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.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Old Questions with New Answers

My Smith great-grandparents, Stephen and Fannie, came to Oklahoma in 1894, bringing most of their children with them from Alabama, even those that were already adults. One adult daughter, Ella, stayed behind in Alabama with her husband. The youngest Smith sibling, my grandfather Weaver, was born in Indian Territory in 1895.

Both of my Smith great-grandparents have been a pain, genealogically speaking. I spent years thinking that Fannie's maiden name was Cotton, then I thought it was Mansell, then I found out that it was probably neither. Her paternal line is a mystery because I don't know who her father was--and may never know. I have a few more clues with her maternal line, enough that I may someday figure out who her grandparents were. At least, through the years, there has been some movement on her side of the family.

Not so with Stephen. I know that his mother was named Mary E. and that from 1850 on, she was the single parent of Stephen, his sister Cynthia, and his brothers John, Alexander Jackson, Minor Jefferson, and Moses Calvin. I know a little about Stephen's siblings and their future lives. I long suspected that Mary's maiden name was Williams, and that finally was confirmed by the death certificate of her son Alexander Jackson. I know that Stephen's father was probably named John Smith. And that's it. I don't even know for sure where John and Mary came from before they came to Alabama. In fact, I don't have solid evidence that John ever lived in Alabama.

1850 Coffee Co. AL census
Mary E. Smith and children: Synthia A., John, Jackson A.,
Minor J., and Stephen A.

Then in the last month it seems like every genealogical clue I've been given is about the Smiths. First, I got an email from a Perkins descendant. In my post, "Will the Real Ancestor Please Stand Up?" I talked about the fact that my brother's y-DNA test results show matches, not to Smiths, but to men named Banks and Perkins. (Not only did John Smith have to have a difficult paper trail, he had to have difficult DNA, too.) She related that she had also corresponded with a Banks descendant; all three of us were looking for a connection among our Smith, Perkins, and Banks ancestors.

James Washington Perkins, the oldest known ancestor of the Perkins descendants, was born in Georgia and died in Texas. My Smith family, as far as I know, never lived in those states. The Banks descendant that matches my brother on 37 markers was from Bulloch County, Georgia, where his family has lived for 8 generations. After having their y-DNA tested and results compared, several Banks descendants believe their oldest known ancestor is Charles Banks of Edgefield County, South Carolina.

John Smith was supposed to have been born in Virginia, but I always wondered where he met his wife Mary. On several censuses Mary E. Williams Smith reported her place of birth as South Carolina. A little research on the Perkins family revealed that they also had a connection to South Carolina. The grandparents of James Washington Perkins, James and Rebecca (Corley) Smelley, were from Edgefield County, South Carolina. So I might not have found a person that ties the Banks, Perkins, and Smith families together, but I might have found a place. At the very least, I thought I could narrow my search for Williams and Smith families to Edgefield County, South Carolina, where there are several to choose from.

Next, out of the blue, I got a message on from a new match who turned out to be a 2nd cousin on my Smith side. His grandmother, Barbara Smith, was the sister of my grandfather Weaver. I asked him to upload his results to Gedmatch, which he did in short order, and I now have a Smith family member to compare matches against. It's also really interesting to compare our DNA on Gedmatch. He is now my largest match, next to my brother, with a whopping 312.8 cM's. He has even more in common with my brother--389.6 cM's.

Using the Triangulation feature on Gedmatch, I found a list of people that match both my Smith cousin and me. I contacted a few of them and heard from one--let's call him Mr. F. I actually realized later that he had once contacted me but we couldn't find the ancestor we had in common. This time I had just researched the Perkins family, so my email to him asked if he had an ancestor by that name. He did; his Ann Perkins (or Parkins), born 1800, married William Orr. Their daughter Rachel Orr was his great-great-grandmother. I compared Mr. F. and several of his relatives on the FTDNA Chromosome Browser and found that they all matched in a certain segment of Chromosome 7. Then I switched over to Gedmatch and compared my Smith cousin to them. (He tested on so is available on Gedmatch but not FTDNA.) And guess what? He lines up in a great big segment at the same place on Chromosome 7 as Mr. F. and his relatives.

Then within a week--I am serious--I got another message on, this time from a lady who just wanted to help me with my great-grandmother Fannie's maiden name. I explained that even though Fannie listed Mansil as her last name on her marriage license, she couldn't really be the daughter of John Mansell. I was curious if she was a relative, so I asked why she had been looking at my tree.

Fannie and Stephen's marriage license

It turns out that she also has Smith ancestors in Coffee Co., AL. We determined that we are not related--her family has had y-DNA testing done and they are descended from a known Smith. But what she told me next kindof rocked my world. Her ancestors in Coffee Co., who were next-door neighbors of my Mary E. Williams Smith, were Prescotts and Donaldsons--and they moved there from Edgefield Co., SC, along with several other families, including the Williamses.

1860 Coffee Co. census
Mary E. living near Prescotts, Williamses, and Donaldsons

In light of all this new information, I am completely revisiting what I think I know about John A. Smith. The death certificate of Andrew Jackson Smith, Stephen's brother, lists his parents as John Smith and Mary E. Williams. So at least as far as Andrew Jackson knew, his father's name was John Smith. I think the erroneous information starts with a marriage license issued in Chesterfield, Virginia, in 1828 for a John A. Smith and an Elizabeth Williams. I think people assumed that this was our John Smith and that he came from Virginia. A lot of people on, and even genealogists in my own family, have listed his birthdate as 1805, but it couldn't be if he is the John Smith in Chesterfield, VA, who was listed on the 1820 census. He would only have been 15 years old.

In 1840 there is a John A. Smith in Pike Co., AL, whose census information has been attached to my John Smith. But again, he couldn't be my John Smith. He has way too many children, and I hate to say, I didn't even question this, but--the Smiths didn't live in Pike Co. in 1840. They didn't move there until sometime between 1860 and 1880. He also is supposed to be buried in the same place as Mary--in Pike Co.--but again he wasn't living in Pike Co. around 1850 when he was supposed to have died.

For this reason, one researcher on thinks that John Smith, the husband of Mary E. and father of Stephen, is the completely different, and much older John W. Smith, who is listed on the 1850 Census Mortality Schedule with a death date of February 1850 at the age of 87. She has compared the census records of two John A. Smiths in Coffee Co. and concluded that neither of them could be the father of my Smith family. I don't know if I agree with all her conclusions, but she has certainly given me something to think about. It just makes sense to question everything when years of research have gotten you no closer to an answer. What do I know? John Smith may have really been born a Perkins.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Happy Blogiversary to Me

Today is the first anniversary of the day my blog appeared on Geneabloggers. In reality, it's been about a year and two weeks since I started writing Becky's Bridge to the Past. I've written 65 posts and had over 7,000 pageviews. I've been contacted by a couple of cousins and gotten some encouragement from other bloggers. I can say that it's been very helpful to put my genealogical notes in narrative form and has totally been worth the hours I've spent trying to get my words and images just right.

The post that has gotten the most hits is "Genealogy on the Road: Waterloo, Alabama," about the trip my brother and I took to the town our great-grandparents lived in before they came to Oklahoma in 1894. I have a feeling that has more to do with motorcycle riders researching their rally route than with anybody trying to find out about my rather unexciting (but enjoyable) trip to Alabama. I always wonder at someone's reaction when they Google something and get my little blog as a result.

I started the year by listing what I knew about the four branches of my family--my two paternal grandparents and my two maternal grandparents and their ancestors. This is information I have collected in over 25 years of doing genealogy--first by visiting genealogical libraries in Oklahoma and then by using and the free research tools I could find online. Recently, my posts have been all about using DNA to search for ancestors and some of the new cousins I have found through this medium.

In just the last month I have identified two of my DNA matches--one on each side of my family. The common ancestor of Leo Pentney Gaines and myself is our great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Simmons, which would make us 3rd cousins. Herbert Archie Miller has been my biggest match on FTDNA (aside from my brother) since I first got my results, but I finally got some help in identifying him as a Ming cousin.

We haven't been successful YET, but a number of Huff cousins have been working hard this year trying to untangle the family relationships in Jackson County, Tennessee. My new cousin Barbara and I are still related, although we now know through DNA testing that our great-great-grandmothers Elzina and Ellender Huff were not sisters. I found out that I somehow have a previously undocumented connection to the Pharris family of Jackson County. And to make things more complicated, in the last month we have discovered that we are also related to the Broyles, Wilhoite, and Blankenbaker families of the 1717 Germanna Colony of Virginia. Hopefully, the solution to that puzzle will help us find the parents of our 3rd great-grandmother, Mrs. Susannah Huff.

In the past year I have visited ancestral homelands in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama with my brother. We finally found the graves of our Castle great-great grandparents in West Liberty, KY, and saw the town in Virginia named for our ancestor, Jacob Castle.

What are my goals for the coming year? I hope to find more cousins through DNA testing and solve the Huff and Germanna puzzles. DNA has brought us closer in the last year than 20 previous years of chasing the paper trail. In the last week I have been contacted by a Smith cousin who found me through DNA testing from I so hope we can collaborate to find out more about the ancestors of our great-grandfather Stephen Albert Smith. This summer my brother and I will visit North Carolina and Virginia. I hope by the time we visit Germanna, I will know how I am connected there.