to receive (in trust, presumably) "all the estate" from his "late guardian" Howson Kenner. That set the stage for a final record found back in Spotsylvania County. Fast forward another twenty five years, and the now-married George Kenner—along with another party by the name of Roy—is selling his portion of an inherited property passed from his grandfather Harry Beverley through Harry's five daughter, with the portion of George's now-deceased mother falling to him. Judith apparently had left no will—or at least did not mention this particular parcel of inherited land in her will, if she did draw one up.

This last court record provided a neatly-summarized overview of part of the Beverley family tree, listing the daughters whose husbands could now claim they had been in-laws of a significant colonial Virginian. But other than discovering the identity of three additional men with the surname Kenner—Rodham, his relative by the name of Howson Kenner, and Rodham's son George—this excursion taught us nothing more than that those colonial Virginians had multiple family connections. It certainly didn't reveal just who it might have been whose namesake became Owen Thomas' daughter and John Carter's granddaughter. 

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