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, July 22, 2015

DNA Circles: Champion Farris and Catherine Davidson

IF Joseph Wheat, my great-grandfather, is the son of Henry Clay Wheat and Caroline Farris, then my 4th great-grandparents are, according to most trees, Champion Farris and Catherine Davidson. It has been so hard to get started writing this post, as I must depend on an almost non-existent paper trail and only a little DNA evidence to determine if these two are, indeed, my ancestors.

I have described my research into Joseph Wheat's ancestors (and descendants) in a couple of previous posts: "The Mystery of J. Wheat" and "More J. Wheat Mysteries Solved." To summarize: The first evidence of my great-grandfather that I found was the 1880 census of Collin Co. TX in which he was enumerated as J. Wheat with his wife Cynthia Ming and two children. J. Wheat stated that he was born in Texas and that his mother was born in Mississippi. Later, I found a marriage license, dated 21 January 1877 in Grayson Co. TX for J.A. Wheat and Cynthia Ming. It took years, and the discovery of a previously unknown brother of my grandfather Wheat, to discover the given name of their father on his death certificate: Joe Wheat.

Thomas J. Wheat's death certificate showing his father as Joe Wheat

This is where the paper trail fails, and I have to use supposition to identify the parents of Joe Wheat. What I did was to thoroughly research and identify every Wheat family that lived in Grayson or Collin Co. in 1870 and 1880. Henry Wheat, a widower, and three of his daughters were living in Grayson Co. in 1880, near many other Wheat family members I already knew. In 1870 the family, consisting of Henry, Caroline, son Joseph and four daughters were living in Davis Co. TX. Joseph, age 13, is the only Joseph Wheat on the 1870 census in Texas. On the 1860 census the family lived in Titus Co. and Joseph is enumerated as J.F., born in Texas. On both censuses Caroline gives her birthplace as Mississippi.

Henry and Caroline Farris Wheat family on 1870 Davis Co. census

A few inconsistencies still bother me. Joseph is enumerated as J.F., not J.A., on the 1860 census. His birth date varies from 1855 to 1859, depending on which census you are consulting. His father's birthplace is given as Arkansas on the 1880 census, yet Henry consistently gives his birthplace as Alabama. Joe disappears completely after the 1880 census, and Cynthia remarries in 1890.

A further discovery just over a year ago involved a DNA match whose ancestor, Pearlie Wheat, was the daughter of a J.A. Wheat who married Alice Brink in Milam, TX in 1885 and was buried in Stephens Co. OK in 1906. The date of his birth on the headstone is 15 February 1859 which dovetails nicely with his age of 21 on the 1880 census, and his marriage to Alice and birth of their children comes after the birth of his last child with Cynthia in 1884. However, the DNA match knew little about his family beyond Pearlie Wheat, so he could not corroborate my theory about the parents of Pearlie's father, J.A. I really have no doubt that this is my J.A. Wheat, but I still don't know who his parents were.

The DNA Circle Ancestors

So, what do I know about Champion Farris and Catherine Davidson, in whose DNA Circles I have been placed? Farris researchers give Champ Farris's birth year as 1765 or 1766, probably because he first appears as an adult on a petition to form Russell Co. VA in 1785 and on a personal property tax list for Russell Co. in 1787. Another date for which there is no evidence--so again, probably an estimate based on the dates of their children's births--is a date of 1783 for his marriage to Catherine Davidson. Champion last appears in Russell Co. on a personal property tax list in 1803 and sells his land on "Mockeson" Creek in 1804. He next appears on a petition to form Warren Co. TN from Smith Co. in 1806. Most Ancestry trees give his death date as 1820 in Franklin Co. TN, but again no-one gives documentation or their reasons for thinking so.

Most researchers give the parents of Champion as Elisha and Charlotte Mary (Vaughn) Farris. Champion is not listed as an heir of Elisha on an 1823 Scott Co. VA lawsuit over his estate--not a problem if, as has been stated, Champion died in 1820. At the death of Elisha in 1791 he did sign as security for Edward Farris, son of Elisha and administrator of his estate--so there is definitely a close connection there.

The deaths of Elisha and Charlotte/Mary have an interesting, if sad, history. Elisha Farris owned a tavern "two miles from Mockinson Gap" (near present-day Gate City, VA.) The inn was attacked by the half-Cherokee raider, Robert Benge, also known as Captain Benge or Bench. Elisha was killed immediately; Elisha's wife Mary, his daughters, Mary Farris Livingston and Nancy Farris, and a granddaughter were captured. Nancy Farris managed to escape, but the others were killed. 

Virginia historical marker about Indian attack on Elisha Farris family

It appears to me that many descendants on Ancestry confuse the Champion Farris who first appears in records in 1785 with a grandson with the middle initial T. who bought land in Missouri in 1853. A lot of them attach records for Champion T. to his grandfather, even when the events took place after the elder Champion's death in 1820. In fact, Champion appears to be a popular name for Farris descendants. On the 1870 census there is a Champion Farris, age 54, in Marshall Co. AL, married to Minerva, with children born in Alabama. On the same 1870 census there is a Champin Farris, age 55, living in Benton Co. AR with wife Luraney. I suspect he is our Champion T. Farris, as his older children were born in Missouri and his youngest in Texas. He also has a son, Champion, age 18.

Not much is known about Catherine Davidson. Most Ancestry trees show her birth date and place as 1770 in Franklin Co. TN, and her death date and place as 1802 in Russell Co. VA. Researchers may have good reason to give these dates and places, but I don't know what it is. Some researchers give her father's name as Col. George Davidson from North Carolina, but I think that is in error. His daughter Catherine was married to someone else. There was a James Davidson in Russell Co. who is often mentioned in the same documents with Farrises. I suspect that James or a possible brother is the father of Catherine, but I have no proof for that. In fact, I don't have any proof that her maiden name was Davidson, although she is named as Catherine in land documents with her husband.

Children of Champion and Catherine (Davidson) Farris

The following have been listed (with varying degrees of documentation) as children of Champion and Catherine Farris: Thomas, James, Nathan, Davidson, Levi "Kelly", Major, Elisha, William, and Mary.

Champion, James, and Thomas all signed the petition to form Warren County, TN. From January 1814 to May 1814 Sgt. Levi (Fearris), Pvt. Nathan (Farriss), and Pvt. Davidson (Farris) served in the Tennessee militia under the command of Captain James Tate (Tait.) The Farrises were no doubt close friends and perhaps even relatives, through marriage, of Captain Tate. Tate had grown up on Moccasin Creek in Russell Co. VA, married Ruth Davidson, moved to Warren Co. TN at the same time as the Farrises, and signed the petition along with them to form Warren Co. As militiamen, they fought the Creek Indians who were being supplied by the British with arms to fight the Americans, part of the wide-ranging actions we call the War of 1812. In 1855 Levi's widow, Margaret Nunley Farris, applied for bounty land due to Levi's War of 1812 service. The fact that Levi used the name "Kelly" came from this document.

James Farris moved to Jackson Co., AL where he appears on the 1830 census. Davidson and Levi lived in McNairy Co. TN in 1830. Davidson and Major Farris both appear on an 1837 territorial census in Mississippi. Davidson died in Tishomingo Co. MS in 1870, but Major moved on to Texas, where he appears on the 1850 census of Titus Co. I'm honestly not sure what evidence there is to connect this Major to Champion Farris, other than his proximity to Davidson Farris in Mississippi. Major does give his place of birth as Virginia on both the 1850 and 1860 censuses. Elisha Farris (born 1801) is also in Tishomingo MS by 1840. According to trees on Ancestry, Mary Jane "Polly" Farris married John Harris Woodley in Warren Co. TN, lived in Tishomingo Co. MS, and had a son named Levi Kelley Woodley.

1837 Mississippi Territory census showing Davidson and Major Pharis

Major Farris was the father of Caroline Farris, who married Henry Wheat and became the mother of a son I believe is my great-grandfather Joseph. While I can't definitely tie him to Champion Farris, I do have more evidence going forward. I got a lot of good information from the 1850 census in Titus Co. TX, but where was Major Farris before that? Good question. He appears on the 1837 Mississippi Territory census with just one name between him and Davidson Farris. Before that, there was a Major Farris in Pope Co. AR in 1830. If this is my Major Farris, then he has a lot of children that have not been accounted for. The parents of the family are between the ages of 30-39, and that is perfect for Major and his wife Lucy; there are two males under 5, 3 males 5-9, 1 female under 5, and 1 female 15-19. How does that match up to the 1850 Titus Co. TX census?

1850 Titus Co. census

One thing you can tell right away is that Major and Lucy (Family #122) moved around a lot. On the 1850 census Major gives his age as 52 and his birthplace as Virginia; Lucy is 50, born in Alabama. Enumerated with them are children L.G., age 24, born in Alabama; Reuben, age 18, born in Alabama; Thomas, age 16, born in Arkansas; Caroline, age 14, born in Mississippi; and Jasper, age 12, born in Texas. Just above Major's family on the census is M.P. Farris, age 26, born in Alabama; he is listed at the bottom of Family #121, Daniel and Dorothy McKinney. Daniel is 45, and Dorothy is 29. Could Dorothy be M.P.'s sister, and thus an older child of Major and Lucy? I believe she is. Subsequent censuses and Ancestry family trees show her name as Adeline Dollie (could be short for Dorothy); she had children named Lucy, Sallie Caroline, and Jasper; her daughter Sallie's death certificate lists her father as Dan McKinney and her mother as Dolly Farris. Family #124 has a head of household transcribed as Y.C. Farris (I think it's Z.C.); he is age 32 and born in Tennessee. Another child of Major and Lucy?

And how does this match up with the 1830 census in Arkansas? Not very well. If Dorothy and Z.C. are actually members of this family, their ages don't match up. We are missing both females, two of the males 5-9, and one of the males under 5. There is a gap in children between L.G. and Reuben, where two of the males might have fit. Could they have died or moved out on their own by 1850? Even though the ages of the children don't exactly match up, I do believe this is the same family. Thomas would have been born at about the time the family was living in Arkansas and Caroline at about the time they were living in Mississippi.

For more information on the family of Henry and Caroline Farris Wheat, see my original post about this family, "The Mystery of J. Wheat."

Caroline Farris Wheat headstone, Hall Cemetery, Howe, TX

Members of the DNA Circle

Since my connection with Champion Farris hinged on the hypothesis that Joseph Wheat was my great-grandfather and his great-grandson, I have looked with anticipation for a DNA match and proof of a relationship to this family. Back before DNA Circles, when there were only individual matches on Ancestry, I was thrilled one day to find a DNA match with J.M., a descendant of Champion Farris. He is still my only known Champion Farris match, and he is also a member of the Champion Farris and Catherine Davidson DNA Circles.

Champion Farris's DNA Circle has 14 members, and Catherine's has 6. I'm guessing this is because not everybody shows Catherine Davidson as a spouse of Champion Farris. In fact, I have found no evidence for Davidson as her maiden name.

Seven members (all from the same family group) of the Champion Farris DNA Circle are descended from Levi Kelly Farris. Three members (all from the same family group) are descended from Mary. Two (including J.M.) come from Elisha. I am the only member of the circle that descends through Major Farris. Of the six members of Catherine Davidson's DNA Circle three descend from Mary, one from Davidson, one from Elisha (J.M.), and one from Major (me.)


As I have said before, putting information about these ancestors in narrative form is very helpful. I have found connections I hadn't previously noticed and discrepancies that have led to further research. I really thought my problem with this family was that I couldn't prove that my J.A. was Joseph Wheat, the son of Henry and Caroline Farris Wheat. What I found through writing this post was that there may be another disconnect in the ancestral line at Major Farris. I found absolutely no evidence that Major was the son of Champion and his wife Catherine. (I actually found no evidence connecting any children to this couple. I found people with the right ages in the right places to be their children but nothing that connects them definitively to Champion and Catherine.)

Another complication that I had foreseen was that my Farris family from Virginia might be related to my Pharris family from Tennessee, and that my DNA match reflected this connection. Many Farris family researchers show James Esom Farris as a father of Elisha; my Pharris family in Tennessee also had ancestors named Esom or Isham. If that is the connection, however, it is so far back that I would be surprised if any DNA slipped through. Also, according to a researcher named Elvin Farris on Ancestry, mutations in y-DNA results show that Elisha's father was more likely Joseph Farris than James Esom. This is another instance where it would be helpful to know just exactly how much DNA I have in common with J.M., my only Farris family match.

In conclusion, a thank you and a piece of advice for Ancestry users: Most Ancestry trees are just chains of names with hardly any evidence to support connections between the generations. When you find someone like Elvin Farris who has meticulously documented and noted each and every piece of evidence, it is very much appreciated. (Also thanks to a long-time researcher, Robbie Farris Glover, to whom Elvin gives credit for some of his information.)

Example of helpful source notes by Ancestry user Elvin Farris

I'm going to try very hard to take this advice myself: When you have made a good guess about a piece of information, tell us why you reached this conclusion. For example, a jillion people show that Champion Farris died in 1820 in Franklin Co. TN. Why do you think so? Franklin Co. was formed from Warren Co. in 1807. Did Champion live in the part that became Franklin Co.? Why 1820 for a death date? Did you just copy that information from somebody else's tree, or do you have a reason to believe it's true--a will or transfer of property, for example?

If you have lots of notes to share or a letter or email from other researcher, click on Add Media/Add a story, being sure to give credit to the person who gave you the information, and attach the document. You can also attach Media to each individual fact in the profile. If you have short notes to add to an individual's profile, click on the type of information (Birth, Residence, Death) and add your notes in the box labeled Description. Of course, it's easy to attach documentation if it comes from Ancestry, but you can also click on Facts and Sources on the profile page, click the tab Source Citations and add information from other sources. I know it's a lot of work, but it's so helpful to other researchers and will also help you in the long run when you can't remember the origin or significance of a piece of information. 

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