Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Confirming a Granddaughter's Roots


Building a family tree for a granddaughter seems a fairly straightforward task. After all, the implication is that we already know who made that child someone's granddaughter. But when I wind my way through all the documents which leave us clues about ancestors living so long ago in colonial Virginia, I begin to ask myself: was John Carter's granddaughter really named Sarah Kenyon Thomas?

According to my fifth great-grandfather's 1778 will, the handwritten document was quite plain in spelling out the child's name: Sarah Kenyon Thomas. In fact, that name was listed in the will more than once, just to be clear.

But who were Sarah's parents? John Carter's will, putting his gift to his granddaughter in trust—under the supervision of "my son John Carter"—seems to indicate that she was underage at the time her grandfather's will was drawn up. Why, though, did the man direct that his son John hold it in trust for her, if the younger John was not the child's father? (Besides, if he were, then the name Sarah Kenyon Thomas would indicate a married name for the granddaughter.)

Looking to that old trailblazing Carter genealogy—The Descendants of Capt. Thomas Carter of "Barford"—author Joseph Lyon Miller listed Sarah as daughter of by-then deceased Elizabeth Carter. Finding that, my next step was to do what we genealogists always do: look for the documentation linking Elizabeth Carter and Sarah Kenyon Thomas to a missing husband and dad.

Assuming the entire family all still remained in Spotsylvania County where John Carter's will was proved in late 1783, I searched through a collection of abstracts of early court records, which is posted at Included in that collection were will books, deed books, guardian bonds, even listings of county residents who served as sheriff and who served in the Virginia militia. Looking for any entry mentioning a surname Thomas plus the granddaughter's given name Sarah, I was able to locate a possible dad for the child, and husband for John Carter's daughter.

The deceased—for this was the abstract of his own will drawn up in February of 1772—was a man by the name of Owen Thomas. Though the mention of those who served as executors and witnesses to Owen Thomas' will were not familiar family names to me—with the one notable exception of his own wife—the will did seem to confirm that Owen Thomas had married someone named Elizabeth. This was a partial confirmation of the statement in the Miller book.

There were, as it turns out, only two legatees mentioned in the will of Owen Thomas of Saint George's Parish in Spotsylvania County. One was specifically Owen's wife, Elizabeth. The other was identified as his daughter. Her name? Sarah Kenner Thomas.

Really? What happened to Sarah Kenyon Thomas, granddaughter named in John Carter's later will? Did someone get confused between two different branches of an extended family? Finding this, you know I next had to broaden the scope to see whether I could find anything further about either of these possible family names: Kenner or Kenyon. After all, which was the child's actual name: Sarah Kenyon Thomas? Or Sarah Kenner Thomas?


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