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.

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. See photo and news story here.

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 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.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

DNA Circle: Timothy Soles

One of my strongest memories of Pleasant Porter Elementary School is of sitting in the cafeteria in my construction paper Pilgrim collar and cuffs, getting ready to enjoy my Thanksgiving lunch. I grew up with annual retellings of the Thanksgiving story and all the Pilgrim names: Bradford, Brewster, Standish, and Alden. I remember when we read "The Courtship of Miles Standish" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I visited the recreated Plimoth Plantation in October of  2012; gazed at Plymouth Rock; walked on a reproduction of the Mayflower, amazed that such a small vessel carried 102 passengers across the Atlantic for 66 days. As recently as this November, I introduced 300 sixth graders to the Plimoth Plantation website.

Plimoth Plantation, from my trip to Massachusetts in October 2012

Reproduction of the Mayflower, October 2012

And for all that time I didn't know that my 9th great-grandfather, George Soule, was one of those 102 passengers that arrived in America on the Mayflower

All this time the data has been there--Mayflower descendants have been widely documented--but I guess I just never believed that my North Carolina Soles family had anything to do with George Soule and his descendants in Massachusetts.

I have my Simmons DNA cousins to thank. While researching the Simmons family, Sam Casey noticed that the Soles family often intermarried with the Simmons family. In doing research on his ancestor, Moses Simmons, he came across some interesting names. One day in early December I got this email from him:

"Alexander Standish was the son of Myles Standish, Capt of the Plymouth Colony. Alexander married Sarah Alden daughter of John & Priscilla Alden. Alexander Standish and Sarah Alden had a daughter named Sarah who married Benjamin Soule. Benjamin Soule was the son of John Soule and wife Rebecca Simmons. Rebecca was the daughter of Moses Simmons. So the Simmons and Soule lines were connected way back in the Plymouth Colony days."

I forwarded the email to my brother with this message: "Are you freakin' kidding me? Myles Standish and Priscilla Alden???"

So then I began doing some research myself to connect up our North Carolina Soles family with the descendants of George Soule in Massachusetts. It was easier than I thought it would be.

The Ancestors

George Soule came to Plymouth as an indentured servant to Edward Winslow. His origins have not been conclusively proven, but Mayflower researcher, Caleb Johnson, believes that he was the George Soule, son of William, who was baptized in Tingrith, Bedfordshire, in 1594/95. This date of birth would fit within the time frame established by historians for George's birth. They estimate that as a servant he was younger than 25--the age at which most indentures ended--but at least 21, in order to be allowed to sign the Mayflower Compact. Since so little is known about him, even his signature has been scrutinized for clues. Some think the way he spelled his own name indicates that he was not English but Dutch and joined the Pilgrims in Leiden, Holland.

Another clue to his age is his marriage to a woman named Mary, which happened before 1627. We know this because there was a distribution of cattle in 1627 to the original colonists and others that had come after them up until that time. George and his wife Mary are on the distribution list.

Not much is known about Mary either. We only know who she was because there was only one unmarried Mary living in Plymouth in the time period in which they would have wed. Her name was Mary Bucket, and she arrived in Plymouth in 1623 on the ship Anne. I wish more was known about her, because she was remarkable. She does not appear to have been attached to any family traveling on the Anne, and as a single woman, she received her own acre of land in 1623. It is estimated that she and George married about 1625, as they had a son Zachariah at the time of the cattle distribution. Her origins have been debated as well; was she from the English Becket family or from the French Huguenot Bucquets?

Much of what we know about George is because of the writings of William Bradford, as is, of course, much of what we know about Plymouth Colony itself. In later years Bradford wrote about the original colonists and their descendants. He wrote that the Winslow group included:

"Mr. Edward Winslow; Elizabeth, his wife; and 2 men servants, called Georg Sowle and Elias Story; also a little girle was put to him, called Ellen, sister of Richard More. Mr. Ed. Winslow his wife dyed the first winter; and he is maried with the widow of Mr. White, and hath 2 children living by her marigable besides sundry that are dead. One of his servants dyed, as also the little girle, soone after the ships arrival. But this man Georg Sowle, is still living and hath 8 children."

In fact, George and Mary had nine: Zachariah, John (who married Rebecca Simmons), Nathaniel (who was a bit of a mess, according to court records), George (my ancestor), Susanna, Mary, Elizabeth, Patience, and Benjamin.

George was mentioned in a few documents through the years: he was granted land in Duxbury and purchased land in Dartmouth, among other places; served on grand juries; was deputy of Duxbury for several years; was nominated to a committee, along with Miles Standish and John Alden, charged with assigning land in Duxbury; volunteered for the Pequot War; and was chosen for a committee to draw up regulations about the lawful smoking of tobacco.

George wrote his will on 11 August 1677, naming as heirs his sons John, Nathaniel, and George, and daughters Elizabeth, Patience, Susanna, and Mary. Zachariah and Benjamin, as well as his wife Mary, had pre-deceased him. John was the executor of the will and received the bulk of George's estate. The will reads "my eldest son John Soule and his family hath in my extreme old age and weakness been tender and careful of me and very helpful to me."

But it's the codicil that's really interesting. Apparently, there had been a tiff between John and sister Patience. Dated 20 September 1677, the codicil reads "...I the above named Gorge Soule Doe heerby further Declare that it is my will that if my son John Soule above named or his heires or Assignes or any of them shall att any time Disturbe my Daughter Patience or her heires or Assignes or any of them in peacable Posession or Injoyment of the lands I have Given her att Namassakett allies Middleberry and Recover the same from her or her heires or Assignes or any of them That then my Gift to my son John Soule shalbe voyd; and that then my will is my Daughter Patience shall have all my lands att Duxburrey And she shalbe my sole executrix of this my last Will and Testament and Enter into my housing lands and meddowes at Duxburrow..."

Apparently, John left Patience alone, as he inherited upon the death of George about 1679.

Although it is not known exactly where he is buried, the Soule Kindred ( placed a stone in the Miles Standish Burying Ground in Duxbury. It reads:

Nearby Rests
A signer of
The Mayflower Compact
on Nov. the 11th 1620
who died in
JANUARY 1679/80
[Erected by Soule Kindred 1931]

The first few generations of George Soule's descendants are well documented. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants publishes what are known as the Silver books, which show evidence for the first five generations of Mayflower descendants. George Soule's descendants through 5 generations are the subject of Volume 3 of the Silver books.

Following my line through the generations of Massachusetts descendants:

George, son of the original George, married Deborah, had eight children, and died in 1704 in Dartmouth. Apparently there is no proof of Deborah's maiden name. Some trees, however, give her name as Deborah Thomas. A Deborah Thomas was witness to the original George's will, so perhaps that is why she is thought to be his daughter-in-law.

William, son of George and Deborah, married Hannah (maiden name unknown), had 11 children, and died in April 1723 in Dartmouth.

Their son Benjamin, born 14 May 1698 in Dartmouth, married Mary Holway, and had at least 5 children (Sylvanus, Benjamin, Mary, Anne, and Joseph.) The Mayflower Descendants book says, "North Carolina land records show that Benjamin and his three sons migrated there with substantial land grants. Most of these grants date from 1735 with several thousand acres involved, centered southeast of Elizabethtown and east of Whiteville, North Carolina" (now Bladen and Columbus counties.) The Mayflower book suggests that Benjamin died before 1769 in North Carolina, as he does not appear on the 1769 tax list.

Joseph Soule, son of William, was living in North Carolina by 1732. The Mayflower book hypothesizes that the Joseph that continued in the area after 1800 was his son. However, it is just as probable that the Joseph Soles that appears on the 1790 census is Joseph, son of Benjamin. On the 1790 census of Brunswick County the following heads of households with the name Soles (the name change apparently came with the move to NC) appear: Silvanus, Timothy, Nathaniel, Joseph, Mackinne, and Benjamin. 

1790 heads of households, Brunswick Co. NC

It is at this point that the Mayflower book states only that the North Carolina branch spelled their name Sole or Soles and could produce no proof of ancestry except that "their lands had always been in their family." Most researchers, on Ancestry at least, appear to support the view that Timothy Soles was the son of the Joseph Soule born in 1731, and therefore the grandson of Benjamin Soule.

On the 1790 census Timothy's family consists of himself and 2 females. By 1800 the census shows 3 females under 10. Here is where a lack of records also hampers me, because I cannot prove that my Priscilla is the daughter of Timothy. One of these could be my Priscilla who was born in 1792; however, only the names of Timothy's younger children are known from court records after his death in early 1820. His wife Milly (Amelia Edwards) appeared before the court asking for a year's provision for herself and her family, permission "to value and divide the real and personal estate of Timothy Sowls," and appointment of guardians for her minor children: Joseph, William, Nathaniel, Lemuel, and Helen. Luke R. Simmons was one of the appointed guardians. Many trees on Ancestry, however, show at least 3 older children of Timothy and Amelia: Priscilla, Elizabeth, and Timothy.

The Descendants in the Timothy Soles DNA Circle

There are 12 members of the Timothy Soles DNA Circle, including me, and I have matching segments with 3 other members.

Match #1 and I share 11.7 cM's across 1 segment. She is a descendant of Timothy Soles, son of Timothy and Amelia. To make things even more complicated, this match also has Beasley and Faulk ancestors. The Beasleys, who also came from North Carolina, are my ancestors on the Ming (maternal) side of my family. I am almost positive that I have some Faulk ancestors because of the large number of matches I have that come from a particular branch of the Faulk family. It's just that I can't figure out exactly where the Faulks come in. Could the unknown father of my great-grandmother Fannie be a Faulk? Or do they fit in somewhere else among my ancestors in the group of related families that moved from Columbus Co. NC to Pike Co. AL?

Match #2 and I share 23.5 cM's across 1 segment. I already knew her name from the Luke R. Simmons DNA Circle. Her tree shows Timothy and Amelia as her 3rd great-grandparents, claiming her 2nd great-grandparents as Luke R. and Priscilla (Soles) Simmons, and their son and her great-grandfather as John R. Simmons. As we saw in my last post, John R. was not a child of Luke R. and Priscilla (Soles) Simmons. Hopefully, communication among the Simmons cousins will help to clear this up.

Match #3 and I share 16.3 cM's across 1 segment. His ancestor is Elizabeth Souls, shown to be a daughter of Timothy and Amelia who was born in 1795 in Columbus Co. NC and who died in 1856 in Pike Co. AL. Elizabeth was married into the same branch of the Faulk family with whom I share so many matches.

I have four matches on Family Tree DNA that have Soule ancestors. My brother has seven, five of which are different from my matches. Five of the seven matches show descent from George Soule or one of his children. I have about a dozen Ancestry DNA matches that show the surname Soles in their family trees.

Lack of evidence and complicated family trees mean that I cannot conclusively prove that my Priscilla is the daughter of Timothy and Amelia Soles. For many years, however, I have seen Priscilla listed as a child of Timothy Soles in Ancestry family trees, genealogy websites, and message boards. Perhaps there is some paper evidence somewhere that I have not seen. If Priscilla doesn't belong to Timothy, she has to belong to another of the Columbus Co./Pike Co. Soles, hence she is a descendant of George Soule of the Mayflower. I just hope that someday a document or further DNA evidence will settle the question. In the meantime I'm confident in claiming George Soule as my 9th great-grandfather. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

DNA Circles: Luke Russell Simmons and Priscilla Soles

I've been trying to write this post for weeks. First, I had second thoughts that I could find paper evidence of my connection to Luke Russell Simmons and Priscilla Soles. Then I met some other Simmons descendants and together we were drawn deeper and deeper into Simmons and Soles research. I'm glad I waited, because this week the research has led to a discovery that I hardly expected.

It's been years now since I found my paternal great-grandmother Fannie Smith's application to the Dawes Commission for Cherokee citizenship. Although denied, the application was full of genealogical gems. Among these was a statement from Fannie's mother, Elizabeth Simmons Mansell Cotton, in which she named her mother as Priscilla Soules. If she had just named her father as well, she could have saved me a lot of frustration. To my mind I just never could find sufficient evidence to prove that Elizabeth's mother Priscilla was the wife of Luke Russell Simmons.

Elizabeth Cotton's Dawes Commission affidavit

In any case, it appears that Ancestry DNA believes that Luke Russell Simmons and Priscilla Soles are my ancestors, so I am trying to prove them right, even though Ancestry has recently removed the mother of Luke Russell Simmons, Leodosia Gore, from my DNA Circles. I think it may be because one of our Simmons researchers removed her from his tree due to new evidence he uncovered, causing me to have fewer than the required number of DNA matches to belong to the circle. However, she is an important part of the story, so I'll start with what I know about her and her husband, John (not Isaac!!) Simmons.

The Ancestors

In June of 1832 Congress passed a provision giving pensions to soldiers who had served in the Revolution. In November 1832 John Simmons appeared before the County Clerk of Columbus County, NC and made the statement that he was then 69 years old and had served as a Private in the Revolutionary War, beginning in the year 1780. John Simmons was awarded $87.50 per annum, which he apparently received until his death in 1844. Widows or children of the former soldiers were also due any monies accrued from the time of the previous payment until the death of the recipient, so after his death his wife Leodosia applied for the remainder due on his pension. She named five surviving children: John A. Simmons, Luke R. Simmons, Priscilla Powell, Susannah Johnson, and Dorcas Neeley.

Part of Revolutionary War widow's pension application,
listing names of 5 surviving Simmons children

(By the way, a great number of trees on Ancestry show this Revolutionary War veteran as John Isaac Simmons. I don't know why. I have yet to see a document in which he is named as such. John Simmons was a common name in North Carolina in that era; so was Isaac Simmons. It makes me wonder if someone just combined a John and an Isaac on Ancestry, and everyone else copied the name without questioning it. As a matter of fact, an Isaac Simmons, age 76, appeared before the county court at the time of Leodosia's application and testified that he was present at the wedding of John and Leodosia in September 1789. He could have been a brother or cousin of John's. Thank you to my Simmons cousin, Sam Casey, who has spent many hours trying to disentangle the Johns and the Isaacs. (See his very helpful website at

John A., Priscilla, Susannah, and Dorcas have been hard for me to trace and identify, even though I have the names of the girls' spouses from documents generated after the death of Leodosia. Luke, their brother, is another story.

According to a transcription of the births recorded in the Bible of Luke R. Simmons, found in the Simmons folder at the Troy AL Public Library, he was born 20 May 1791. And here, for the first time in a written document is the name of Luke's wife--Priscilla--born 5 April 1792. (Thanks again, Sam!) Their marriage date is given as 24 January 1811. The transcription goes on to list the names and birth dates of Luke's children: Elizabeth, born 10 December 1812 (although the date my Elizabeth gives for her own birth is 11 November 1812); Jemima, born 13 October 1815; Susannah, born 14 August 1817; Patience and Nancy, born 2 January 1821; Leonard M., born 20 February 1823; Rebekah, born 8 June 1825; Elizur (Eliza), born 7 August 1827. The Bible was published in 1827, so most of the names and dates were recorded many years after the fact and may be in error. The youngest two children, Daniel Monroe and Dorcas, were not listed, which is understandable if the owner of the Bible failed to keep up with the new births. (There is evidence in Luke's estate file that Daniel and Dorcas were his children.) More surprising is the fact that his eldest children, according to most descendants' trees, are John R. (born 1806) and Luke Jr. (born 1809), who are not listed as children of Luke in the Bible and couldn't be according to his listed birth date or date of marriage.

Luke R. Simmons is listed as head of household on the 1820 census of Columbus Co. NC, with 1 male, age 26 to 44; 2 females 26-44; 1 male under 10; and 3 females under 10. Luke is obviously the adult male; Priscilla would be one of the adult females, but who is the other? Elizabeth, Jemima, and Susannah would be the 3 females under 10, and the 1 male under 10 could be John R. or Luke Jr., although they should both be over 10.

On the 1830 census of Columbus Co. there is 1 male 30-39 (Luke); 1 female 30-39 (Priscilla); and 1 female 50-59 (same female from 1820 census?) In addition, there was 1 female 10-14 (probably Susannah, just going by birthdate); 3 females 5-9 (Patience, Nancy, and who was the 3rd?); 2 females under 5 (Rebekah and Eliza); and 1 male 5-9 (Leonard.)

In 1837 Luke R. Simmons bought land in Pike Co. AL, and by 1840 he appears on the census there. Boy, this one is really confusing. There is 1 male 40-49, which would be Luke, but there is no corresponding female (Priscilla) in that age range. Instead, the oldest female is 30-39. There is 1 male 30-39 (which could be John R. or Luke Jr.) and 2 males 20-29 (don't have a clue.) There is 1 male 15-19 (Leonard) and one that is 5-9 (Daniel.) The 2 females 15-19 could be Patience and Nancy; the 1 female 10-14 would be Eliza; and one of the 2 females 5-9 would be Dorcas, but I don't know who the other one is.

Luke's political career began in Columbus Co. NC, where by 1832 he was the magistrate that attested to witness statements in the application of his father for Revolutionary War pension benefits. In 1872 William Garrett, former Alabama Secretary of State, wrote a book called Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama. He wrote that the Hon. Luke R. Simmons had been a state legislator in North Carolina from 1821-1833; then, after he moved to Alabama, he was elected to the state legislature from Pike Co. and served from 1837-1841. Garrett remarked that Simmons "...was always a Whig in politics." Simmons is also credited with suggesting the name for Troy, the county seat of Pike Co., named not for the legendary city but for one of his political opponents, Alexander Troy.

An oft-quoted short bio of Luke R. Simmons also floats around Ancestry; I don't know its origin. It claims that he was married to Priscilla Hargette, and that he and his wife were charter members of the Beulah Primitive Baptist Church in Troy and are probably buried there. I have found no evidence of the name Hargette for Priscilla, but neither have I found proof that she was Priscilla Soles, except for the statement her daughter Elizabeth made in the Dawes Commission application previously mentioned. It seems unlikely that Priscilla had married before she married Luke R. Simmons, although I guess it's possible.

Luke died in late 1844. His 99-page estate file is available for viewing in the Alabama Estate Files, 1830-1976 on, the LDS site. In addition to providing a glimpse into the debts and possessions of a Southern man of the mid-19th century, I hope it also provides some clues about family relationships. One of the attached documents, dated 11 December 1844, shows a debt from Luke R. Simmons to Peter J. Coleman for "1 coffin for his wife." While not perfectly clear, the dates on this and other documents lead me to believe Luke and Priscilla died within days of each other.

Debt to Peter J. Coleman for "1 coffin for his wife," dated 11 Dec. 1844 

Elizabeth Simmons was born 11 November 1812, according to her own statement, or 10 December 1812, according to her father's Bible. She married John Mansell (Mansel, Mancil, Mancill, sometimes even Mansfield) in 1826 when she was 14 years old. She had seven sons and one daughter. William A., born about 1826 in NC, survived his enlistment in the Confederate Army, lived close to his mother for most of his life, and died after 1880 in Waterloo, Lauderdale Co., AL. Samuel, whose birthdates vary from 1828 to 1833, was born in NC, joined Company C, 15th Alabama Infantry, in 1861 and died in 1862 in Richmond, VA. Daniel Monroe Mansell was born about 1832/33 in NC, married Margaret Brooks in 1854, fought for the Confederacy, had a large family and died in Waterloo in 1876 at age 43. Benjamin Franklin Mansell was born in the late 1830's in Pike Co. AL and died a prisoner of war at Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin, in 1862. John E. was born about 1841/42 in Alabama, joined Company C, 15th Alabama Infantry, in July 1861 and was dead in Virginia by December of the same year. Amos P., born in 1843 in AL, enlisted in Company C., 15th Alabama Infantry, and died at Gettysburg in 1863. Elizabeth's husband, John Mansell, died in 1844. Simeon C. is transcribed as 14 on the 1850 census, but the age is smudged and hard to read. It could be 14 or 16 or even 4, as Simeon appears again on the 1860 census as a very clear age 15. I have not been able to find him in any other records.

Daughter Francis, my great-grandmother, was born in 1849, five years after the death of John Mansell. Her father is unknown. When she married my great-grandfather, Stephen A. Smith, in 1868, she used the maiden name Mancil. Elizabeth remarried to William W. Cotton in 1863. William appears to have died sometime between the 1870 and 1880 censuses. Elizabeth was apparently alive in Cleveland Co., Oklahoma Territory, when she appeared before a notary public to give the statement attached to her daughter's Dawes application. Family in Alabama believe her grave to be in the Mount Olive Cemetery, Waterloo, AL. It is thought she may have traveled with her daughter's family to Oklahoma and then returned to Alabama with other family members.

Marriage license of Stephen A. Smith and Francis Mancil

So are Luke and Priscilla my 3rd great-grandparents, and is Elizabeth Simmons Mansell Cotton their daughter? I can finally say that I think so, due to a fair amount of circumstantial evidence.

  1. Luke R. Simmons had a wife named Priscilla and a daughter named Elizabeth who lived in Columbus Co. NC and Pike Co. AL. My Elizabeth Simmons had a mother named Priscilla and written sources show that she lived in both North Carolina and Pike Co., Alabama. The birth date for daughter Elizabeth given in Luke's Bible is within a month of the date of birth Elizabeth gave for herself. The dates written in the bible were years in the past and could be in error, or Elizabeth could have been in error about her own birth date.
  2. My 2nd great-grandmother named herself as Elizabeth Simmons Mansell Cotton in an affidavit attached to the Dawes Commission application of her daughter Francis. She gave her mother's maiden name as Priscilla Soules.
  3. Elizabeth Mansell purchased items at the estate sale of Luke R. Simmons, along with Luke's daughter Eliza Simmons, his son Leonard M., and Sarah Simmons, the wife of Luke Jr. Elizabeth bought a loom, Eliza and Sarah both bought beds, and Leonard bought a Bible, possibly the one in which were written the birth dates of the Luke R. Simmons family.
  4. When Timothy Soles passed away in 1820, Amelia "Milley" Soles named Luke R. Simmons (her son-in-law?) as guardian of her minor children: Joseph, William, Nathaniel, Lemuel, and Helen.
  5. DNA evidence places me in Ancestry's DNA Circles for both Luke R. Simmons and Priscilla Soles.
Purchases at estate sale

Descendants of Luke R. Simmons and Priscilla Soles in DNA Circles

There are 12 members of the Luke R. Simmons DNA Circle. There are three individuals and a family group of three individuals (so a total of 6) Ancestry members in the circle with whom I share DNA. The three members of the family group are descended from Nancy Simmons, one of the twins born in 1821. At least Ancestry now has some additional information you can derive from your matches. The three family group members and I share single segments of 5.6, 5.9, and 7.4 cM's. One of them also has a shared match with my 2nd cousin Charles, a proven descendant of Elizabeth Simmons.

The largest match I have with an individual in the circle is one of 23.5 cM's across 1 segment. This member is a descendant of John R. Simmons, according to the accompanying tree, and also shares a match with my cousin Charles. Another individual member of the circle shares 23.2 cM's with me across 3 segments. This individual is a descendant of Dorcas Simmons, the youngest daughter of Luke and Priscilla. The 6th member of the circle with whom I share DNA is also a descendant of Dorcas; we share 11.3 cM's across 1 segment.

In addition to myself there are only 2 other members of the Priscilla Soles DNA Circle. One of them is the same individual with whom I share 23.2 cM's in the Luke R. Simmons circle. The other shares 5.6 cM's with me in the Priscilla Soles DNA Circle, although he shows her in his tree as Pricilla Hargette. Don't know how Ancestry figured that one out.

Discoveries and Conclusions

I think I might have finally convinced myself that Luke R. Simmons and Priscilla Soles are my ancestors. I have met several new Simmons cousins, none of whom join me in the Luke or Priscilla DNA Circles, because our connection is further back. We are still gathering information; trying to disentangle the Johns, Isaacs, fathers, sons, nephews, and cousins; looking for our most recent common ancestor; and veering off to study collateral families, like the Soule/Souls/Soles families of Massachusetts and North Carolina. Believe me, that little extra research into the Soles family was one gratifying job! More on that in the next post.