Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Castle Cousins

My grandmother, Fannie Castle, moved to Oklahoma in the summer of 1907. She was 10 years old. Much to the regret of my brother and me, she never got to return to Kentucky. Life moved on in Oklahoma, she met and married my grandfather, had twin boys, taught school for 43 years, raised my brother and me after our mother died, and helped raise her great-grandson, my son Jason. But she never forgot Kentucky. I mean, really, she didn't. She had an amazing memory.

In her 70's and 80's she began writing about her life in Kentucky. I have handwritten descriptions of her Castle grandparents' house and farm and even a map she drew of the area she remembered from her childhood. As many of us do as we get older, she became nostalgic for old places and old friends. She took out a subscription to her hometown Kentucky newspaper, The Licking Valley Courier, and she began to write to the cousins who still lived back there.

My grandmother's map of her home in Kentucky,
drawn about 75 years after she left there

She was so excited to get letters from them, and I guess that is why I remember them as well. I read their letters and saw the photos of their children and grandchildren. She heard from Virgil and Nettie Castle, Effie Castle Walters, Hattie Day Egelston, Mearl McGuire, Ida Frances Castle Elam, and even more often from Ida's daughter, Irene Downing. Nowadays they would all be Facebook friends, but back then they wrote long newsy letters and sent real photographs. 

I knew the names of all these people, but it might be surprising to find out that I didn't know exactly how they were related to my grandmother. Since meeting Virgil Castle's granddaughter, Jeneen, I have decided that I need to do a little research and document the connections between all these Castle cousins.

All of the connections go back to my grandmother's grandparents, Goldman Davidson Castle and his wife, Rachel Sargent Castle. They married September 1, 1844, and had at least seven documented children over 24 years. They were: William Henderson Castle, born 1846; James Harvey Castle, born 1852; John Castle, born 1854; Lilburn Castle, born 1857; Sarah Francis (later known as Aunt Sis) Castle, born 1862; George Turner Castle, my great-grandfather, born 1863; and Nancy Anne Castle, born 1868.

The 1850 census of Pulaski County shows one child of Goldman and Rachel Castle, William, age 4. The 1860 census of Morgan County enumerates children William, 14; James, 8; John, 4; and Lilburn, 1. Morgan County death records show that John and Lilburn both died in October of 1861 from scarlet fever. The 1870 census of Morgan County shows children, James, 17; Frances, 9; George, 7; and Anne, 2. In 1880 Sarah F., age 18; George T., age 16; and Nancy A., age 11, were still living at home.

1870 Morgan County census

William H. Castle married Nancy Jane Wells in Morgan County on November 3, 1867. Census records from 1870, 1880, and 1900 document these children: John Seymour, Elizabeth Ann, Lou Rittie, Eliza, Goldman Davidson, George Barnes, Rachel Florida, and Effie Lee. Some other family trees show another son, James Mize. William Henderson Castle and George Turner Castle were brothers. That means that Effie, with whom my grandmother had a long and affectionate correspondence, was her first cousin. Rachel Florida would also have been my grandmother's first cousin. Her son Mearl McGuire wrote to my grandmother. They would have been first cousins, once removed.

Effie Castle Walters

Mearl McGuire

James Harvey Castle married Elizabeth Nickell (sister of George Turner Castle's first wife, Frances.) Their children were Lula Catherine, Preston, John Smith, Lonis Sterling, Dora Alice, Caledonia, Ida Frances, Nora, Betty, Essa Mae, Goldman, Cleveland and Hendricks (twins). Caledonia died at age 16; Nora, Betty, and Goldman died young; and the twins died as infants. James, Elizabeth, and their children, Caledonia, Nora, and Goldman, are all buried in the Castle plot we recently visited.

James H. Castle family, 1890's?

Ida Frances Castle Elam and her daughter Irene corresponded with my grandmother. Ida would also have been my grandmother's first cousin. 

Ida Castle Elam (1st row, far left) and her children
Irene is 2nd row on the right

Her sister Lula Catherine would have been almost 15 years older than my grandmother and died in 1966, long before my grandmother began corresponding with her cousins. However, I recently saw a picture of her posted on Family Search and was amazed at how much she resembled my grandmother!

Lula Catherine Castle Lewis

Fannie Castle Smith

John Smith Castle, son of James and Elizabeth, and brother of Ida and Lula, married Bytha Engle. Their son Virgil and his wife Hettie also corresponded with my grandmother. John Smith would have been my grandmother's first cousin, so Virgil was her first cousin, once removed, although I noticed that Hettie called her "Aunt Fannie," as most everybody did. Jeneen is Virgil's granddaughter, so that makes Jeneen and me third cousins, once removed. Just today I became Facebook friends with another of Virgil's granddaughters, Kathy. 

Another of my grandmother's correspondents was Hattie Day Egelston. Until I did this research, I assumed she was a cousin on the Day side, which she is, but she is also a Castle. Her mother was Nancy Anne, George Turner Castle's youngest sister. On her father's side she was related to my great-grandmother, Sarah Florida Day. She is what my grandmother proudly called a "double cousin." She would have been another first cousin on the Castle side; I'm not even going to try to figure what she was on the Day side. She wrote often about her sister Edna, who would also have been my grandmother's double cousin.

Hattie Day Egelston
Edna Day Long and husband

My grandmother was so proud of her Castle ancestry. Her dad had been a county court clerk in Morgan County, a job with prestige, and her grandfather Castle had been postmaster. Nothing was more important to her than family, and her correspondence with her cousins meant so much to her. I believe it did to them, as well. She would be so proud to know that we are still making connections with our Castle cousins.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Linda and Becky's Excellent Adventure, Part 2: The Castles

We got up on Sunday morning with plans to find a popular breakfast buffet in Berea. It was not to be. My car wouldn't start. We called Triple A and waited about an hour for someone to come jump the car. He suggested we drive for a while to build up the battery, so we headed out of town. I can't imagine that the buffet in Berea would have been any better than the brunch buffet we found in Winchester, Kentucky. I think it's the best fried chicken I've ever had. The car started just fine after we rolled our full selves out of the restaurant.

After about an hour and a half through fairly scenic highway, we arrived in West Liberty. Now you have to give me a break here, because I was never the driver when we visited West Liberty before. I was a little lost, and it didn't help that there was a major tornado there in 2012, and a lot of the town doesn't look the same. After wandering around a while, I finally found the road out of town and then the turn on Centerville Road to the cemetery.

Linda was thrilled to see the same sign that thrilled my brother and me--the one that says "Day Branch Road." 

Again, I knew that "our" cemetery was up a hill off of this dead end road. I just couldn't find the right place. I had the right hill in my mind's eye, but there were at least three hills that could have been it. (I wrote about our first attempt to find the cemetery in the post, "My Old Kentucky Home." Our successful second attempt was described in the post, "Genealogy on the Road: West Liberty, Kentucky.") We drove until I knew I had passed the place I was looking for, and I turned around and drove back up the road. At the exact moment that we drove by a house, a man and woman walked out of it and started to get into their car. 

I stopped the car, and Linda leaned out to shout, "Could we ask you a question?" We all got out of our cars and met in the driveway. Linda asked, "Would you happen to know where the Castle cemetery is?" The woman replied, "I think I do. I'm a Castle." In two previous trips to West Liberty, my brother and I had never met a Castle. A lot of people we talked to remembered Virgil Castle, but he had passed away long before. On our first trip we talked to Linville Castle on the phone, but I had heard that he had since passed away. We had no idea that any Castles were still living in West Liberty, and here was one standing in front of us! What were the chances that at the exact moment we passed her mother's house, our cousin Jeneen would be getting into her car??

Becky, Linda Castle Hess, Jeneen Castle Roach

Jeneen and her husband Tommy were helping her mother move that day. We visited for a few minutes, trying to find our family connections. (Our common ancestors, we determined, were Goldman Davidson and Rachel Sargent Castle. My great-grandfather, George Turner Castle, and Jeneen's 2nd great-grandfather, James Harvey Castle, were brothers. Virgil Castle was Jeneen's grandfather.) Tommy took our picture, we exchanged addresses and emails, and then we followed Jeneen and Tommy up the road, so that Jeneen could point out her window at the right road to the cemetery. 

We turned the car up the road, and I thought almost right away that this was the wrong road. It was only the width of the car but still far more accessible than the path to the cemetery that I remembered. Still, we kept driving to the top, where we found an abandoned house. Now I knew it was the wrong road. 

We got out of the car and looked around, just to be sure, surprising a cute little family of deer that seemed almost tame. I was positive we were in the wrong place, so we got back in the car. It wouldn't start. We were down a country road, up a hill where no-one lived, and we were stuck. But we didn't even have time to panic, because a car drove up behind us, honking its horn. It was Jeneen and Tommy to the rescue! She had realized it was the wrong road and had come back to tell us. 

We now had help but still didn't know how we were going to get the car started. We eliminated ideas one by one: no jumper cables; a car couldn't get close enough to jump us anyway; automatic, so we couldn't just put it in neutral and back down; the closest Triple A serviceman was a couple of hours away. Tommy and Jeneen's friend John came up on his four-wheeler, and he had tools. Of course, I couldn't have a battery that was easy to get out, but the guys finally removed it. Our only option was to drive back into West Liberty and buy a new battery, which we did. 

Now this might sound like a bad thing, but having car trouble turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We got to spend a lot more time with Jeneen and talked a lot more about the Castles; we learned things, and so did she. She wasn't even certain who was buried in the little Castle cemetery plot on the hill. Four of the headstones were for her 3rd great-grandparents, Goldman Davidson Castle and Rachel Sargent Castle, and her 2nd great-grandparents, James Harvey Castle and Elizabeth Nickell Castle. She didn't even know about Donia's foot! (See "Genealogy on the Road: West Liberty, Kentucky").

In turn, she pointed out the original home place of her grandparents, Virgil and Net Castle, and her mother's home on original Castle land. 

Eventually we said our good-byes again, and Jeneen pointed us to the right road to the cemetery. "Path" is a better word. We had to park the car on Centerville Road and walk up the hill to look for the headstones. They were not easy to find. Linda and I peered through the little pine forest in several places before we finally saw the stones. Of course, the little family plot was more overgrown than the last time I was there, and Linda spent several minutes cutting thorny vines away from the fallen stones while I cleared moss from Grandma Castle's marker. The shade of the tall trees surrounding the plot made it hard to even take photos of the stones, but we did the best we could.

We finally left West Liberty and started our 12-hour drive home to Oklahoma. We were glad to see this sign on our way out of town. 

Today had definitely been an excellent adventure.

The Castle coincidences don't end there. I came home and looked through a box of my grandmother's things, looking for a map she had drawn of the West Liberty area 75 years after she lived there.  I've known about the map since before the last time my brother and I were there, but I don't know why I keep forgetting to take it with me to Kentucky. I found the map, but I also found a letter to my grandmother from Virgil Castle's wife, Net, dated March 8, 1982. Virgil had been sick, and Net had been doing a lot of the farm work. Then she wrote this: "Aunt Fannie, watch in the next week's paper (The Licking Valley Courier, to which my grandmother subscribed). My granddaughter's picture will be in the paper. She won 2 big trophies for speech making and her picture is in the paper. She is a real smart little girl. She is 12 years old." Guess who she was talking about? Jeneen!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Linda and Becky's Excellent Adventure, Part 1: The Whitleys

I haven't written anything in a while, because I really haven't made new discoveries lately in any of my family lines. I continue to (haphazardly) search for clues to my Smith great-great-grandfather and my Roberts and Pharris ancestors in Jackson County, Tennessee. But when I got an invitation recently to a celebration of my 5th great-grandparents, William and Esther Whitley, who have been widely documented and continue to be two of my most fascinating ancestors, I knew I would have something to write about.

One day in August I got an email invitation to attend "A Day with the Descendants of Logan's Fort," to be held in Stanford, Kentucky, on September 10. I knew that William and Esther had lived at Logan's Fort before they built their brick house on the Wilderness Road, but other than that, I really didn't know much about their lives at the fort. The planners of the event were hoping to have a descendant of each of the Logan's Fort families at this special celebration, and I wanted to be there to learn more about the fort and my ancestors' participation in its history.

I did a little research and found that it was a 12-hour trip by car from my house to Logan's Fort. I love to drive, but I didn't feel comfortable going by myself. The date of the event, on a Saturday in September, meant I would almost certainly have to take off a couple of days from work. My brother was the obvious person to go with me--we have a history of genealogical expeditions--but he would also have to take a couple of days off school, harder for him than for me. He tried to help me figure out an itinerary that included a plane trip and a rental car, but I really wanted to drive. I tried to think of someone that would be able and willing to go with me and interested in the history and genealogy of Kentucky.

Aha! My cousin, Linda Castle Hess! She's retired--busy but flexible--and she and I have shared an interest in genealogy since she moved back home a few years ago. She's on the "wrong" side of the family, I thought, since the Whitleys are my mom's side, and she is a cousin on my dad's side. But maybe, just maybe, we could travel on a couple of hours east of Logan's Fort and visit our Castle homestead in West Liberty before starting back home. I contacted her, and she was more than excited to join me on a whirlwind trip to Kentucky.

We decided to get a head start by leaving town on Thursday after I got off school. I picked Linda up at her house in Sapulpa, and as she got in the car, she gave a name to our road trip. She called it "Linda and Becky's Excellent Adventure," and it was!

We set off on the first leg of our trip--to St. Louis--and then on the next day to spend the night at Mount Vernon, KY, not far from Logan's Fort and the Whitley House. The major excitement on Friday was the incessant rain, at one time so hard that we had to stop along the way at a Huddle House restaurant in Mascoutah, IL. It was there that I saw that I had an email from Peggy Denham, one of the planners of Descendants' Day. I wrote back to tell her we were on our way. She was delighted that we were coming, because apparently I was going to be the sole representative of the Whitley family descendants at the event.

On Saturday morning, with the rain stopped at last, we traveled to Stanford, KY and the Visitors' Center at Logan's Fort. Stanford is a lovely small town, the second oldest settlement in Kentucky, due to the presence of Logan's Fort. It is the county seat of Lincoln County, which once encompassed more than a third of the state of Kentucky. Records in the courthouse there go back to the 1780's and include some recorded on sheepskin. Traveling through town, we found the dead end road--Martin Luther King Street--that led us to the Logan's Fort Visitor's Center.

The founder of the fort, Benjamin Logan, came to the area in 1774 and began to build a fort in 1775 at the site of a spring called St. Asaph's. St. Asaph is the patron saint of Wales, and Logan was Irish. It is unlikely the name originated with him, but he was happy to call the fort St. Asaph's. As you can see, that name didn't stick. The building where the festivities were being held was the former Stanford ice plant which has now become the Visitor's Center. A path had been cleared to the spring which is situated right behind the building.

Logan's Fort Visitor's Center

The spring

The spring was, of course, crucial to the fort, and Benjamin Logan had an ingenious way to ensure that water was available to the fort during times of siege. A 4' deep tunnel was built between one of the fort's blockhouses to the spring house. The fort's inhabitants could get water without ever becoming a target for attack. As we learned from the first speaker at Descendants' Day, vessels to carry the water were scarce, so sometimes the settlers used hollowed-out pumpkins.

The first speaker was Dr. Kim McBride, an archaeologist who took part in the dig in the 1990's at the site of the fort. She explained how we know what the fort looked like and how it was situated relative to the spring and other natural features. An illustration of the fort was presented to Lyman Draper, an early historian, by a Captain Briggs. The detailed sketch, housed with Draper's papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society, is only about the size of an index card.

The dig uncovered hand-made nails and a hook, pieces of pottery, and the remains of a man, presumed to be William Hudson. Hudson was one of a group of men and women (including my ancestor, Esther Whitley) who went to milk the cows outside the fort and were attacked by Indians. Dr. McBride feels confident in the identity of the remains because it is known that Hudson was scalped and buried inside the fort, and the recovered skull shows evidence of scalping. Finding the remains of Hudson also helped pinpoint the site of the fort, and examination of various levels and colors of soil have helped determine the location of the tunnel to the spring.

The next part of the program was very entertaining. Everybody loaded onto a wagon, one pulled by Clydesdales and another by a tractor, and traveled a short distance to the spot where a monument commemorating Logan's Fort was dedicated 100 years ago. Amazingly, the speech given upon that day by the vice mayor of Stanford, Dr. J.G. Carpenter, was published in its entirety in the newspaper of that day and was available to the planners of the 2016 event. The original Dr. Carpenter, portrayed engagingly by Than Cutler, must have been quite a character. His speech, full of bombast and vivid vocabulary, was hilarious. To just give you an idea, his favorite name for the monument was "this ponderosity."

Than Cutler as Dr. J.G. Carpenter

A very delicious picnic lunch followed, then we gathered back inside the Vistor's Center for a talk by a local attorney and historian, Jeff Ralston. His presentation was very informative and he gained my esteem by mentioning my ancestor, Esther Whitley, several times. He had intended to give the talk at the site of the fort, which I had not yet seen because it was up the hill and behind some trees. However, it was just too hot for any of us to stand up there for an hour, so he spoke instead at the Center.

Seven families lived at Logan's Fort and inhabited seven cabins, three on the side of the fort that had two blockhouses, and four on the side with the single blockhouse. The heads of the seven families were Benjamin Logan, Ben Pettit, William Whitley, William Menifee, George Clark, James Mason, and Samuel Coburn. Several single men also lived in the fort, occupying the blockhouses. Various accounts I have read put the attack on the group outside the fort at the beginning of the siege, or at the end when the settlers believed that the Indians had finally given up. The date seems beyond question: May 20, 1777. As mentioned before, William Hudson was killed. Another of the men, Burr Harrison, was badly wounded but still alive. Using something as a shield--a feather mattress, roll of wool cloth, or bale of cotton--Benjamin Logan was able to reach Harrison and help him back to the fort, where he later died. Eventually, the Indian attacks lessened, and by 1779 the Whitleys were able to return to their own land.

I learned much that I did not know, but was also glad to hear from an expert researcher this story about Esther Whitley: Many Indian leaders came to Logan's Fort to negotiate with the settlers. They often urged William Whitley to compete with them in shooting contests. William told them that if they could ever beat his wife that he would consent to shoot with them, but that never happened because they could never beat Esther!

Again we climbed onto wagons and took a short ride to the fort where we explored and then gathered for a photo. 

Only one wall of the fort with two blockhouses has been built. The Logan's Fort Foundation hoped to build the entire fort with only the technology available in 1775, but it has become so expensive that they may have to finish it with modern tools. The most impressive feature of the fort to me was also one of Benjamin Logan's innovations. Mr. Ralston had reminded us of all the fort gates that we have seen in movies. They all open out, and once those seeking shelter have been let inside, somebody has to pull those heavy gates shut and bar them. Logan's Fort had a different type of gate. Perfectly balanced on hinges, it could be pulled up with a mere leather thong; once everyone was inside, all that was needed was to let go of the thong and the gate closed itself.

Logan's Fort



Linda and Becky's Excellent Adventure at Logan's Fort

On May 20-22, 2016, the siege of 1777 was reenacted at the rebuilt Logan's Fort. I wish I could have been there. This video is pretty neat and gives you a good idea of the appearance of the fort and events during the siege.

We left during the last presentation to make it to the Whitley House by 4:30, when the last tour begins. I so wanted Linda to see the house. I had told her that it was the first brick house in Kentucky but I think she was really expecting a glorified log cabin. We come from Oklahoma, after all, where anything over 100 years old is pretty special. The Whitley House is 220+ years old, and it really is pretty amazing inside and out. This is my third time to visit the house, and I always learn something new. (See my post, "Daughter of the American Revolution," for more about the Whitleys.)

We had planned to spend the night closer to West Liberty and the Castle side of our excellent adventure. But the wind was coming up, and it was looking like rain, so we spent the night in Berea, Kentucky, not knowing what an interesting day was coming up.

Friday, June 3, 2016

New Ancestors from Ancestry?

Yesterday one of my favorite genealogy bloggers, Roberta Estes (, wrote a post about Ancestry's New Ancestor Discoveries. If you have had your DNA tested by Ancestry, you may have noticed that you have had a lot of new NAD's recently. Last week I had 26; as of this morning, I have 11. Roberta and other bloggers have been informed by Ancestry that their new way of determining matches had led to an increase in the number of New Ancestor Discoveries, so they have refined their way of determining NAD's, leading to the decrease in number.

I have been intending for a while to talk about my New Ancestor Discoveries and see if any of Ancestry's ancestor suggestions could help me fill gaps in my tree. I'm glad now that I waited--so I don't have to talk about 26 "ancestors," but only 11! You may have noticed the quotation marks around the word ancestors. Even though Ancestry calls them by that name, I have noticed and so has Roberta, that they could just as easily be relatives from collateral lines.

For example, two of my earliest NAD's were Sarah Wheat and her husband William Jackson. Sarah, daughter of Samuel and Cynthia (Stephenson) Wheat, was a sister to my direct line ancestor, Susanna Wheat Ming. Once I had added Sarah and William to my tree, Ancestry made them DNA Circles. Now, maybe because of Ancestry's new way to calculate DNA matches, they have disappeared from my DNA Circles as well--which is fine with me, since they are not my direct line ancestors. 

So, have any of the 11 remaining NAD's been helpful in finding new ancestors? Two of the 11 are Hannah Elizabeth Embry and her husband Christopher Columbus Snodgrass. In my last post, "DNA Circle: Delilah Embry," I talked about how I have found a connection to the Embry family of Butler County KY and Jackson County TN. Delilah Embry is more than likely my 4th great-grandmother and is definitely connected to Hannah Embry--I'm just not sure how. Getting Hannah as a New Ancestor Discovery was a clue that I was on the right track, although I still don't know exactly how she fits in my tree. As she is not a direct line ancestor, her husband, Christopher Columbus Snodgrass, is just a relative by marriage.

Two more NAD's are Elizabeth Tully and her husband, Benjamin F. Burden. I match 16 of 40 members of the Elizabeth Tully DNA Circle. I think I know why she is showing up as a New Ancestor, even though, again, I don't believe she belongs in my tree. Looking at the trees of the 16 members of her DNA Circle, I can see that we have a lot of common relatives with the surname Embry or Pharris. Here's what I think is happening. I have DNA matches with each of these 16 Ancestry members, but our connection is not Elizabeth Tully or Benjamin F. Burden. The connection in each case is some common ancestor who is an Embry or a Pharris. Again, it's a clue that suggests I have a connection with the Embry and Pharris families, but not, I'm pretty sure, with Tully or Burden ancestors. It's just a coincidence that these 16 Embry or Pharris descendants also have Elizabeth Tully as an ancestor.

George Washington Oller and his wife Emily Pamela Gillham are two more suggested "ancestors." I match the same 3 members in George's and Emily's DNA Circles in amounts from 8 to 18 cM's. I don't see any common ancestors. I recognize a couple of surnames that seem to have a vague connection to some of my Kentucky people. George lived in Kentucky, Arkansas, and Oklahoma; Emily in Arkansas and Oklahoma--but not in any of the counties where I have ancestors. A mystery for now. 

William Aden Tillett and his wife Francis Irene Fullbright lived in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Hughes County, Oklahoma. My mother's family was from Hughes Co., and it's not a big or highly populated place. However, I don't see any names that connect me with William and Francis. This one would bear some further research.

Peter Terrell Fite was married to Elizabeth Matthews, and they are two more of my suggested ancestors. I have four matches in each of their DNA Circles. Of the four matches, one has a common ancestor of mine, Samuel Wheat, and another has a common unrelated ancestor, Robert Patrick. This may be another one that is just coincidence.

The last NAD is Benjamin "Norris" Finley/Fenley. I match 8 of 14 members of his DNA Circle, one of them with 35 cM's. He lived in Alabama and Texas, but not in areas where my known ancestors lived. A couple of common surnames crop up in the trees of members of his DNA Circle, but I can't make a connection to them. There is just enough here to make me think that this one needs more research. 

Are the New Ancestor Discoveries helpful? Not really, not yet, for me. I know Ancestry's point of view about DNA matching. Instead of just providing the matching segment information like other testing companies, they think that they are doing the work for us with DNA Circles and New Ancestor Discoveries. However, as you can see above, it's not that easy. It's just hard work, no matter how you go about it. Anybody that thinks that testing his or her DNA will answer all the questions is in for a surprise.

Monday, March 14, 2016

DNA Circle: Delilah Embry

The first email I received from Barbara was in July of 2012. She contacted me because my tree on Ancestry showed that I descended from William and Susannah Huff of Jackson County, Tennessee. She was contacting Huff descendants, tracking both family trees and DNA results to try to break down the brick walls that many of us had in our trees.

At the same time I received my first DNA results from Ancestry DNA. In my response to Barbara's first email I told her that I had recently discovered a connection to the Pharris family of Jackson County, one that I had not previously known or shown in my family tree. For months Barbara and I corresponded as we learned more about the Huffs and Jackson County through census records, court transcripts, and DNA results.

It was a statement that James Pharris made in a court case that convinced Barbara he was my missing link. In a deposition in September 1880, involving his children by Sarah Poston, he made this statement, "I am 75 years old. I have been married four times, have raised 20 children or had that many born alive and all lived to be pretty well grown." Barbara used census records and court cases to try to document the 20 children of James Pharris, but she could only identify 18 of them. She was convinced that one of the two missing children's names was that of my 2nd great-grandmother, Elzina.

I was resistant. Since we knew that I shared DNA with Huff descendants, Barbara and I felt sure that I had a Huff ancestor as well. We knew the identities of the four wives of James Pharris; he had not been married to a Huff. If we were going to theorize an illegitimate, or at least a previously unknown liaison between a Huff and a Pharris, then there could be many possibilities for the parents of Elzina. Time went on, and Barbara and I agreed to disagree.

I don't know exactly when I began to notice DNA matches with the ancestral surname Embry, but it was before Ancestry informed me of a "New Ancestor Discovery" named Hannah Elizabeth Embry of Butler Co., KY. I was aware of a connection between the Embry and Pharris families, and in a previous post about the subject I wished that my NAD Hannah would provide a clue to the identities of Elzina's parents, or at least one of them.

In the meantime Barbara decided to sell her house in New York and move to a sunnier climate. While her new house was being readied, she was going to stay with a cousin in Texas for several weeks this winter. She wasn't going to be that far from me; could we meet? We made tentative plans to meet in Oklahoma City, and I knew that we would be talking genealogy. In preparation I took a good look at what I knew about our common ancestors. 

Sometime last year after I had read a blog post by Roberta Estes (, I added some names to my tree: James Pharris and his parents. Roberta said it was all right to try out some names on your Ancestry public tree in hopes that Ancestry would put you in a DNA Circle. Then you would know that someone with whom you shared DNA was also a descendant of the person around whom the circle was built. Lacking a chromosome browser, this was your best chance to learn from Ancestry's large database of ancestors and descendants. So I included some names and added a notation in parentheses: (DNA).

So just a week before I was to meet Barbara and her cousin in Oklahoma City, I looked again at my tree. And I did...something. I don't remember what. Did I add a date? Did I take out a question mark? I really don't remember, but within a few days I had a new DNA Circle for the mother of James Pharris, Delilah Embry. Out of the 11 other members of the circle I have a DNA match with 8 of them.

So is James Pharris my ancestor? Well, if he isn't, it almost has to be one of his siblings. And no, I still don't know who Elzina's mother was. Barbara has a hypothesis about that. She thinks it was Lucinda Huff, daughter of William and Susannah, and that Susannah Huff raised her granddaughter Elzina. The 1830 and 1840 censuses only list the name of the head of household, but on those censuses Susannah has a girl of the same age as Elzina living in her home.

It also appears that Lucinda had at least one other child out of wedlock. On the 1850 census Lucinda Huff, age 40, was living with her sister Polly Huff Butler and her husband Thomas. Also living in the household is Elizabeth Huff, age 7. Sometime after that 1850 census Lucinda moved to Union County IL and in 1853 married a man named Wilson Butts. By the 1860 census they had two sons, George and Francis M. Living nearby is a Thomas Butler, age 72, almost certainly Lucinda's brother-in-law, although it appears that Polly has died. Also just a few houses away is Elizabeth, who has married a young man named Ballard Collins.

1850 Jackson Co. showing Lucinda Huff with Butler family

If Elzina is the daughter of James Pharris and Lucinda Huff, she had a sister (also with James as a father?) and two half-brothers on her mother's side and at least 18 half-siblings on her father's side. It seems likely that James was her father, although sometimes I wonder about the statement that he "raised" 20 children. He obviously didn't raise Elzina, and we know for a fact that one of his wives had children by a deceased husband that James did raise. Were they among the 20 children he reported to the court? He does clarify the statement by saying that "he had [20] born alive"; that could indicate that he was only the biological father of some of them.

I think what made me doubt for so long was just pure sympathy for Elzina. If her mother was Lucinda, she was given up to her grandmother to raise, while her mother kept the younger sister Elizabeth. Her mother even left the state while Elzina was still living in Jackson County, although by then she was married to Stephen Roberts. James married four other women but not her mother. Elzina didn't even share in James's estate, although land records may prove that her home was on Pharris land. Stephen Roberts was a terrible husband to her. Since learning about her life, it becomes obvious that there is a long line of women in that family who had bad luck with men. Elzina's daughter, Cornelia, my great-grandmother, had a chance to be happy with her husband, T.J. Bell, but I think she had just seen too much tragedy in her family to ever be a happy woman.

Two and a Half Cousins

There is an upside to all of this. I did finally get to meet my cousin Barbara. On the last weekend in February she drove up from Texas with her cousin Rheta (no relation to me) and we had a great time in Oklahoma City. We had the best barbecue Barbara had had since coming to Texas ("I had to come to Oklahoma to get good Texas barbecue!"), we visited the Bombing Memorial, and then had a great time walking around Bricktown. Barbara was explaining to Rheta all the ways that she and I are related--by Huff, Pharris, and Carter ancestors--and Rheta dubbed us the "Two and a Half Cousins."

The Ancestor

Delilah, daughter of John Embry, was born about 1775 in North Carolina. Her mother's name is unknown. She married William Pharris in Madison County, Kentucky, on 25 February 1797. Most trees on Ancestry agree on four children from this union: William, James, John, and Sarah. Some also include a daughter, Delilah, born 1820, although it's more likely that she is a granddaughter, since William Pharris died before 1817.

Delilah is head of household on the 1830 census in Jackson County. Her age is ticked in the 40-49 column, although she should be about 55. Living with her is a male 15-19, a male 20-29, and a female 10-14. On the 1850 census we find Delilah, age 75, with the younger Delilah Pharris, age 30, and her children, Polly, 15, and Hugh, 3. The younger Delilah could have been the female 10-14 on the 1830 census. We think she is the daughter of James from his wife Martha Vinson, who died in 1823.

1830 Jackson Co. census--Delilah Embry household

On the 1860 census Delilah is 85, still living with the younger Delilah, 35, and children, Hugh, 12, and Son (Beauregard), 2. (Another Jackson County mystery--who is the father of the younger Delilah's children?) We know that the 2-year-old male, referred to as Son on the 1860 census, is named Beauregard because he shows up in homes with his mother Delilah in 1870 and 1880.

1860 Jackson Co. census--Delilah Embry, 85

Maybe there are perfectly innocent reasons that all these women in Jackson County have children, and continue to have children, with no husband in the home. Probably everyone then knew the circumstances and the people involved. It's sure frustrating for someone trying to document the relationships 150 years later.

The Descendants

Of the 8 matches I have in the Delilah Embry DNA Circle one descends from John and one comes from Sarah. Three show James as their ancestor. Three show the younger Delilah as a daughter, not a granddaughter--one of them descending from son Hugh and two from son Beauregard--but if she really is the daughter of James, then 6 of the 8 matches in the circle are descendants of James. My smallest match is 5.4 cM's in 1 segment; my largest match is 62 cM's in 5 segments from the descendant of John. That's a pretty large cM count, and I haven't completely accounted for the reason why, although he shows multiple Pharris and Embry ancestors in his tree. He has uploaded his results to Gedmatch, where I can compare him to some other known Huff, Embry, and Pharris descendants.

By the time of this post Barbara is on her way to her new home. What I haven't told her yet is that just this week I was added to another DNA Circle, the one for William Pharris, father of James. I share DNA with 6 of the other 9 members of his circle.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

DNA Circle: Jacob Castle

The Jacob Castle in whose DNA Circle I have been recently placed is not Jacob Castle, the Longhunter, but his son Jacob. Many "facts" about Jacob have shown up in family trees and even in publications, but we are going to examine the evidence to see what is fact and what has not been proven. (Note: I've been as guilty as everyone else of accepting some of these  facts without questioning them.)

"Fact" 1: Jacob Castle was born in Pennsylvania in 1749, the son of Jacob Castle and a Shawnee woman named Sowege, or Gliding Swan.

I can't find evidence for any of these facts. In the 1740's Jacob's father Jacob was living in Virginia. No birth record for the younger Jacob exists; he claimed his age as 80-90 on the 1830 Russell Co. VA census, so he could have been born as early as 1740. Unfortunately for the many descendants who love the story of Jacob's marriage to Gliding Swan, there is no credible evidence that such a person even existed. Some people have found a marriage record for a Jacob Castle to a woman named Mary Elizabeth which took place in Pennsylvania; then they have made the assumption that Mary Elizabeth is Gliding Swan, or that Sowege changed her name to Mary Elizabeth. I could not locate that marriage record at all, although others have referred to it. Jacob Castle the elder may certainly have had native wives, but I doubt that any traditional marriage ceremonies were performed, and I don't know how you would ever document the various children by these marriages. As with any legend, there could be truth behind the story, but no proof that I could find.

Many researchers cite a book called Shawnee Heritage by Don Greene and Noel Schutz as the origin of the name of Sowege and the details of the marriage. The trouble is, the authors did not give documentation for the information they published. Some Shawnee tribe members have criticized the book, and in fact, have said that Sowege is not even a Shawnee word.

"Fact" 2: Jacob Castle the younger married in 1769 to a half-Wyandot woman named Mary Shane.

There is no record of the marriage of Jacob and Mary that I can find. Most trees that list Mary Shane as the wife of Jacob Castle show evidence for her baptism in Philadelphia in 1747. The baptism of Mary lists her parents as Dennis and Catherine Shane, names that sound more Irish than native American. A marriage record for Zachariah Castle in 1867 lists his parents as Jacob and Mary Castle, so Mary was probably his mother's name; I just have no proof that she was Mary Shane or half-Wyandot.

"Fact" 3: Jacob Castle the younger lived to be 100 years old.

This one may actually be true. On the 1830 Russell Co. VA census Jacob gives his age as 80-90. On the 1840 Russell Co. census Jacob is enumerated as Male 100 & over. Ancestry members have corrected his age on the 1840 census to 92 to allow for his death at 100 in 1848 or 1849; however, I have found no evidence for his exact death date, except for Ancestry trees that have copied from each other.

Castles on 1830 Russell Co. census

"Fact" 4: This is a photograph of Jacob Castle.

NOT Jacob Castle (1749-1849)

In my opinion, genealogists need to be historians, too, or they fail to see the significance in the facts they uncover, or they believe facts or photos that can't possibly be true. Jacob Castle died in the 1840's at an advanced age, so this photograph would have to have been taken in the 1810's or 1820's. The daguerreotype was only invented in 1839 and paper photography much later. This man is not wearing clothing typical of the 1840's. Coats and neckties such as the one he is wearing were not the style until the late 1800's. 

This photograph has been copied to so many trees on Ancestry, and very few thought to question whether it was really Jacob Castle. It may be a Jacob Castle, but it's not the one that is the subject of this post. One good thing might have come from this photo, if it were real. We might have finally put to rest the other silly claim that Jacob Castle the elder was albino and passed on those traits to his son Jacob.

The Ancestors

So what else do we really know about Jacob?

My Castles come from Russell County, Virginia. The first census in which Jacob Castle appears is Russell Co. in 1820. On the 1820 census Jacob is enumerated in the column for age 45+. He was probably in his 70's. His family consisted of a male aged 26-44 and another male aged 10-15, along with two females, one aged 26-44 and another aged 45+. Just guessing, I would say that along with Jacob's wife, he had a son or daughter and spouse living with him, and that the male aged 10-15 is a grandson.

By the way, Ancestry will find "Castle" on these various censuses, even though the names are transcribed as "Capell." Why? Because in this time period the name was spelled "Cassell" and double s's were written in a style that looks like a large P. (See my post on Jesse Reed in "DNA Circles: Daniel Reed and Martha 'Patsy' Lewis.") The Russell County enumerator listed the heads of household in alphabetical, rather than residential, order. Along with Jacob on the 1820 census are several other "Capell" heads of household on the same page and on the next page.

They are: Henry, age 26-44; Zedekiah, age 26-45; Zachariah, age 16-26; and William, age 16-26, on the same page with Jacob. On the next page are Elijah, age 26-45; and Nathan, age 16-26.

1820 Russell Co. census

It's certainly possible that some or all of these men are the sons of Jacob Castle. It's hard to tell since the census doesn't show their residential relationship to each other. A further complication arises with DNA testing. The Castle DNA Project shows that descendants who claim Jacob Castle as an ancestor do not have the same y-DNA haplogroup as descendants who claim Elijah Castle as an ancestor. Either there is not a relationship between Jacob and Elijah, or one of the descendants is mistaken about his ancestor.

The 1830 census, again in alphabetical order, enumerates Jacob as aged 80-89 with a female aged 50-59. (A search for Jacob Castle sometimes does not find this census record as his name is transcribed as "Jaocb Cossell.") Also listed in Russell Co. on the 1830 census are: Henry, age 40-50; Zachariah, age 40-50; Joseph, age 40-50 (Was he the one living with Jacob on the 1820 census?); and William, age 30-40.

The 1840 census appears to be residential; at least the names are not in alphabetical order. Enumerated next to each other are John, age 20-30; Joseph, age 50-60; Jacob, age 100+; and Zachariah, age 50-60, on the next page. Elijah, age 40-50, is enumerated several names above this group, and another John, age 20-30, is listed several names later on the same page with Zachariah.

1840 Russell Co. census, showing Jacob Castle at 100 & over

In the mid-century decades the Castle family began to move. Some went to Johnson and Floyd counties in Kentucky. (Jacob's brother Bazle had been living in Floyd County since at least 1820.) Sometime after 1836 when he sold 75 acres in Virginia to his brother Zachariah, my ancestor William also moved to Kentucky. In 1850 he is enumerated on the Pulaski County census with his wife Margaret (Cox) and children William H., Margaret, George Harvey, and Patton. Also on the Pulaski County census is my 2nd great-grandfather Goldman Davidson Castle (mis-transcribed as Solomon), his wife Rachel (Sargent), and their son William, age 4, named for his grandfather. By 1860 G.D. Castle and his family were living in Morgan County, next door to their Castle relatives in Johnson County.

Descendants in the Jacob Castle DNA Circle

There are 45 members of the Jacob Castle DNA Circle. I have DNA matches with four of them. 

Two show their descent from James C. Castle, who they claim as a son of Jacob Castle. However, a document attached to their own trees says that James was a son of William Castle. With each of them I share about 20 cM's across 2 segments. A shared match with one of them is a descendant of Zedekiah Castle but does not show up in the DNA Circle. A shared match with the other has Cassell ancestors.

A third member of the circle is a descendant of Nathan Castle. We share 44 cM's across 4 segments. We may also share Patrick ancestors. The fourth member of the circle is my 3rd cousin, Lori Castle. Our great-grandfathers were brothers, sons of Goldman Davidson Castle. Lori and I share 62 cM's over 4 segments (84 with a longest block of 55 cM's on Family Tree DNA.) Our shared matches on Ancestry and FTDNA include Cox and Sargent descendants and my 1st cousin, once removed, Linda Castle. (See my post "In Memoriam.")

Other members of the circle are descendants of Zedekiah, Zachariah, Joseph, Elijah, and William; Benjamin Castle, who appears on the 1820 census in Scott Co. VA; Inman Castle, who appears on the 1830 census in Johnson Co.; and daughters Margaret (Stapleton) and Lydia (Salyers).


As always, working on this post has required me to look closely at evidence for some facts that I have taken for granted. I was able to make some corrections and deletions in my tree on Ancestry so that the chain of dates, events, and relationships is strengthened. For now I may have done all I can do with the information that is available online.

Lori, Linda, and I share 36 cM's on Chromosome 11, according to Family Tree DNA. It would be nice to know if any other members of Jacob Castle's DNA Circle share DNA with us on Chromosome  11. Come on, Ancestry, give us a Chromosome Browser!

And come on, everybody that attached that bogus picture to the Jacob Castle who died in the 1840's--delete it!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

In Memoriam

When I was growing up, Uncle Warner and Aunt Ona were the uncle and aunt I saw most often. Uncle Warner was my grandmother's brother and was 3 years younger than she was. (Amazing, when you think that my grandmother was born in March of 1897, Uncle Forrest in December of 1898, and twins Wardy and Warner in January 1900. Big Mom had four kids in less than three years.) I can say with certainty that we saw them more often than my other aunts and uncles, whom we saw often, because we saw Uncle Warner and Aunt Ona almost every day. We lived at Big Mom's old house at 3319 W. 38th St., and they lived within 5 blocks of us. We were the destination of their evening walk which culminated with an hour's conversation on the front porch before they strolled back home again. The grownups talked about everything, but my favorite stories were the ones they told about growing up in Kentucky.

Uncle Warner and Aunt Ona -- 1968
Uncle Warner discussing something very important with my brother Tim.

Uncle Warner and Aunt Ona had two children, Warner V. Castle II ("Little Warner") and Linda. Warner was 10 years older than I was, and Linda was a year younger than Warner. Because of our ages, I don't have a lot of memories of them as we were growing up. I remember that when Tim and I were in elementary school, Little Warner took us up on the hill, put us up in a tree, and then wouldn't let us down. I just remember that Linda was beautiful and was going to school at the University of Tulsa to be a teacher.

Warner lived south of Tulsa for a long time, and then he and his wife Anna moved into Uncle Warner and Aunt Ona's beautiful two-story house on 41st St. The house had been in the family for a long time, as it was originally the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Brooks, Aunt Ona's parents. By then, I had moved away, and I didn't see Little Warner except every once in a while when the family or cousins would get together. Linda moved away and lived in Missouri and California, so I didn't see her for years. Then, a few years ago she moved back home.

Two Christmases ago I got a Christmas card from her, saying that she enjoyed my blog. Well, that was a nice thing to know. Somebody was reading it, and she was interested in the family history, too! We started to get together for dinner and meet to discuss genealogy; she joined and started talking about doing her DNA.

Then, one day it hit me. If we were ever going to find out the origins of Jacob "the Longhunter" Castle, somebody with the Castle surname was going to have to take a y-DNA test. A couple of male Castle cousins from my generation are still living, but the only male Castle from my dad's generation was Warner. I wondered aloud to Linda if he would be willing to take a DNA test. She asked him, and he joked that he wouldn't do it for anybody but me. But really--he was kind of excited. He started telling his family that they would have to call him Warner "the Longhunter" Castle. He ordered his y-DNA test from Family Tree DNA, and Linda and Anna ordered Family Finder tests from there as well.

Then, you know how things happen. Anna had pneumonia, and Linda had read that sometimes antibiotics mess with DNA test results. Everybody put off taking their tests, because they were all going to mail them at the same time. Then one day Linda called. This time it was Warner who was critically ill, first with pneumonia and then a stroke. He was in the hospital and on a respirator. Nobody was thinking about DNA tests.

Sometime in that next week, Linda realized that her big brother was not going to get better, and it occurred to her that he would be really disappointed if that DNA test didn't get sent off. She enlisted the aid of Carrie and Terri, Warner's daughters. (Terri caught the family history bug at a young age, when she helped take care of my grandmother.) Together, they searched Warner's house for the DNA kits.

My grandmother, Terri, and Warner--I have a feeling
Warner had just said something funny!

Here's the way Linda tells it: "We were sitting on Warner's hospital bed swabbing his cheek when the doctor walked in. He was surprised and asked us what we were doing, but when we explained, he thought it was a good thing." I told Linda that, according to the blogs of genetic genealogists that I have read, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. 

Warner passed away on September 20. Later, Anna was looking at her checking account statement and remembered about the DNA test. She was so distressed, thinking that Warner had been so excited about his test, that Linda felt like she had to tell her what they had done. She said that at first she thought Anna was going to be mad, but then she started laughing and said she was glad they had taken care of it. She and Linda both took their tests, and as originally planned, they mailed all of them together.

Linda's test results showed up on FTDNA within a few weeks, and it was fun to see a close cousin (1st cousin, once removed) with whom I share so much DNA--536.78 cM's. We had to wait a little longer for Warner's, as it wasn't available until December. All in all, he had 8 y-DNA matches. These eight men share a common ancestor, although not recently. Only one of them has the surname Castle. Here is the really interesting thing--four of them have the surname Harmon or Harman. Two of them list their most distant known ancestor, and in both of those cases the men are descendants of the Harman (Herrmann) family that came from Palatinate Germany and settled in Virginia. If you've read my post about Jacob "the Longhunter" Castle, you know that Jacob had a feud with his neighbor, Adam Harman--same family. You have to wonder if this was a family feud that spanned continents and generations.

Warner's haplogroup was R1a1a (R-M198), and in the Castle DNA Project he was placed in the same family group as two other men who claim descent from Jacob Castle (1749-1849, Jacob the Longhunter's son) and one who claims origins in Germany. His haplogroup is not the same as a group who claim Yelles Cassell as their ancestor, so it's possible that our Jacob was not the son of Peter Cassell or the great-grandson of Yelles, as has been hypothesized. He also is not related to the descendants of Elijah Castle, who also lived in Russell Co. VA. Does that mean there were two Castle families with different origins living in Russell Co. in the 1700s? Of course, the comparisons only have validity if the people who test really know who their ancestors are. More Castle men will have to take y-DNA tests before we can draw any conclusions.

Warner's funeral program

Have you ever sat through the biographies and eulogies of a funeral, wishing you had known the deceased better, realizing that you really had a lot in common? That's how I felt about my cousin Warner's funeral. He and Linda had grown up in the same neighborhood that my brother and I had, although 10 years apart. We had played the same way as kids, loved the same hill. Warner and I shared the same politics and the same priorities. Warner was a 28-year veteran of the Tulsa Fire Department; an animal-lover; a protective big brother, husband, and dad; a trusted friend. He was ornery, too. That's what I remember.