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.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bridge to the Past

Ever since I began this blog I have been looking for a photograph for the masthead. I wanted something that said “bridge” and “past.” I had a few pictures of me, standing on bridges, but nothing seemed exactly right. I just realized I have the perfect photo—my favorite photograph from a trip to Great Britain and France in the summer of 2012.



Wales is the reason I went on the trip. I’ve been fascinated with the country since reading Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy in the 1960’s and the fascination only grew as I became a middle school librarian in the 1970’s and read the Newbery Award-winning Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper. When I found out that a high school teacher was sponsoring a trip to England and France that would include two days in Wales, I had to go. It still gives me goosebumps when I remember looking out the window of our hotel dining room and seeing the ruins of Dinas Bran, a location that figured prominently in the Dark Is Rising books.




Llangollen, the town, is on the River Dee, which was flowing fast and hard on the rainy days we visited it. The bridge was built in 1345. If that doesn’t say “past,” I don’t know what does.




When I read those books in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I didn’t know that I might be Welsh myself. The country seems to crop up again and again as a place my ancestors might have come from. At the very least, I’m pretty sure my Powell ancestors came from there, as Lydia Powell recorded in her “History of the Powells.” It may seem crazy, but I believe more and more that we are drawn, sometimes without even knowing why, to the places our ancestors called home.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DNA Circles: Robert Stephenson and Elizabeth Whitley

The Ancestors

Robert and Elizabeth Whitley Stephenson are my 4th great-grandparents, three times over. As I have mentioned before, I am a descendant of three of their daughters: Esther, Cynthia, and Susannah. Ancestry.com has placed me in the Elizabeth Whitley DNA Circle with 8 other descendants of Elizabeth and in the Robert Stephenson circle with 5 other descendants of Robert. I can't explain the discrepancy in the number of circle members; I don't know whether it has something to do with our DNA tests or with the way our trees are constructed.

Elizabeth Whitley is well-documented as the daughter of William Chapman Whitley and Esther Gill Fullen, early pioneers of Kentucky. (See my post, "Daughter of the American Revolution.") I think it has been much harder for Stephenson descendants to build Robert's family tree and attribute the right parents, siblings, and children to him. Many researchers agree that Thomas Stephenson and his wife Elizabeth "Betty" Logan were the parents of Robert. Others have identified Betty as the sister of the Benjamin Logan who established Logan's Fort (later becoming Stanford, Lincoln County, Kentucky) in 1775. It seems likely that Robert Stephenson and Elizabeth Whitley were part of the same pioneer community in Kentucky, especially since Elizabeth's family lived at Logan's Fort. Records show that Robert and Elizabeth married on 28 May 1793 in Lincoln County.

Children of Robert and Elizabeth (Whitley) Stephenson

Robert and Elizabeth moved from Kentucky to Mississippi Territory (Limestone and Madison counties in Alabama), probably sometime before 1813 when daughter Esther married William Wheat in Madison County. Robert Stephenson died before 25 August 1825 when Elizabeth appeared in Limestone County orphan's court as administratrix of his estate, asking that his real estate be sold and divided among his children, listed as:

William WHEAT and Esther WHEAT, his wife, Whitley STEPHENSON, Samuel WHEAT and Scintha WHEAT, his wife, Elliott H. NIXON and Jane NIXON, his wife, Logan STEPHENSON and Mary STEPHENSON, his wife, Thomas N. MING and Susannah MING, his wife, Greenup STEPHENSON, Freedom STEPHENSON, William SMITH and Sarah SMITH, his wife.

Andrew and James Stephenson are also listed as infant (under 20) sons of Robert Stephenson and asked to be assigned a guardian. The court minutes also state that Scintha Wheat, Susannah Ming (both my ancestors), Greenup Stephenson, and Freedom Stephenson were not residents of the state, and the court ordered that a copy of "this order" be published in the newspaper for four weeks to give due notice to these heirs.

I can't say that I'm completely versed in women's rights in the 19th century, but it is interesting to me that Elizabeth can be the executor of the estate and yet not be considered a "guardian" for her own children. I also love how the spouse of each of Robert's daughters is listed first, along with "his wife"--who is the actual child of the deceased.

Because of the way the daughters are listed, much confusion has ensued over "Logan Stephenson and Mary Stephenson, his wife"; which of them is Robert's child? Lots of trees, including mine for a while, listed Logan as the son of Robert and Elizabeth, when many Stephenson researchers believe it is Mary who is the daughter. Logan is probably the son of Robert's brother James and therefore Mary's first cousin. His name, no doubt, comes from the maiden name of their mutual grandmother, Betty Logan Stephenson. Back to this question in a minute.

I guess it's a sign of those times that members of families, formerly living within miles of each other, all feel the temptation to move west. It appears that the three youngest of the Stephenson children, Sarah, Andrew, and James--the ones that were born in Alabama--remain there, but the older children, who were born in Kentucky, keep moving west.

Cynthia (Wheat) and Susannah (Ming) had already left Alabama by 1825, according to the court records following Robert Stephenson's death. Cynthia and Samuel Wheat were on the 1830 and 1840 censuses in Arkansas, then by 1847 in Milam County, TX, where Cynthia died about 1850. Susannah and Thomas N. Ming also lived in Arkansas on the 1850 census; Susannah is on the 1850 and 1860 censuses in Grayson County, TX, and died there in 1880.

Freedom and Greenup Stephenson were also living out of the state at the time of their father's death. Searching for them is complicated by the fact that the Stephensons often used the Scottish spelling of their name, Stinson. I found Freedom Stinson living in Callaway, MO, in 1830 with his wife, Aletha Brunson. Some trees on Ancestry.com list his death date as 1839. "Green" Stinson married Malinda Jane Perry in Rutherford County, TN, on 29 Jun 1833, and is last found on the 1850 census in Limestone, AL, as "Green Stenson."

Esther and William Wheat and Mary and Logan Stephenson end up in Texas; Whitley Stinson is living in Hardeman County, TN, by 1840; some trees on Ancestry report his death in 1859 in Tippah County, Mississippi. Elliott Nixon's remarriage in 1837 in Hardeman County, TN, comes after the death of his wife Jane the same year.

Descendants of Robert Stephenson and Elizabeth Whitley in DNA Circles

Out of the 8 other members of Elizabeth Whitley's DNA Circle, I have DNA matches with 7 of them. Two of the circle members show Cynthia Stephenson has an ancestor; two of them show Susannah. The other four show Logan Stephenson as their ancestor, which is interesting since it is highly probable that Logan is not a direct descendant of Elizabeth at all. Which begs the question: since I am a DNA match with three of these purported descendants of Logan Stephenson, is it really his wife Mary that creates the connection to Elizabeth Whitley, or do we match two generations back with the parents of Robert and James Stephenson?

I am considered a Strong match to the Elizabeth circle, six members have a Good match, and two are shown to have "Some" connection. What does that mean, according to Ancestry DNA? A Strong match means there is a "considerable amount of proof that an individual is related to the shared ancestor (and other members of the DNA Circle.)" This is based on three factors: the number of connections; the strength of connections (the confidence score that each DNA match receives); and the number of people in the circle. (If you want to read about how DNA Circles are created and how matches are scored, go to one of your circles and click on the green question mark in the upper right corner of the screen.) Perhaps I have a Strong match because I have not just one, but three, connections to the children of Elizabeth Whitley?

Turning now to the Robert Stephenson DNA Circle, I am a member along with five other descendants. I am a DNA match to all of them, and all of them are members of the Elizabeth Whitley circle. Two of them are descendants of Cynthia, two name Logan as their ancestor, and one is a descendant of Susannah. Whereas I was a Strong match to the Elizabeth Whitley circle, all of us in the Robert Stephenson circle are considered "Emerging." According to Ancestry, "An emerging level means that there is some DNA evidence of a relationship but the DNA circle is too small for us to determine how strong that evidence is. As the circle grows, your connection level will most likely change."

What Next?

I don't know if Ancestry knew this would happen, or if it is an unintended consequence, but knowing how the DNA Circles work makes me want to improve my tree on Ancestry. I've already realized since starting this series on my DNA Circles that I haven't done a very good job of documenting siblings of my ancestors and their descendants.

Although I'm not a Mormon, I attended a genealogy workshop at our local LDS Family History Center a couple of years ago. One of the classes I attended was on "descendancy research," documenting the descendants of your direct and collateral lines. Not only does that sometimes help with locating ancestors in traditional paper research, but in these days of DNA testing, it pays to know the possible surnames and places of residence of as many of your family's descendants as you can find.

It looks like this research will be ever more important as Ancestry.com adds some features to DNA Circles. In a few weeks, some Ancestry DNA customers will find themselves assigned to new DNA Circles based on their DNA results alone. So, even if you don't have a known tree connection to the circle members, if you have a DNA connection, Ancestry will give you a "hint": the common ancestor of circle members whose DNA you match. With some research, you may be able to determine if you are also related to their identified ancestor.

As Blaine Bettinger, the Genetic Genealogist warns, "Only a certain percentage will actually be direct-line ancestors. It will be impossible to determine--based on the DNA Circle alone--whether an identified person is direct-line, collateral, or population-based...additional research will always, always, be necessary."

So what are my goals in advance of his new DNA Circles feature? I at least would like to get siblings, children, and documents attached to all three of my Stephenson lines on my public tree. Right now, only one of them is complete in any way at all. And before the new feature is added to the DNA Circles, I would like to write blog posts on the other 8 ancestors for whom I have DNA Circles: Thomas and Susannah (Stephenson) Ming, Champion and Catherine (Davidson) Farris, William and Rachel (Barker) Bays, Luke Russell Simmons, and Zachariah Wheat. 

Hopefully, future blog posts will show how the new DNA Circle hints helped me break down some long-standing brick wall. We'll just have to wait and see--and do more research.



Sunday, February 1, 2015

DNA Circles: Daniel Reed and Martha "Patsy" Lewis

Daniel and Martha Reed were my 3rd great-grandparents. Their son Lewis was the father of my 2nd great-grandmother, Nancy Emily Reed (See “Grandpa and Grandma Day”) and the grandfather of my great-grandmother, Sarah Florida Day Castle (See “Big Mom”). Lewis Reed married Sarah Patrick whose parents were the object of my last post on DNA Circles. The Reeds were certainly an easier family to research than the Patricks—hardly any mysteries.

In fact, one little mystery was cleared up. Lewis had a twin brother. I have always called him “Lipe.” Lewis and Lipe—I thought those were cute names for twins, and since Lewis was obviously given his mother’s maiden name as a given name, I assumed Lipe was also a family name, maybe even a clue to the maiden name of some female ancestor.



As I began to research the Daniel Reed family, I realized that none of the public trees on Ancestry.com showed a son named Lipe. Instead, Lewis’s twin brother was named Jesse. A closer look at the 1850 census, along with some help from a Google search for handwriting styles in the 1800’s, led to the discovery that “Lipe” is really Jesse. Apparently, when writing a double “s” in the 19th century, a swooping letter--resembling a cursive "f"--was used for the first “s.” Together, the two s's look like a p. Only after learning this fact did I notice that the loop on the “J” at the beginning of Jesse’s name was on the left, while the loop on the “L” of Lewis was on the right. How many mistakes in family trees, I wonder, have been made because of penmanship?

It is also interesting to note that these twin boys began a tradition that followed the family through four generations. While Nancy Emily Reed Day had a passel of girls and one little boy, her daughter, Florida Day Castle, had twin boys—Wardy and Warner, and her daughter, Fannie Castle Smith, had twin boys—my dad Jack and his twin brother Mack. I wonder if any of the other members of the DNA Circle of Lewis and Martha Reed had twin boys.

Warner and Wardy Castle

Jack and Mack Smith

 The 1850 census of Morgan County, Kentucky, was particularly helpful in establishing all the children of Daniel and Martha Reed. I really have never seen one census where the oldest child is still living at home and the youngest child has already been born. Usually, you have to look at two or three censuses in order to establish the names of all the children in a family, but for the Reeds, the 1850 census lays it all out. From oldest to youngest, they are: Jesse and Lewis, twins, age 20; James, 17; Anna, 16; Nancy, 13; Eliza, 12; Rachel, 10; John, 8; Wiley, 6; Solomon, 5; Sarah, 4; Phebe, 3; and William, 0.

1850 census, Morgan County, Kentucky

 On the 1860 census the family is enumerated in Magoffin County (I think the residence remained the same but the county boundaries changed.) The children still living at home are: Wiley, 18; Solomon, 16; Sarah, 15; Phebe, 14; and William, 10. Pheby, 22, and William, 20, are still living with Daniel and Martha on the 1870 census. The addition to the family is John M. Reed, age 1. Now who does he belong to? Martha is 62, so he can’t possibly be hers. Is he a child of Phebe’s or William’s, or a son of one of the other children, visiting his grandparents? I found no documentation of Phebe’s marriage, but trees on Ancestry show her marrying Samuel Jackson in November of 1871. James has a son, also born in 1869, but he is enumerated with his family in 1870 as John F. Reed. Okay, so maybe the Reed family has one small mystery—but this one I can live with.

The spouses of the children of Lewis and Martha are illuminating. Some of the names, such as Lykins and Stacy, are common names in Morgan County. It’s obvious that the Reed children married within a small community, as evidenced by the surnames of their spouses. Lewis and William married Patricks; Jesse and Nancy married spouses named Walters; and James and John married Praters.

Looking farther back in the tree, I find I have another situation like the one with my Wheat ancestors. Again, I hear the voice of Jeff Foxworthy in my head, saying, “You know you’re a redneck when your family tree doesn’t branch.”

Martha Lewis was the daughter of John Lewis and Rachel Henson. John was the son of James T. Lewis and Winnie Henson. James T. was the son of Nathaniel Lewis, and Winnie was the daughter of Paul Henson. Rachel was the daughter of John Henson and Mary “Polly” Lewis. John Henson was the son of Paul Henson, and Mary “Polly” Lewis was the daughter of James T. Lewis and Winnie Henson. That means that the parents of Martha “Patsy” Lewis, John Lewis and Rachel Henson, were 1st cousins on the Henson side of the family, and 1st cousins, once removed, on the Lewis side of the family. 

Nathaniel Lewis
James T. Lewis
Elvira Helton
John Lewis
Paul Henson
Winnie Henson
Elizabeth
Martha "Patsy" Lewis
Paul Henson
John Henson
Elizabeth
Rachel Henson
James T. Lewis
Mary "Polly" Lewis
Winnie Henson


It stands to reason that there will be some strong DNA matches among the descendants of Martha “Patsy” Lewis. Again, it’s too bad that Ancestry doesn’t offer a way to determine if a DNA match comes from Martha’s side of the family or from Daniel Reed’s. What I do have are 22 people in Daniel’s DNA Circle and 22 people in Martha’s. Ancestry put all of us in the same circles because we all have Daniel and Martha in our trees and all of us have a DNA match with at least one other person in the circle. The 22 people in each of my circles are the same, although with 5 of them I do have DNA matches as well. 

Among the Ancestry members in Daniel’s and Martha’s circles, six of them descend from Lewis’s twin brother Jesse; 3 from James; 3 from Nancy; 3 from William; and 2 each from Rachel, Sarah, and Solomon. I am the only descendant of Lewis in the DNA Circles. I have DNA matches with two descendants of James Reed, and one each from Jesse, Sarah, and William.

At the very least, the DNA Circles have caused me to revisit some of these ancestors that I haven’t looked at in a long time. My brother will be very interested to see the Revolutionary War record of our ancestor, Paul Henson, as described in his (and his widow Elizabeth’s) applications for bounty land and pension due for his service. I was also very interested to read the conclusions of Lewis researchers who believe they have traced Nathaniel Lewis and his wife Elvira Helton to their origins in Wales and Ireland.