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. 

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