Monday, February 5, 2024

Taking One Step Backwards


Finding a female ancestor whose life spanned the eighteenth century can be a challenge. Looking for any leads on my fifth great-grandmother Hannah Chew means looking first to the trailblazers who have already led the way—and then tracking down the records which might verify (or dismiss) such assertions. From these leads, we can hopefully take a confirmed step backwards in time to verify Hannah's parents, and maybe even grandparents, too.

Thankfully, because Hannah Chew became the second wife of John Carter of Spotsylvania County, Virginia, we can glean some information on her from her husband's will. Drawn up in 1778, the date on the executors' bond points us to a date beginning her widowhood at the close of 1783. Through that document—and a subsequent codicil upon the birth of their youngest daughter Elizabeth Matilda—we can glean some of the names of John Carter's family, but not all. (For those whose eyes water at the mere sight of the poorly-aged document, a transcription of the documents may ease the strain.)

Lack of any obvious family names among the witnesses and executors of Hannah's husband's will leaves us with few clues there as to her roots. However, embedded within the given names of two of her daughters are signs pointing to Hannah's parents. The name of her daughter Margaret Chew Carter, my fourth great-grandmother, resonated with Hannah's own maiden name. And Margaret's older sister—Mary Beverley Carter—pointed toward Hannah's mother's Beverley family.

Fortunately, a genealogy published in the mid-1950s—John McGill's The Beverley Family of Virginia— provides a potential guide on Hannah's own marriage and children, and then that of her parents. From this, we learn that the possible identity of Hannah's parents would be John Chew and Margaret Beverley.

Granted, books can contain mistaken material—even those which were well-researched by respected genealogists. Right away, I can spot some discrepancies in this published account, and we'll certainly take time this month to review those. But even with a quick look, I can find transcriptions of old court records of Spotsylvania County supporting a marriage between John Chew and Margaret Beverley, and a transcription of John Chew's own will in the same county, naming an underaged Hannah among his children.

Looking at these documents—and even their transcription—brings up other questions, though. One, which we'll look at tomorrow, presents a discrepancy which grows out of one mention in Hannah's husband's will, and links to some other material I've spotted online, both in other people's family trees and in other actual documents linked to this same family.

Which report was right? And what caused the variation? Transcription errors? Clerical errors? I'm not sure I'll be able to figure out the answer, but one thing I know: that same discrepancy echoes in the trees of DNA matches I've reviewed, as well. While we may never be able to discover the truth, at least we can investigate the possible causes of the discrepancy. 


  1. Saw a post about another Chew family and thought of your blog since it's not exactly a common surname. Who knows if there's a connection? Just wanted to pass it on if you haven't seen it.

    1. Doris, thank you for thinking of me and sharing that link. Yes--at least from what I can see from spot checking old genealogy books so far--that is the same CHEW line I am researching. Interesting connection.


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