Poor Ancestors are not Invisible: Part 3, Debtor Records

People become indebted to others for a variety of reasons. Business ventures fail. People become ill or injured preventing them from working and paying bills. It can be difficult to manage expenses when crops fail, or unexpected events damage the family home or businesses. Regardless of the reason, much can be learned from the misfortunes of our ancestors adding context and understanding to their plights.

As with Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I provide examples from my own research to illustrate how to use these records to provide a richer description of our ancestors’ lives.

Insolvent Debtor’s Petitions
Individuals unable to pay their debts, petitioned the Court of Common Pleas to discharge them from further liabilities if they surrendered property or other assets.[1] Records often include a description of the debt, names of the involved parties, occupation and residence of the debtor, and personal statements. 

Gardner Pettit (d. 1833)
Gardner Pettit lived in Chester County, Pennsylvania in the early 1800s and was poor. He received discounted taxes,[2] at least two of his children’s education was paid for by the County, [3] and he and a couple of his children received poorhouse outdoor allowances on several occasions.[4] Gardner died in 1833 in the Poorhouse in East Bradford.[5] Because he only appeared in the 1820 census,[6] his family composition is incomplete, and the cause of his poverty unknown – until he filed for insolvency in 1824.

On 24 June 1824, at the suit of Jonathan H. Schofield for a debt of $16.75, Gardner Pettit provided the following information in his petition permitting greater insight into the circumstances contributing to his poverty:[7]

Petitioner states that he has a wife and seven children, that he is day laborer and never had any other way of maintaining his family, and that he is frequently unable to work from sickness and lameness.

Gardner Pettit’s insolvency in 1824 begins to explain why in the same year, his father-in-law, Samuel Doughton, stated in his will that Gardner is to receive $1 while his other heirs received far greater:[8]

…that my daughter Hannah Pettit shall not be paid to her husband Gardner Pettit nor to his use, but it is my will that my executor keep my said daughter Hannah share in his hand and pay it to herself as he finds she has need for it, but in case my said daughter Hannah should die before her share is all used by her it is my will that such remainder shall be kept by my executor for the use of her children and paid to them as they severally come to the age of twenty one.

It is my interpretation that Gardner’s father-in-law had affection for him, hence the $1 bequeath. I don’t believe the small amount was meant to be an insult, which some may have interpreted based on the incomplete picture provided by the will. Rather, Samuel Doughton appears to have been forward thinking by providing legal and financial separation of his bequeaths to ensure a portion of his wealth was passed on to his grandchildren rather than be immediately confiscated by Gardner’s creditors. Indeed, should Gardiner enter the poorhouse, administrators frequently confiscate assets such as inheritances and pensions to pay for received support.[9]

Civil Court Cases
Matters of debt are tried in the Courts of Common Pleas, and court documents can provide additional insight into the lives of our ancestors. Like the insolvent debtor records discussed previously, early case documents often include the names of involved parties, their occupations and places of residences, and other related facts to the case. 

Thomas McMasters (b. early 1700s)
Readers of my blog will certainly recognize the surname McMasters. Mary McMasters (1755-1832) married my 5x great-grandfather William Boyd (1753-1836) in 1778.[10] I’ve struggled to discover Mary’s parents suspecting the McMasters were poor just like the Boyds. Thomas McMasters is the frontrunner candidate for Mary’s father. The debtor cases against Thomas provides insight into his life and additional clues that someday may help to connect him to Mary (McMasters) Boyd and other McMasters families in the area.

For reasons unknown, Thomas McMasters was frequently unable to pay his debts. Two court cases in the 1750s were found in Bucks County, Pennsylvania where he lived. 

  • 1753, June 14 – William Montgomerie v. Thomas McMasters, yeoman [farmer] for £20 debt,[11] and
  • 1756, June 17 – Lawrence Growden and Langhorne Biles, executors of Jeremiah Langhorne v. Thomas McMasters, yeoman of Wrightstown, Bucks County for £14 debt.[12]

His financial difficulties appear to have persisted throughout his life as he was marked as “poor” in Warwick Township on Bucks County taxes in 1775. [13]

While it is still early in my research, the 1753 case may offer some clues about family connections for Thomas McMasters across the Delaware River from Bucks County in Hunterdon County, New Jersey (See the court document below). The plaintiff in the 1753 case, William Montgomerie, lived in Amwell Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey.[14] William Montgomerie’s attorney, Benjamin Price practiced throughout the state of New Jersey and appears to have principally litigated matters of debt.[15] Also of note in the excerpt below is that Thomas McMasters also appears to have used the name “Thomas Masters” a potential clue to interpreting future documentary evidence.

The hint toward Amwell Township also begins to explain other research previously gathered. More specifically, a John McMasters (d. 1768) and a Mary (McMasters) Search (b. 1735 and presumably John McMasters’ daughter) resided in Amwell during this time.[16] Multiple autosomal DNA matches to descendants of Mary (McMasters) Search are shared across those who descend from Mary (McMasters) Boyd, including myself. Preliminarily, it is quite possible that this Thomas McMasters is somehow related to John McMasters and Mary (McMasters) Search. Indeed, I suspect that Thomas may be the son of John McMasters, the brother to Mary (McMasters) Search, and the father to Mary (McMasters) Boyd. Only time and additional research will help build the case.

Summary
Like the other records discussed in the “Poor Ancestor” blog series, debtor records can help us better understand our ancestors beyond knowing birth, marriage, and death dates. I find we often don’t turn to court records because they are frequently unfamiliar to most of us and not all court details are indexed and easily available. Yet, when all other records leave you short of breaking through that brick wall, debtor records can provide new clues to research and new insights into your ancestors’ lives. 

Locating Court of Common Pleas records can be challenging, and the best advice is to consult county historical or genealogical societies for guidance. Some courthouses may be helpful, too. Accessing these records differ by county. For example, Chester County has online indexes[17] while Bucks County has some years indexed and available only in the research library at the Bucks County Archives.[18] I’ve found some records on FamilySearch.org but be advised that these are often not the complete set of records and case details are often found elsewhere. 


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[1] Chester County, Pennsylvania, “Insolvent Debtor’s Petition, 1724-1850”, Chester County Archives, West Chester (www.chesco.org, accessed 24 April 2022).

[2] Chester County, Pennsylvania, Tax Discounts 1785-1823, Gardner Pettit (1810), New London, Book 1810-1815, p. 21; citing Chester County Archives, West Chester. And Chester County, Pennsylvania, Tax Discounts 1785-1823, Gardner Pettit (1815), Sadsbury, Book 1816-1823, p. 232; citing Chester County Archives, West Chester.

[3] Chester County, Pennsylvania, Poor School Children Records, 1810-1842, Evelina and Samuel Pettit (1819), West Caln, p. 197; database with index, Chester County Archives (www.chesco.org, accessed 10 April 2022). And Chester County, Pennsylvania, Poor School Children Records, 1810-1842, Evelina and Samuel Pettit (1820), West Caln, p. 285; database with index, Chester County Archives (www.chesco.org, accessed 10 April 2022).

[4] Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Book of Monthly Report of the Steward, 1825-1827, February Report 1824: Gardner Pettit, Warwick Pettit, and Enoch Pettit of West Caln (1825, January 25), p. 3. And Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Directors of the Poor Outdoor Allowance Books, 1810-1827, Hannah Pettit, Enoch S. Pettit, and Warwick Pettit (1825-1826), Volume 1, p. 95.

[5] Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Poor House Admissions Index, 1800-1910, Gardner Pettit (1833), Book RQS, Item 20080; database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 10 April 2022); citing Chester County Archives.

[6] 1820 U.S. census, Chester County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Sadsbury, p. 248, image 1 of 4, Gardner Petito [Pettit]; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 10 April 2022); citing NARA microfilm M33, roll 96.

[7] Chester County, Pennsylvania, Insolvent Debtor’s Petitions, 1724-1850, Gardner Pettit (14 June 1824), filed 13 September 1824; Chester County Archives, West Chester.

[8] Pennsylvania, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993, Samuel Doughton (1825), West Caln, image 436 of 537; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 10 April 2022); citing Chester County Register of Wills, p. 163, Will Book O, Volume 14.

[9] Bourque, Monique (2003), “Populating the Poorhouse: A Reassessment of Poor Relief in the Antebellum Delaware Valley,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of the Mid-Atlantic Studies, 70(4), pp. 397-432.

[10] U.S. Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970, Willm Boyd and McMasters (1778), Newtown Presbyterian Church, Baptisms, Births, Marriages, 1769-1812, p. 20, image 22 of 148; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 14 March 2022); Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

[11] Court of Common Pleas, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Montgomerie v. McMasters (1753, June quarter sessions), Newtown.

[12] Court of Common Pleas, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Langhorne v. McMasters (1756, June quarter sessions), Newtown.

[13] McNealy, T.A. and F.W. Waite (1982), Bucks County Tax Records, 1693-1778. Doylestown, PA: Bucks County Genealogical Society, p. 63.

[14] New Jersey State Archives, Early Land Records 1650-1900s, Richard Heath from unknown (1739, April 21), Amwell, Hunterdon County (William Montgomrie, owner of adjoining land), Book M, Part 2, (WJ Surveys, Folio 197, PWESJ0004); New Jersey Department of State, https://wwwnet-dos.state.nj.us/DOS_ArchivesDBPortal/index.aspx, accessed 29 April 2022.

[15] See for example: New Jersey State Archives, Supreme Court Case Files 1704-1844, George Okill v. Justus Gans (otherwise Justus Gantz of Amwell), attorney, Benjamin Price for Okill (1754), Hunterdon County, Case 28516; New Jersey Department of State, https://wwwnet-dos.state.nj.us/DOS_ArchivesDBPortal/index.aspx, accessed 29 April 2022.

[16] New Jersey State Archives, Supreme Court Case Files 1704-1844, Benjamin Howell v. John McMasters, tenant in possession (1761), Amwell, Hunterdon County, Case 17018; New Jersey Department of State, https://wwwnet-dos.state.nj.us/DOS_ArchivesDBPortal/index.aspx, accessed 29 April 2022. And “Public Member Trees,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com, accessed 29 April 2022), “Wilson120411” family tree by rwilson7135, profile for Mary McMasters (b. 1735).

[17] Chester County Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania: https://www.chesco.org/192/Archives-Records.

[18] Bucks County Archives, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, https://www.mercermuseum.org/collections/research-library/bucks-county-archives/. And McNealy, T.A. (2008), Bucks County Criminal Papers 1697-1786, Court of Common Pleas, Doylestown, PA: Bucks County Historical Society.

Poor Ancestors are not Invisible: Part 2, Poorhouse Records

As early as the 1600s in the U.S., our forefathers demonstrated a generous spirit and cared for those who found themselves economically depressed. I don’t mean to sound insensitive to the plight of our ancestors, but I view poorhouse records as the equivalent to land deeds and estate records. In many ways, they are the exact opposite of one another, but both can provide places of residence, family relationships, and vital statistics.

As with Part 1 of this series, I provide examples from my own research to illustrate how I used them to provide a richer description of my ancestors’ lives.

Poor School Children Records
Not all counties and states provide for such early records, but Pennsylvania provided for some of the best I’ve seen. The records I have worked with in Pennsylvania typically cover periods from 1810 through 1842. Usually by community, records list the names of children aged five to 12, whose parents were too poor to pay for their children’s education and thus required county support.[1] Frequently, the children’s father’s name was listed alongside their children’s names.

William Boyd (1753-1836)
As described in the previous blog post, William Boyd’s Revolutionary War pension application indicated he lived for a time near New London Crossroads in Chester County, Pennsylvania.[2] I find him in the 1800 and 1810 census in East Nottingham Township, which is adjacent to New London Township where New London Crossroads is located.[3] In 1810, I also find a Poor School Children record for him, his wife Mary, and three of his children: Jean [Jane], Mary, and Charlotte.[4]

In an earlier blog post, I presented how I connected autosomal DNA matches for Boyds living in Washington and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania to William Boyd using his Revolutionary War pension file. The Poor School Children records also helped me to confirm that the observed autosomal DNA were in fact connected to William Boyd. 

In his will, William Boyd left his pension to his daughter, Jane (Boyd) McDonald (1798-1843) of East Nottingham, Chester County thereby completing the link between the poor school child Jane, the autosomal DNA matches to the Boyd/McDonald family of Chester County, and the willed pension.[5] The identity of Mary in the Poor School Children records was later confirmed as Mary (Boyd) Butler (1801-1874) of Washington County. In the obituary for Mary’s husband, Ira Butler, it stated that his wife Mary was born in New London Crossroads in Chester County, Pennsylvania,[6] similarly linking the poor school records, observed autosomal DNA matches to the Boyd/Butler family of Washington County, and the obituary all together. Unfortunately, I have yet to find Charlotte Boyd (b. 1805) in other records.

Poor Outdoor Allowance Records
Another type of poorhouse records are the poor outdoor allowances, which are paid out to individuals who were not qualified to be supported in the poorhouse, but who required assistance to live outside of it.[7] In conjunction with poor school children records, I used the poor outdoor allowance records to follow the migration of a 4x great-granduncle, William Wilson (1793-1846), whose reconstructed family was featured in the previous blog post and a copy of the research report is found on my website.

William Wilson (1793-1846)
In 1830, I find William Wilson in Richland, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which is where his maternal family originated.[8] In 1836, I find a Mark Wilson (aged 8) and Eliza (aged 5) listed in the poor school children records in Richland, but no parents were associated with them.[9] In 1837, I find Mark (aged 9) and Eliza (aged 6) living 30 miles away in East Vincent, Chester County, Pennsylvania.[10] This time, their father was identified as William Wilson. With “William Wilson” being a common name and having no prior evidence of any Wilson from this or related lines living in East Vincent, I wanted to provide greater evidence. 

In consulting the poor outdoor allowance records, I find several references for monies being given to a William and Sarah Wilson between 25 July 1837 and 28 September 1841 (note: William Wilson married Sarah Thompson 25 February 1819 in Doylestown, Bucks County[11]). Unfortunately, the Outdoor Allowance entry did not list the township where William and Sarah Wilson lived, but a Thomas Jacobs facilitated one of the payments in 1837, and Jacobs lived in East Vincent in 1840.[12]

What is also interesting to note is that the Eliza Wilson mentioned above is the same Eliza (Wilson) Hill mentioned in the previous blog post as being the sister identified in the 1896 deposition of Sarah (Wilson) McKinstry, who applied for her deceased husband’s Civil War pension.

Poorhouse Admission Books
Poorhouse admission books often provide a simple listing of who entered, resided, or left the poorhouse for a given year. Entries can include their age.

William Boyd (1753-1836) and Mary (McMasters) Boyd (1755-1832)
My 5x great-grandfather, William Boyd, last appeared in census records in 1810, [13] and likely lived with children thereafter. I was able to pick up his whereabouts after 1810 in poorhouse records.

William and Mary (McMasters) Boyd entered the Poorhouse in East Bradford, Chester County from East Nottingham in 1829, likely from the residence of their daughter, Jane (Boyd) McDonald).[14] For the years between 1829 through 1832, William and Mary resided in the Poorhouse and records captured their age.[15]

Mary is recorded in the registers as dying in the Poorhouse in 1832.[16]

William Boyd is recorded as having left the Poorhouse in 1833 after the death of his wife. William Boyd’s will was dated 7 March 1835,[17] he died on 30 January 1836,[18] and his will was probated in 9 July 1839.[19]

Summary
Poorhouse records are outstanding sources for understanding the plight of our ancestors who struggled economically. These records may also help us understand how and why our ancestors ended up in the poorhouse. Some may be quick to judge those who ended up in the poorhouse, but statistical analysis of intake records from the 19th century indicates that about 90% were related to physical and mental illness, trauma, or debility.[20] Only about 10% of poorhouse admissions were associated with “moral failures”, such as intemperance, venereal disease, or pregnancy.

The availability of poorhouse records varies by state and county. If you know or suspect your ancestor was poor and may have received assistance, check with local genealogical or historical societies to see if records exist for your locale. In Chester County, Pennsylvania for example, poorhouse records are found with the county archives, which is a joint venture between county government and the county history center.[21] Chester County also has excellent indexes and a convenient, efficient, and affordable procedure for ordering copies of records. Some records are found free on FamilySearch.org but are not always indexed.


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[1] Chester County, Pennsylvania, “Poor School Children Records, 1810-1842: General Information”, Chester County Archives, West Chester (www.chesco.org, accessed 24 April 2022).

[2] Pension Application, William Boyd, Sergeant, Revolutionary War, “Declaration of William Boyd in order to obtain the benefit of the Act of Congress passed June 7,1832”, dated 9 April 1833, Pension Application S.22,127, Pension Office, War Department, Washington, DC; online database with images, Fold3 (www.fold3.com, accessed 31 July 2018).

[3] 1800 U.S. census, Chester County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Nottingham, p. 866, image 1 of 3, William Boyd; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 14 March 2022); Family History Library Film 363339, roll 36. And 1810 U.S. census, Chester County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Nottingham, p. 202, image 4 of 5, Wm Boyde [Boyd]; database with image, Ancestry(www.ancestry.com, accessed 14 March 2022); Family History Library Film 193673, roll 47.

[4] Chester County, Pennsylvania, Poor School Children Records, 1810-1842, Jane Boyd, Mary Boyd, Charlotte Boyd, children of William and Mary Boyd (1810), East Nottingham; Chester County Archives, West Chester.

[5] Chester County, Pennsylvania, will (book 17, p. 264), William Boyd (1835, Chester County), Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, West Chester.

[6] The Daily Republican (1884, July 22), “Capt. Ira R. Butler”, p. 4, col. 1, Monongahela, PA; online database, https://Newspapers.com, accessed 14 March 2022.

[7] Chester County, Pennsylvania, “Outdoor Allowances, 1800-1856”, Chester County Archives, West Chester (www.chesco.org, accessed 24 April 2022).

[8] 1830 U.S. census, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Richland, p. 221, image 11 of 20, William Wilson; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 22 April 2021); NARA microfilm publication M19, roll146.

[9] Bucks County, Pennsylvania Tax Records, 1782-1860, Mark Wilson and Eliza Wilson (1836), Richland, image 30 of 31; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 24 April 2021); citing Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Tax Records, 1782-1860, Bucks County Historical Society, Doylestown.

[10] Chester County, Pennsylvania, Poor School Children Records, 1810-1842, Mark and Eliza Wilson (1837), East Vincent, p. 473 of 505; database with index, Chester County Archives (www.chesco.org, accessed 24 April 2021).

[11] Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Directors of the Poor Outdoor Allowance Books, 1827-1843, William and Sarah Wilson (1837), Volume 2, p. 231-232. And Smith, C.A. and F.W. Waite (1986), Bucks County Intelligencer Marriage Notices, 1804-1860, Doylestown, PA: Bucks County Genealogical Society.

[12] 1840 U.S. census, Chester County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Vincent, p. 287, image 1 of 16, Thomas Jacobs; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 21 May 2021); citing NARA microfilm M704, roll 453-454.

[13] 1810 U.S. census, Chester County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Nottingham, p. 202, image 4 of 5, Wm Boyde [Boyd]; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 14 March 2022); Family History Library Film 193673, roll 47.

[14] Chester County, Poorhouse Admissions Alphabet Book 1826-1843, William and Mary Boyd (1829); database, Chester County Archives (www.chesco.org, accessed 24 April 2022), West Chester.

[15] Chester County Pennsylvania, Poorhouse Admissions 1800-1858, Mary Boyd (1829, 1830, 1831), Book RQS; database, Chester County Archives (www.chesco.org, accessed 24 April 2022), West Chester. And Chester County Pennsylvania, Poorhouse Admissions 1800-1858, William Boyd (1829, 1830, 1832), Book RQS; database, Chester County Archives (www.chesco.org, accessed 24 April 2022), West Chester.

[16] Chester County Pennsylvania, Poorhouse Admissions 1800-1858, Mary Boyd (1832), Book RQS; database, Chester County Archives (www.chesco.org, accessed 24 April 2022), West Chester.

[17] Chester County, Pennsylvania, will (book 17, p. 264), William Boyd (1835, Chester County), Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, West Chester.

[18] General Accounting Office, Final Payment Voucher, William Boyd (30 January 1836); database with image, Fold3 (www.Fold3.com, accessed 24 September 2018).

[19] Chester County, Pennsylvania, will (book 17, p. 264), William Boyd (1835, Chester County), Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, West Chester.

[20] Bourque, Monique (2003), “Populating the Poorhouse: A Reassessment of Poor Relief in the Antebellum Delaware Valley,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of the Mid-Atlantic Studies, 70(4), pp. 397-432.

[21] Chester County Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania: https://www.chesco.org/192/Archives-Records.

Poor Ancestors are not Invisible: Part 1, Pension Applications

Estate records and land deeds are some of the best records in which to identify the names and vital statistics of our more distant ancestors. They can also provide rich context about their lives. Yet these large and informative record groups are frequently unavailable to those of us whose ancestors had humble beginnings. 

Despair not. We may have other record groups providing equally as rich information (and perhaps even greater detail). 

In this blog post series, I present several record groups where our poor ancestors are likely to be found. In exploring these records, I provide examples from my own research and how I used them to not only identify unknown ancestors and their vital statistics but also to add rich detail and context to their lives.

Pension Applications
Many of our early poor ancestors volunteered to serve in the military to earn money, obtain skills, and give back to their community. When researching early ancestors who served in the U.S. military, the best records are often associated with the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. The men who served (or their widows) frequently petitioned the federal and state governments for pensions and other benefits.

Revolutionary War
While the federal government provided pensions for service as early as 1788, the most liberal pensions were made available in 1832,[1] and these applications provided some of the richest data I’ve seen. If your ancestor was fortunate enough to live until 1832, veterans often had to write detailed letters in support of their pension application answering questions related to his service, his birth, and current and past places of residences.

William Boyd (1753-1836)
My 5x great-grandfather, William Boyd, never owned land and resided in the poorhouse during most of the last years of his life. In the Revolutionary War, he served seven times nearly half of which he did so in someone else’s stead. In his pension application, William stated:[2]

I was born in Plumstead Township, Bucks County on the twenty-third day of January one thousand seven hundred and fifty-three. I have no original record of my age. It is recorded in a bible, which I gave to my son who resides at New London Cross Roads in this County, and was copied into that bible from a “Confession of Faith,” which belonged to my father.

William Boyd goes on to say:

I resided in Northampton Township aforesaid at home during all my different terms of service. I have lived since the Revolutionary War first in Northampton aforesaid whence I removed to Upper Makefield both in Bucks Co., Penna. From thence I removed to Chester County (now Delaware County) between the Borough of Chester and Marcus Hook. From thence I removed to New London Cross Roads, Chester County. From there I removed to Washington County. From thence I returned to Chester County, East Nottingham Township. From thence I went to the Poor House in West Bradford Township, Chester County aforesaid where I now live. The above named counties are all in the State of Pennsylvania.

William’s places of residences permitted me to later link Boyd autosomal DNA matches with what I would later determine were descendants of his children. I’ve written an earlier blog post about how I used this information, along with the EGGOS (earliest generation group of siblings) search strategy, to confirm the Boyd branch of my tree.

Joseph Parker (1759-1834) and Mary (Parker) Keagle (1793-1851)
In reviewing my autosomal DNA matches, I discovered a cluster of matches containing several Parker families with roots in Pennsylvania. According to family trees, a large subset of these matches descended from Mary Parker who married John Keagle about 1815 – most likely in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, which is where John Keagle’s father lived.[3] John and Mary (Parker) Keagle later moved to Ross County, Ohio by 1820 and to Sangamon County, Illinois by 1840.[4] No publicly available family trees identified the parents of Mary Parker. The Keagles did not own land in the locations where they lived, and neither John nor Mary had an estate file.

Within the larger Parker cluster, one of the DNA matches listed in his family tree that his eldest Parker ancestor was Joseph Parker, who died in Ross County, Ohio in 1834, but he had no other information about Joseph and appeared to be not connected in any way to Mary (Parker) Keagle. What perplexed me about this tree’s reference to Joseph Parker was that the match’s Parker line never lived in Ross County and was in fact from Guernsey County, Ohio, which is about 130 miles back east. Yet, the possible Ross County connection between this match and the Mary (Parker) Keagle match was too much to ignore.

It didn’t take much effort to discover that this Joseph Parker had served in the Revolutionary War,[5] and I quickly located his pension file on Fold3.com. Here’s what I found, as written by Joseph’s attorney in 1832:[6]

That from information received from his parents, together with a record which he has seen in his father’s family bible, he was born in Bucks County in the state of Pennsylvania from which place he entered the service of the United States in the Revolutionary War on or about the 1st of September 1775.

From his place of residence in Bucks County Pa., he removed to Lacoming [sic, Lycoming] County Pa., from thence to Ross County, Ohio, where he has resided for the last thirteen years.

One of Joseph Parker’s stated residences was Lycoming County, which is where John and Mary (Parker) Keagle supposedly had lived. More importantly, one of the witnesses to Joseph’s affidavit was none other than John Kagle [sic], an additional clue foreshadowing what other records would later reveal. The information found on Fold3.com was Joseph Parker’s pension application, but what researchers may not have known is other documents often exist in the National Archives, such as the final pension payment vouchers that might illuminate additional information. A trip to the National Archives by a hired genealogist found his final pension records,[7] which stated:

The said Joseph Parker died at his residence in said [Ross] county on the twelfth day of February 1834; that he left no widow; and that the following are the children and heirs and are all the children of the said Joseph Parker deceased, who are now living, viz: William Parker, John Keagle and Mary his wife, late Mary Parker, Job Parker, Charles Parker, James Parker, and John Parker.

Civil War
Sarah Wilson (1836-1898) and Ezra McKinstry (b. 1832)
For as long as anyone has researched Sarah Wilson (my first cousin 5x removed), no one was able to identify her parents. While her maiden name and place of residence at the time of her marriage to Ezra McKinstry was known through other records, her parentage was a mystery or worse yet, misattributed.

Sarah married 31 December 1859 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania[8] to Ezra McKinstry, who served in the Civil War from Bucks County.[9] Online family trees for Ezra clearly indicate he served in the Civil War, but it is unclear whether anyone ever obtained his pension file from the National Archives[10] or simply relied on indexes listing his service (see an earlier blog post about the risks in relying on indexes). Perhaps if a copy of the file had been attained, researchers may have likely been disappointed in that the pension file contained no direct evidence of Sarah’s parents, but there was plenty of indirect evidence. 

In the 118-page file, Sarah (Wilson) McKinstry provides great testimony of her life with her husband that rivals many modern novels. She identified her children and all the places she lived since marrying Ezra. Many friends spoke in support of her application. But one small and very important mention was made in her 1896 deposition:[11]

My parents are both dead. I have one brother and two sisters living namely, William Wilson, his PO address is Bullard, Tex. Sister Mary Sherman lives near Neosha, Kansas, and sister Eliza Hill lives in Curtis, Neb.

For these newly discovered siblings, unfortunately no new records were found identifying the names of their parents. However, tracing each of them back through time to Bucks County proved fruitful. Based on a great amount of (indirect) evidence collected, I constructed an evidentiary network to not only identify their parents as William Wilson (1793-1846) and Sarah Thompson (1798-1882), but also to reconstruct William and Sarah’s entire family of 11 children – including Sarah (Wilson) McKinstry! A copy of the research report is available on my website.

Summary
As hopefully demonstrated, pension applications contain rich information that sometimes directly answers research questions but most often provides important pieces of indirect evidence that can be just as valuable. I encourage researchers to keep the following lessons in mind:

  1. If you discover your ancestor served in a war, don’t assume that researchers before you obtained, read, and vetted the pension file for information. In our haste or earlier in our genealogy research “careers”, we often only look for direct evidence explicitly stating the information we’re searching for. Yet, the amount of indirect evidence is often greater, and with persistence and effort, can accomplish the same research objective and feel much more rewarding.
  2. As valuable as Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Fold3.com, and other databases are, they often do not hold all available documents in a record group. When you discover (or suspect) your ancestor served in a war, read all you can about the record group to understand what data are available and where it can be found. As communicated in another blog post, and if possible, take the time, effort, and expense to obtain the original document. Transcripts and indexes can overlook important and often critical indirect evidence.

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[1] Nudd, J. (2015), “Using Revolutionary War Pension Files to Find Family Information,” Prologue Magazine, 47(2); accessed 1 May 2022 from U.S. National Archives (www.archives.gov).

[2] Pension Application, William Boyd, Sergeant, Revolutionary War, “Declaration of William Boyd in order to obtain the benefit of the Act of Congress passed June 7,1832”, dated 9 April 1833, Pension Application S.22,127, Pension Office, War Department, Washington, DC; online database with images, Fold3 (www.fold3.com, accessed 31 July 2018).

[3] 1810 U.S. census, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Lycoming, p. 819, image 3 of 4, Jacob Keagle; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 24 April 2022); Family History Library Film 193678, roll 52.

[4] 1820 U.S. census, Ross County, Ohio, population schedule, Green, p. 285, image 3 of 6, John Keagle; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 24 April 2022); NARA microfilm publication M33, roll 92. And 1830 U.S. census, Ross County, Ohio, population schedule, Green, p. 281, image 7 of 20, John Keagle; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 24 April 2022); NARA microfilm publication M19, roll 139. And 1840 U.S. census, Sangamon County, Illinois, population schedule, not stated, p. 50, image 65 of 134, John Cagle; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 24 April 2022).

[5] Ohio, U.S., Soldier Grave Registrations, 1804-1958, Joseph Parker (1834), Union, Ross County, database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 24 April 2022); citing Fold3.com.

[6] Pension Application, Joseph Parker, soldier, Revolutionary War, “Declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the Act of Congress passed June 7,1832”, dated 25 October 1833, Pension Application S.8927, Pension Office, War Department, Washington, DC; online database with images, Fold3 (www.fold3.com, accessed 31 July 2018).

[7] U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (2020), Joseph Parker, Ross County, Ohio, Revolutionary War Final Pension Payment Vouchers, Washington, D.C., accessed 21 April 2022 at https://www.archives.gov/research/military/army/final-pension-payment-vouchers.

[8] U.S., Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970 (1859), Deep Run Presbyterian Church, Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, p. 233, No. 405, image 189 of 238; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 11 Mar 2021); citing Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1907, Accession Number VAULT BX 9211.P48901 D42 v.2.

[9] Compiled Service Record, Ezra McKinstry, Indep Battery of Captain Durrell’s Co. D Pennsylvania Lt Artillery Reg. 104, Pension Application No. 518024, Call No. 1917, Bundle 7, pdf p. 77-85, U.S. Bureau of Pensions, Dept of the Interior, Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration.

[10] Military records can be ordered from the National Archives at https://eservices.archives.gov/orderonline/

[11] Compiled Service Record, Ezra McKinstry, Indep Battery of Captain Durrell’s Co. D Pennsylvania Lt Artillery Reg. 104, “Deposition A, Case of Sarah McKinstry, widow of Ezra McKinstry”, dated 13 Oct 1896, Pension Application No. 518024, Call No. 1917, Bundle 7, pdf p. 77-85, U.S. Bureau of Pensions, Dept of the Interior, Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration.

Genealogical Indexes: Friend or Foe?

Indexes of genealogical records can be a researcher’s best friend. They can help you understand available information in a record group, know whether your surname or other keywords are present, and quickly locate the actual record. Yet, for all these benefits, indexes can also – unintentionally – cause us to misinterpret information, prevent us from discovering other contextually relevant information, and bias us toward some information at the expense of other data.

Indexes are game-changers and have made my research more efficient and effective. I am so thankful for the organizations and individuals who took the time and expense to create them. In my way of thinking, indexes are truly a “friend”.

I recently published a proof argument on my website titled, “Parents of Rebecca Pettit (1819-1904), who married John Gable about 1843 in Chester County, Pennsylvania”. In the preparation of the report, I was reminded of the pitfalls in relying too heavily on indexes. In some ways, indexes can truly become a “foe”. 

Let me explain using examples from this recently published proof argument.

Brief Background Details
I wrote the report on Rebecca Pettit (1819-1904) for myself to help me understand how I potentially relate to a cousin who is part of an autosomal genetic cluster I’m investigating for my McMasters line. My cousin’s family tree stopped with Rebecca Pettit and John Gable, which is the ancestral couple where several DNA matches within the cluster converged through different children of John and Rebecca. Rebecca’s line was entirely unknown not only by my cousin but also by anyone else with a publicly available family tree where she was included. Thus, Rebecca Pettit became my research focus. 

Thankfully, my research on Rebecca principally took place in Chester County, Pennsylvania where the Chester County Archives maintains many online indexes.[1] As organizations go, they are surely a friend!

I present four research strategies to ensure indexes remain your friend and not your foe. 

#1 – Always View the Original Document
Early in my research, I suspected that Rebecca Pettit’s father was likely Gardner Pettit, who was poor and resided in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I won’t get into the details here how the hypothesis developed as my report adequately address this. 

In my search, I consulted online indexes for poorhouse records maintained by the Chester County Archives and found three Pettit entries in the Poor School Children records (see below).[2] Poor School Children records list the children aged five to twelve whose parents require county assistance to educate their children.[3]

I ordered copies of the original records for the two Gardner Pettit entries as possible exhibits for my report but did not order the other record where the parents’ names were not listed. I was familiar enough with these records to know that if the parents’ names were not listed, I would only see the names of the children and their corresponding ages. So, what value is there to see the original record? 

Ok, you probably see where this is going. A couple of weeks later, I finally ordered the original 1823 record for James (aged 7) and Hosea (aged 5).[4] When I say I was shocked when I saw the actual record, this is an understatement. The spelling of Hosea didn’t quite look like Hosea. In fact, the actual written name for “Hosea” was only four letters long, not five. It seemed to be missing the “a”. 

If you’ve done much research during the U.S. Colonial period, you have probably noticed that people often wrote an “s” like an “f”. I could see how the transcriber might have thought the third character was an “s”, but I suspected differently. To me, it appeared like a “p”. If correct, then it made other indirect evidence I had come into better focus. Let me elaborate.

In the 1850 census, I found Evelina (Pettit) Orner living in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania, which is next to Chester County.[5] Recall that Evelina was one of the children of Gardner Pettit listed in the 1819 and 1820 Poor Children School records shown in the first image. Living with Evelina in 1850 was Hope Pettit whose birth year in the census was 1817,[6] which is one year off the 1818 birth year suggested in the Poor Children School record. 

A broader search for other Pettits in Berks County revealed a James C. Pettit living in the same city as Evelina and Hope.[7] The census indicated he was born in 1816, which is the same year as the Poor Children School record listed for the James appearing with Hope (Hosea). After building out the family trees for several of my cousin’s DNA matches, I discovered DNA matches to descendants for both James and Hope within appropriate shared DNA cM ranges and part of the same Pettit genetic clusters.

Analysis Summary: As communicated in an earlier blog post (The Power of Original Records), never accept indexes, transcriptions, or other derived records as correct. Like those who originally created the record, transcribers are human, and while rare, errors can exist. If possible, always view the original record.

#2 – Read the Entire Index Entry
Through Ancestry.com indexing of Chester County wills, I discovered that Gardner Pettit’s wife was Hannah Doughton.[8] I also knew Gardner Pettit was poor, so I consulted other poorhouse record groups, including Outdoor Allowances, which are funds paid out to individuals who were not qualified to be supported in the poorhouse, but who required assistance to live outside of it.[9]

As the image above shows, only three Pettit entries were found.[10] Hannah Pettit is found along with two other Pettit names that were unknown to me. If one concentrates solely on the names, other important information can be missed such as a possible relationship between Hannah, Enoch, and Warwick. Note all three entries are from the same year, same volume, and same page. This fact seems obvious when highlighted with red boxes. I hate to admit it, but I in my excitement and ferver in doing this research, I overlooked these facts the first time I viewed the index.

The actual record from the index is found below.

The above record does not indicate the relationship between Hannah Pettit and Enoch and Warwick Pettit, but if we consult other indexes, we may have a better understanding of this record thereby helping us to decide whether to order the original image. I found the following entries in the Poorhouse Steward’s Books, which capture detailed accounts for how poorhouse funds are allocated (see below).

A review of the actual record puts it all together. As shown below, Enoch and Warrick [sic] are stated to be the children of Gardner Pettit, and most probably, Hannah (Doughton) Pettit.[11]

Analysis Summary: If you have a concern for budget or time in acquiring original records, use multiple indexes to help you triangulate information. In our haste or excitement, we can miss obvious information or dismiss records as irrelevant because we don’t read the entire index entry. Indeed, as researchers we are often guilty of this with census records, for example, concentrating on names, ages, and birth locations but not reading information found in the columns to the right of the vital statistics, which can contain other clues and insightful information. 

#3 – View All Records for Your Surname of Interest
Sometimes we can become too focused on the person we are researching and miss other important records. I was searching for Rebecca Pettit, but she did not appear in any index held by the Chester County Archives. I only found her as a married adult in census records.[12]

Yet, when I expanded my search to all Pettit index entries, I discovered a significant amount of indirect evidence tying Rebecca to her newly discovered siblings and parents. This in turn led me to discover within my cousin’s autosomal DNA matches descendants of Rebecca’s new siblings, and they were all part of the same genetic cluster. (Note: I had to build out the family trees for many of my cousin’s matches to see these patterns, which is a topic for another blog post.)

#4 – Keep a Research Log
Maintaining a research log was critical for me to not only make these discoveries, but to see the patterns within the indirect evidence I collected. The log also ensured that I didn’t accidentally skip an index. Chester County has upwards of 100 indexes, depending how you count them! 

Create a research log that meets your needs, whether it be on paper or within software programs such as Word or Excel. Online Google Sheets or Airtable work extremely well, too, and can be easily accessible when you’re away from your computer. Nicole Dyer at Family Locket has several great videos on how to use Airtable and research logs.[13]

Summary in Brief
Indexes can be valuable tools in solving genealogical problems providing we spend the time to review the entire index entry and not rush to conclusions about what we find (or don’t find) in the index.


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[1] Chester County Archives (n.d.), Records, Guides & Indexes, Chester County, Pennsylvania, accessed 10 May 2022 at https://www.chesco.org/193/Records-Guides-Indexes.

[2] Chester County, Pennsylvania, “Poor School Children 1810-1842 P-Z”, Index, Chester County Archives (www.chesco.org, accessed 5 May 2022). 

[3] Chester County, Pennsylvania, “General Information” in Poor School Children Records, 1810-1842, Chester County Archives (www.chesco.org, accessed 10 May 2022).

[4] Chester County, Pennsylvania, Poor School Children Records, 1810-1842, James and Hope Pettit (1823), West Caln, p. 197; database with index, Chester County Archives (www.chesco.org, accessed 5 May 2022).

[5] 1850 U.S. census, Berks County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Reading South West Ward, p. 320b, dwelling 509, family 542, image 68 of 90, Adelina Lohner [Orner] in Jesse Lohner [Orner] household; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 10 April 2022); citing NARA microfilm M432, roll 752.

[6] 1850 U.S. census, Berks County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Reading South West Ward, p. 320b, dwelling 509, family 542, image 68 of 90, Hope Pettit in Jesse Lohner [Orner] household; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 10 April 2022); citing NARA microfilm M432, roll 752.

[7] 1850 U.S. census, Berks County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Reading Spruce Ward, p. 336b, dwelling 82, family 82, image 10 of 72, James C Petit; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 10 April 2022); citing NARA microfilm M432, roll 752.

[8] Pennsylvania, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993, Samuel Doughton (1825), West Caln, image 436 of 537; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 10 April 2022); citing Chester County Register of Wills, p. 163, Will Book O, Volume 14.

[9] Chester County, Pennsylvania, “Outdoor Allowances, 1800-1856”, Chester County Archives, West Chester (www.chesco.org, accessed 24 April 2022).

[10] Chester County, Pennsylvania, “Outdoor Allowances, 1800-1856, Pauper”, Chester County Archives, West Chester (www.chesco.org, accessed 24 April 2022).

[11] Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Book of Monthly Report of the Steward, 1825-1827, February Report 1824: Gardner Pettit, Warwick Pettit, and Enoch Pettit of West Caln (1825, January 25), p. 3.

[12] 1850 U.S. census, Chester County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Honey Brook, p. 391b, dwelling 174, family 191, image 24 of 48, Rebecca Goble in John Goble household; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 10 April 2022); citing NARA microfilm M432, roll 766.

[13] See for example, Dyer, N. (2020), How to Use Airtable to Create a Genealogy FAN Club Research Log, accessed 10 May 2022 at https://youtu.be/LtHLmpiJdYE. And Dyer, N. (2020), How to Use Airtable for a DNA Research Log, accessed 10 May 2022 at https://youtu.be/Xnq8FdiCDSc. And Dyer, N. (2022), Revisiting Research Logs Again, accessed 10 May 2022 at https://youtu.be/fnK86xJTZcI

Land Deed Witnesses: Clues to Family Relationships

Land deeds provide more information than the locations of where our ancestors lived. They abound with mentions of the FAN Club – friends, associates, and neighbors. One area often overlooked by researchers in favor of more direct evidence found in land records are the individuals who witness the land transactions. This may be because witness relationships to the those buying and selling the land are not always as obvious as others mentioned elsewhere in the document and thus constitute indirect evidence.

In my experience, witnesses to the land transfer tend to be a friend or family member of the grantor; a neighbor; or the spouse or other family member of the attorney, justice of the peace, or county judge acknowledging the transaction. Friends or family members of the grantee seem rarer.

Yet, witnesses can be just the clue needed to break through stubborn genealogical brick walls. Some researchers shy away from indirect evidence because it is, well, not direct. However, if you can build enough indirect evidence, you can develop a stronger proof argument. To be honest, it takes considerable time and effort to research witnesses, and it may not often pay off. But you just need one to work out for it to be worthwhile. You never know what you can discover. Consider the following two examples.

Finding the Maiden Name of my 18th Century Ancestor: Phebe (Penrose) Wilson
In Pennsylvania, marriage licenses were not required prior to 1885 and similar church records can be difficult to come by. My 5x times great grandmother, Phebe (d. 1842), married William Wilson (d. 1804) about 1783 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and her marriage was not recorded – at least not in the traditional sense.

Phebe was a Quaker, and her husband was not, which put her at odds with her faith and church. Quaker meeting minutes from the Richland Monthly Meeting in Bucks County record Phebe as marrying outside the Quaker faith and “expressing her sorrow” for doing so.[1] Unfortunately, Phebe was mentioned in the minutes by her married name with no other clues as to her maiden name.

In 1804, her husband died in New London, Chester County, Pennsylvania. In 1807, Phebe sold his land to William Streaper and moved to Richland, which is presumably where she lived at the time of her marriage to William Wilson.[2] The transaction was witnessed by W. (Walter) Finney and Isaiah Penrose. Walter Finney was the subscribing judge.

A broad search in Ancestry.com for an Isaiah Penrose anywhere in the U.S. during this time period revealed only one individual. He resided in Richland at the same time of the land transaction.[3] Further research identified that Isaiah Penrose died in 1817. In his will, he stated that “the remainder of my estate be equally divided between my three sisters – Phebe, Mary, Martha – but no last names are given.”[4] This mention suggested Isaiah may have been her brother, but being indirect evidence, I needed more to build my case.

A review of family trees on Ancestry suggested Isaiah may have been the son of Jonathan Penrose, who died in 1797.[5] In reviewing Jonathan’s estate file, he bequeaths “unto my daughter Phebe the sum of 33 pounds, six shillings, and eight pence”.[6] Unfortunately again, no married surname is given in this reference for Phebe. However, a “book debt against Phebe Wilson” for £5.10 is listed among Jonathan’s inventory of goods, chattels, and credits. Also, Mary, Martha, and Isaiah are additionally mentioned in the will indicating I found the correct family.

Based on the indirect evidence, I felt confident to proclaim Phebe’s maiden name as Penrose. Once established, I was able to discover several triangulated autosomal DNA matches through several of Phebe’s newly identified siblings.

Finding the Potential Father of my 18th Century Ancestor: Mary (McMasters) Boyd
My 5x great grandfather, William Boyd (1753-1836) married Mary McMasters (1755-1832) in 1778 Bucks County, Pennsylvania.[7] The parents for both William and Mary are unknown. However, William served in the Revolutionary War and wrote a 10-page letter in 1832 in support of his federal pension application where he provided two clues as to the potential identity of his wife’s father.[8] William stated he was living in Northampton Township, Bucks County at the time of his enlistment in 1776-1777 and that he twice served as a substitute for Hugh Edams, who was also of Northampton.

In exploring the possible connection between William Boyd and Hugh Edams, I reviewed all land records in Bucks County for Hugh as well as his brother Gayen and their father James, who, according to local tax records, were the only male Edams during this time period. In the search, I found one land transaction where James Edams purchased 60 acres of land in Northampton from Andrew Gilkeson in 1784. The purchase agreement was witnessed by James McMasters, William Simpson, and Robert Mearns Jr. while the exchange of funds between Edams and Gilkeson was witnessed by Thomas McMasters and William Simpson.[9]

I was able to quickly rule out James McMasters (1736-1806) as the potential father of Mary (McMasters) Boyd because James’ 1806 will mentioned that his daughter Mary was unmarried.[10]

This left Thomas McMasters as a potential candidate for Mary’s father. Thomas was the correct age to be Mary’s father as he was likely born before 1727 as evidenced by him witnessing the will of John Wells in 1748.[11] Mary (McMasters) Boyd was born about 1755.[12] Establishing a further connection between Thomas McMasters and James Edams is that Thomas is believed to have had a son named William McMasters, who was listed as single and living at the residence of James Edams in 1782 according to local tax records.[13] This is two years earlier than the witnessing of the transfer of funds between James Edams and Andrew Gilkeson.

While more research is needed to build a more complete argument for Thomas McMasters as the father of Mary (McMasters) Boyd, his appearance as a witness for James Edams is important given the association between Mary’s husband and the Edams family. It seems that the McMasters, Boyds, and Edams were well acquainted with one another. The Boyds and the McMasters owned no land and future records indicate both families were poor making them more difficult to locate in other traditional records.[14] It is possible that the Boyds and McMasters resided on (or nearby) James Edams’ large estate, which totaled more than 400 acres in Northampton, Bucks County.

Summary In Brief
Land records can provide more than the locations of where our ancestors lived. While witnesses to these transfers constitute only a very small part of the overall transaction, they divulge not so obvious relationships if we are persistent and willing to put in the effort to reveal their true identity.


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[1] U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, Phebe Wilson, 20 March 1783, Richland Monthly Meeting, Men’s Minutes, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, p. 167, image 86 of 115; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 7 April 2022), citing Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, Quaker Meeting Records.

[2] Bucks County, Pennsylvania, land deed, Phebe Wilson and Barack Michener to William Streaper (1807), Book A3, Vol. 39, p. 437-439, Recorder of Deeds, West Chester; database with an image (www.familysearch.org), image 238-239 of 308, film 8083334. And U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, Phebe Wilson, 20 March 1783, Richland Monthly Meeting, Women’s Minutes, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, p. 67, image 38 of 100; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 7 April 2022), citing Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, Quaker Meeting Records.

[3] Bucks County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Tax Records, 1782-1860, Isaiah Penrose (1806), Richland, image 8 of 23; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 6 April 2022); citing Bucks County Historical Society, Doylestown, Title No. 102, roll 18.

[4] Bucks County Registry of Wills, 1713-1906, Isaiah Penrose (1817), Vol. 9, pg. 223, image 134 of 256; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 6 April 2022).

[5] Family tree citing family relationship of Isaiah to Jonathan.

[6] Bucks County, Pennsylvania, estate file, no 2775, will, Jonathan Penrose (1797), Richland, Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, Doylestown.

[7] U.S. Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970, Willm Boyd and McMasters (1788), Newtown Presbyterian Church, Baptisms, Births, Marriages, 1769-1812, p. 20, image 22 of 148; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 14 March 2022); Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

[8] Pension Application, William Boyd, Sergeant, Revolutionary War, “Declaration of William Boyd in order to obtain the benefit of the Act of Congress passed June 7,1832”, dated 9 April 1833, Pension Application S.22,127, Pension Office, War Department, Washington, DC; online database with images, Fold3 (www.fold3.com, accessed 31 July 2018).

[9] Bucks County, Pennsylvania, land deed, James Edams from Andrew Gilkeson (1784), Book 22, p. 146-148, Recorder of Deeds, Doylestown; database with an image (www.familysearch.org), image 413-414 of 640, film 8067826.

[10] Bucks County, Pennsylvania, estate file, no 3380, will, James McMasters (1806), Upper Makefield, Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, Doylestown.

[11] Bucks County, Pennsylvania, estate file, no 608, will, John Wells (1748), Solebury, Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, Doylestown.

[12] Chester County, Pennsylvania, Poor House Admissions Index, 1800-1910, Mary Boyd (1830, aged 75), Chester town, Book RQS, Item ID 1800; database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 8 April 2022).

[13] Bucks County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Tax Records, 1782-1860, William McMasters (1782), Northampton, “single, at James Edams’, image 8 of 18; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 8 April 2022); citing Bucks County Historical Society, Doylestown, Title No. 102, roll 15.

[14] Chester County, Pennsylvania, Poor House Admissions Index, 1800-1910, William Boyd (1832, aged 79), Chester town, Book RQS, Item ID 1813; database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 8 April 2022). And McNealy, Terry and Frances Wise Waite (1982), Bucks County Tax Records, 1693-1778, Doylestown, PA: Bucks County Genealogical Society; Thomas McMasters (1775, Warwick, “poor”).

Breaking Through 18th and 19th Century Brick Walls: ‘Don’t Let Go of Your EGGOS’

Please forgive the reference to Kellogg’s popular 1970’s slogan for its toasted breakfast waffle in this blog’s title. I am a marketing professor by trade, and I just can’t help advertising references.

EGGOS is an acronym I developed and a successful strategy I use to break through genealogy brick walls for our ancestors who lived in the 1700s and 1800s. Traditional records here are often scarce preventing us from identifying the parents and grandparents for many of our ancestors.

EGGOS stands for “Earliest Generation Group of Siblings”, which is a systematic search strategy I use when evaluating autosomal DNA matches. When trying to identify the unknown parents for an ancestor, I concentrate on the shared matches associated with the siblings of the known ancestor. The sibling matches likely only share DNA originating from the unknown parents of the ancestor.1 The intent is to use shared matches from the earliest generation of siblings and not shared matches from another more recent generation of siblings as recent generations run the risk of having too many common parental lines. 

Most autosomal DNA websites have a “shared matches” or “in common with” feature, which permits you to see the other DNA matches you share with a cousin. Ancestry.com, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and 23andMe all have this feature as highlighted in the image below.

Putting it to an example better explains how it works and demonstrates how I used the EGGOS search strategy to discover the identity of my 3x great grandmother, Elizabeth Wilson Dye (1784-1860). But first, a brief background for Elizabeth to set up the example.

Brief Background
Based on the age and birth locations of their children, John Wilson (b. 1784) married Elizabeth around 1809 in Pennsylvania. John was living in New London, Chester County, Pennsylvania as late as 1806 and had moved to Richland, Bucks County, Pennsylvania by 1810.2 John and Elizabeth moved to Ohio by 1820, and John died in Tuscarawas County, Ohio prior to 1840.3 Elizabeth is found as a widow living in Short Creek, Harrison County, Ohio in 18404 and moved to Meigs County, Ohio by 1850 where she married Thomas Dye (b. 1776 New Jersey) on 15 August 1850.5 Elizabeth Wilson Dye died 19 March 1860 in Scipio Township, Meigs County.6

Autosomal DNA Analysis
Elizabeth Wilson Dye is shown as Elizabeth in Exhibit 1 below. For the analysis, I used my paternal aunt’s DNA to help answer this research question as she is one generation closer to Elizabeth than I am and potentially has about 50% more “original” DNA than I do. My aunt is shown as A1. 

Using the EGGOS method, I concentrated on DNA matches that descend from the earliest generation group of siblings for my known ancestor (James H. Wilson) who descends from the unknown ancestor (Elizabeth) I’m trying to discover. This means focusing on DNA matches like E1 because the only most recent common ancestors my aunt shares with E1 is likely to be John and Elizabeth Wilson. As such, any shared matches between my aunt (A1) and her fourth cousin (E1) also likely descend from John and Elizabeth Wilson assuming A1 and E1 share no other common ancestors.

Using the EGGOS method, it’s important to establish that I do not review any shared DNA matches in Exhibit 1 between my aunt (A1) and her closer cousins A2, A3, and A4 as they have too many recent common ancestors prior to their connection to Elizabeth. For example, A2 shares common grand parents (Wilson/Gallagher), great grandparents (Wilson/Pettit), 2x great grandparents (Wilson/Hill), and 3x great grandparents (John and Elizabeth Wilson). So reviewing shared matches between my aunt and A2 is inefficient.

Analyzing the Matches
Through extensive time spent with my aunt’s DNA matches in Ancestry.com, I identified 61 matches descending from John and Elizabeth Wilson other than those through my aunt’s direct ancestor, James H. Wilson. These matches, which constitute the EGGOS matches, descend through other siblings of James as represented by B1, C1, D1, and E1 below in Exhibit 2. 

For each of the 61 matches, I used the “Shared Matches” feature in Ancestry.com and reviewed the shared or in-common with matches between my aunt and the EGGOS matches. I frequently had to build out the family trees for these shared matches, which was a laborious process to be sure but extremely worthwhile. No brick wall comes crashing down without some level of effort. Across all the shared matches, several genetic clusters developed and were grouped around a few geographic locations and surnames. Exhibit 3 provides a graphical summary of the results.

A small genetic cluster of five DNA matches (group 1) was discovered descending from several different children of William Wilson and Phebe Penrose, who were the parents of John Wilson, the husband of our query. None of these matches matched the other genetic clusters suggesting that the other clusters were associated with Elizabeth.

The two largest clusters on the maternal side all had shared Boyd ancestry either living in Washington County, Pennsylvania (group 2) or Coshocton County, Ohio (group 3). These locations are visible on the map below in Exhibit 4. One other smaller Boyd cluster (group 4) was found in East Nottingham, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Two other clusters had shared Parker ancestry from either Bucks County, Pennsylvania (group 5) or from some yet unidentified location within Pennsylvania (group 6).

Documentary Evidence
After considerable research, I was able to link 10 of the 19 Coshocton County, Ohio matches to John Boyd (b. 1796 PA) and Susannah Huffman (b. 1805 PA), who married on 7 September 1820 in Washington County, Pennsylvania thereby establishing an association to the other large group of Boyds in Washington County.7 The remaining group of nine matches from Coshocton County descend from John G. Boyd (b. 1817 PA) and Jemima Cunningham (b. 1820 PA), who I have been unable to connect to either John and Susannah Huffman Boyd or the other Washington County, Pennsylvania Boyds.

One of the Boyds who lived in Washington County was Mary Boyd (b. 1801 PA) who married Ira Reese Butler (b. 1792 PA). Ira’s obituary states that his wife was born in New London Crossroads in Chester County, Pennsylvania.8

The smaller cluster of Boyds in East Nottingham, Chester County, Pennsylvania descends from a Jane Boyd (b. 1798 PA) and Benjamin McDonald (b. 1788 PA). The connection for several of these Boyds to East Nottingham and New London Crossroads is important as John Wilson, who married Elizabeth, lived in New London, Chester County from 1800 to 1810.9 John and Elizabeth married about 1809 based on the birth of their first child. The land of John’s father, William Wilson, was located on the border of New London and East Nottingham.

The possibility that Elizabeth may be a Boyd seemed promising. Two of John and Elizabeth’s children had the middle initial of “B”, and the common Chester County location was too much to ignore. Based on this hunch, I searched for all Boyds living in East Nottingham and New London between 1800 and 1810. I found three: Thomas Boyd, John Boyd, and William Boyd. Thomas Boyd had no daughters old enough to be Elizabeth.10 John Boyd died in 1837 and his will listed a daughter Elizabeth, but she was married to a Mr. Spear.11 William Boyd died in 1836 and left his Revolutionary War pension to his daughter, Jane McDonald of East Nottingham, who was part of group 4 identified in Exhibit 3.12

A search of pension files on Fold3 discovered a 10-page letter written by the above mentioned William Boyd in 1832 in support of his pension application.13 Among many items stated in the letter, he indicates having been born in 1753 in Plumstead, Bucks County, Pennsylvania and lived in Northampton Township, Bucks County at the time of enlistment. He also states that he later moved to Upper Makefield (Bucks County) then to Delaware County, Pennsylvania then to New London (Chester County), then to Washington County, and finally back to East Nottingham (Chester County). William’s letter, along with the presented research, geographically links all three Boyd clusters together across Coshocton, Washington, and Chester Counties. None of his children are mentioned in his pension application, but the 1800 and 1810 censuses suggest he had at least 10 children.14

In the pension application, William’s mention of living in Bucks County in his formative years led to the discovery of a 1778 marriage record for William Boyd to Miss (Mary) McMasters,15 which likely explains the Parker / McMasters genetic cluster (group 5) from Bucks County in Exhibit 3. 

Summary Conclusion
Based on the analysis of the shared matches using the EGGOS search strategy, I concluded that Elizabeth was likely the daughter of William and Mary McMasters Boyd. While no direct evidence establishes Elizabeth as William’s daughter, the DNA evidence coupled with the indirect evidence presented here and other evidence not discussed in this blog post provides reasonably exhaustive research establishing her identity as Elizabeth Boyd Wilson Dye (1784-1860).


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Sources
1. It is possible that you may share more than one common ancestor with these matches especially if your family lived in small communities where families frequently intermarried (i.e., endogamy).
2. Pennsylvania, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993, William Wilson, Chester County, Minors’ Estate Papers, 1717-1820, image 453 of 849; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 14 March 2022), citing Chester County, Pennsylvania Orphans’ Court. And 1810 U.S. census, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Richland, p. 888, image 5 of 5, John Wilson; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 March 2022); Family History Library Film 193672, roll 46.
3. Chester County, Pennsylvania, estate file, no. 11253, John Wilson (1848, Tuscarawas County, Ohio), Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
4. 1840 U.S. census, Harrison County, Ohio, population schedule, Short Creek, p. 217, image 16 of 21, Elizabeth Wilson (14th family listed); database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 20 February 2022); citing NARA microfilm M704, roll 402.
5. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records 1773-1993, Meigs County, Thomas Dye and Elizabeth Wilson (15 August 1850), p. 415, image 207; database with image, Ancestry (www.Ancestry.com, accessed 17 February 2022). 
6. Find A Grave, database with images (https://findagrave.com, accessed 20 February 2022), memorial page for Elizabeth Dye (1784-1860), Find A Grave Memorial ID 7233800, maintained by Robin (Cuttingham) Townsend-Fife (contributor 47314881); citing Shipman Cemetery, Meigs County, Ohio, USA.
7. Malmat, Bonnie (1990), Abstracts of the Washington Reporter: Washington County, PA, Vol. 4 (1820-1822), Item 253, Monday, 11 Sep 1820. “On Thursday last by William Wallace Esq., Mr. John Boyd, of Williamsport to Miss Susannah Huffman, of Somerset Twp.”
8. The Daily Republican (1884, July 22), “Capt. Ira R. Butler”, p. 4, col. 1, Monongahela, PA; online database, https://Newspapers.com, accessed 14 March 2022.
9. See footnote 2. And Chester County, Pennsylvania, land deed, James Johnson to William Wilson (1800), New London Township, Book S-2, Volumne 42, p. 394-395, Recorder of Deeds, West Chester; database with an image FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org), image 201 of 693, film 8067020.
10. 1800 U.S. census, Chester County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Nottingham, p. 868, image 2 of 3, Thomas Boyd; database with image, Ancestry(www.ancestry.com, accessed 14 March 2022); Family History Library Film 363339, roll 36.
11. Chester County, Pennsylvania, will (book 17, p. 162), John Boyd (1837, Lower Oxford), Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, West Chester.
12. Chester County, Pennsylvania, will (book 17, p. 264), William Boyd (1835, Chester County), Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, West Chester.
13. Pension Application, William Boyd, Sergeant, Revolutionary War, “Declaration of William Boyd in order to obtain the benefit of the Act of Congress passed June 7,1832”, dated 9 April 1833, Pension Application S.22,127, Pension Office, War Department, Washington, DC; online database with images, Fold3 (www.fold3.com, accessed 31 July 2018).
14. 1800 U.S. census, Chester County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Nottingham, p. 866, image 1 of 3, William Boyd; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 14 March 2022); Family History Library Film 363339, roll 36. And 1810 U.S. census, Chester County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Nottingham, p. 202, image 4 of 5, Wm Boyde [Boyd]; database with image, Ancestry(www.ancestry.com, accessed 14 March 2022); Family History Library Film 193673, roll 47.
15. U.S. Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970, Willm Boyd and McMasters (1778, October 22), Newtown Presbyterian Church, Baptisms, Births, Marriages, 1769-1812, p. 20, image 22 of 148; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 14 March 2022); Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Using Handwriting to Prove a Relationship: When the Writing is not on the Wall

Have you ever discovered weak indirect evidence connecting two individuals as family members but wanted to develop a more convincing argument? You might want to consider using handwriting analysis. Let me explain how I used it to provide additional evidence for a proof argument establishing that a woman named Elizabeth Wilson Dye was the mother to my 3x great grandfather, James H. Wilson.

Background Information
On 15 August 1850, Elizabeth Wilson (b. 1784 Pennsylvania) married Thomas Dye (b. 1776 New Jersey) in Meigs County, Ohio where my ancestor, James H. Wilson, was living at the time.1 Thomas Dye died 8 Apr 1858 in Scipio Township, Meigs County, Ohio and Elizabeth Wilson Dye died 19 March 1860 also in Scipio Township.2 James H. Wilson lived in Rutland Township in 1850, which is adjacent to Scipio Township, but he later moved to Scipio Township by 1860.3 In the estate file for Thomas Dye, a man named John Wilson witnessed Thomas’ will, which was dated 10 August 1854.4

Could John Wilson be a clue to Elizabeth Wilson Dye’s identity?

In my earlier blog post, Targeted Y-DNA Testing: Uniting a Band of Brothers, Part 2, I successfully established that James H. Wilson had a brother named John Wilson (also known as John B. Wilson). I also established that their father, also called John Wilson, died prior to 1840 in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. So, it is conceivable that their mother would have been a widow with the last name of Wilson in 1850 when she married Thomas Dye, assuming she hadn’t remarried since the death of her husband John Wilson.

There were several items of indirect evidence tying Elizabeth Wilson Dye to James H. Wilson:

  • James and Elizabeth lived in the same or adjacent communities in Meigs County, Ohio between 1850-1860
  • Elizabeth was born 1784 and the right age to be James’ mother
  • Elizabeth was born in Pennsylvania as was James and his brother John

If I could prove that John Wilson, the witness, was the same as John Wilson, the brother of James H. Wilson, then I might be able to construct a stronger argument that Elizabeth was James’ mother. 

Handwriting Analysis
I started with what I knew. John Wilson was a witness to Thomas Dye’s will, and it contained his signature – twice actually. Once on the will itself and once on the affidavit affirming he was present at the execution of the last will and testament of Thomas Dye.

I compared these two signatures to the only other confirmed signature of John Wilson, who was the brother of James H. Wilson. In 1860, John signed the administrator’s bond for the estate of his deceased brother, Robert Wilson. All three signatures are shown below.

Immediately, you might notice several irregularities among the three signatures. The two signatures for John Wilson associated with Thomas Dye’s will (items A and B above) don’t look the same. While found within the same estate file for Thomas Dye, there are striking differences in the “J” for John, the “W” for Wilson, and the “n” in both John and Wilson. The top loop of the “J” loops counterclockwise in the 1854 witnessing of the will (A) and loops clockwise in the 1858 affidavit (B). Similarly, the first stroke for the “W” is a straight line in the will (A) and curved in the affidavit (B). Finally, the end stroke for the “n” comes from the bottom in the will (A) and from the top of the “n” in the affidavit (B). These differences are highlighted below.

It seems more likely that the signature for John Wilson on the will was written on the paper by whomever wrote the will or transcribed it into the estate file. When you compare the signature for the other witness, L.S. Townsend, in the will (A) to the affidavit (B), the signatures are also different as they were for John (see below). Indeed, the “T” in Townsend in the signature in the will is written in the same style as the “T” in Testament in a portion of the will’s text above the signatures. It seems that L.S. Townsend’s signature was similarly written by someone else other than L.S. Townsend.

Another irregularity between the signatures is the middle initial of “B”, which appears in the administrator’s bond (C) but is absent in the other two signatures (see signatures A and B in the first image). However, this is reconciled in that John’s middle initial was “B”, but he did not always use it. At least a third of his 10 land sales in Meigs County deed books did not include his middle initial.

Rather than focus on the first signature (A), the better analysis might be to compare John Wilson’s signature in the affidavit (B) to the administrator’s bond (C) as the affidavit appears to be the witness’s actual signature whereas the signatures on the will appears to be transcribed onto the page by someone other than the witnesses. 

While I felt comfortable making the determination of whether these two signatures (B and C) were from the same man, I wanted an expert and unbiased opinion to either corroborate or refute it. So, I hired a handwriting specialist, Dr. Hedy Bookin-Weiner, who was a member of the American Board of Forensic Handwriting Analysis. Dr. Bookin-Weiner’s analysis confirmed my theory pointing out several similarities between the two signatures as highlighted below. This includes the pointed humps on the “n” and the hook off the end of the “n”. She also noted the similar characteristics in the “W” for both signatures with the letter having a loop at its beginning and an angled slope at its base. 

Putting It All Together
The handwriting analysis provides evidence that the signatures in the affidavit (B) and the administrator’s bond (C) were from the same man suggesting that John Wilson had some relationship to Elizabeth Wilson Dye. The geographic proximity of the Dyes to the Wilsons, who lived about one mile apart, makes the proof argument stronger. So strong in fact, that the conclusion helped other genealogical data points on my radar to come into greater focus, which I briefly elaborate on next.

John B. Wilson married Leticia Jones on 13 February 1840 in Harrison County, Ohio,5 which is adjacent to Tuscarawas County where James and John B.’s father died prior to 1840. Tuscarawas County is also where my James married.6 Previously in my Wilson research, I had noticed that a John Wilson was living next door to an Elizabeth Wilson in the 1840 census in Short Creek Township, Harrison County.7 However, I couldn’t be sure this was John B. Wilson as I had no knowledge of an Elizabeth Wilson being connected to John at that time. In fact, the estate file tying James and John together as brothers in my previous blog post made no mention of their mother by name.

In the 1840 census, John Wilson had no children, which is consistent with a marriage occurring earlier in that same year. Elizabeth had two children living with her. If this was their mother, it is consistent with her known unmarried children at that time. Four children were married by 1840 leaving two unmarried boys. According to the 1840 census, the two children living with Elizabeth were the correct ages to be Robert and David, who were James and John B.’s two youngest siblings. 

Finally, living next door to John and Elizabeth in Short Creek were Isaac Mendenhall and Jesse Goodwin, who were married to second cousins of Elizabeth’s deceased husband John. Wrapping it up in a perfect genealogical bow was the observation that Jesse Goodwin was the individual who gave the 1850 deposition discussed in the estate file from my previous blog post, which said that William, Sarah, James, John, Robert, and David were living in Meigs County and were the children of John Wilson (deceased).8

Sometimes the writing on the genealogical wall doesn’t immediately give us the answer we’re looking for. It doesn’t always include direct evidence. Sometimes, we might be more productive spending less time concentrating on a document’s literal meaning and more time on the patterns within the individual words. Handwriting can give an entirely new meaning and perspective to the words on a page. 

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Sources
1. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records 1773-1993, Meigs County, Thomas Dye and Elizabeth Wilson (15 August 1850), p. 415, image 207; database with image, Ancestry (www.Ancestry.com, accessed 17 February 2022). And 1850 U.S. census, Meigs County, Ohio, population schedule, Rutland, p. 98b, dwelling 1429, family 1429, image 20 of 42, James Wilson; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 17 February 2022); citing NARA microfilm M432, roll 710.
2. Find A Grave, database with images (https://findagrave.com, accessed 20 February 2022), memorial page for Elizabeth Dye (1784-1860), Find A Grave Memorial ID 7233800, maintained by Robin (Cuttingham) Townsend-Fife (contributor 47314881); citing Shipman Cemetery, Meigs County, Ohio, USA. And Find A Grave, database with images (https://findagrave.com, accessed 20 February 2022), memorial page for Thomas “Tom” Dye Sr. (1776-1858), Find A Grave Memorial ID 69952740, maintained by brenda (contributor 47032235); citing Shipman Cemetery, Meigs County, Ohio, USA.
3. 1850 U.S. census, James Wilson. And 1860 U.S. census, Meigs County, Ohio, population schedule, Scipio, p. 187, dwelling 258, family 233, image 33 of 44, James Willson; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 29 February 2022); citing NARA microfilm M653, roll 1008.
4. Meigs County, Ohio, estate file, no. 449, Record Book 2, pg. 319, Thomas Dye (1858), Scipio, Probate Court, Pomeroy.
5. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records 1774-1993, Harrison County, John Wilson and Letticia Jones (13 February 1840), p. 43, image 563; database with image, Ancestry (www.Ancestry.com, accessed 17 February 2022).
6. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records 1773-1993, Tuscarawas County, James Wilson and Susan Hill (8 October 1837), p. 313, no. 2500, image 158; database with image, Ancestry (www.Ancestry.com, accessed 20 February 2022).
7. 1840 U.S. census, Harrison County, Ohio, population schedule, Short Creek, p. 217, image 16 of 21, John Wilson (13th family listed) and Elizabeth Wilson (14th family listed); database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 20 February 2022); citing NARA microfilm M704, roll 402.
8. Chester County, Pennsylvania, estate file, no. 11253, John Wilson (1848, Tuscarawas County, Ohio), Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Targeted Y-DNA Testing: Uniting a Band of Brothers, Part 2

In the previous blog post, I introduced the research objective, which was to use Y-DNA testing to determine whether five Wilson men, who were all living in a small rural Meigs County, Ohio town, were brothers. The hope was that if I could do so, I would be able to cast a wider genealogical net to identify my 4x great grandparents, and if correct, would also be the parents of these five Wilson men.

As a quick recap, between 1850 and 1860 five Wilson males, who were about the same age and whose birth locations suggested a migration pattern from Pennsylvania to Ohio, were found in this small Meigs County town. My ancestor, James H. Wilson (1815-1885) was one of them:

  • William B., born 1810 Pennsylvania
  • James H., born 1815 Pennsylvania
  • John B., born 1818 Pennsylvania
  • Robert, born 1820 Ohio
  • David, born 1825 Ohio

The Research Plan
Following the four-step process outlined in Part 1 of the blog post, I successfully recruited four research collaborators to participate in the Y-DNA research study. Three of the collaborators helped me to find living male descendants with a direct paternal connection to one of the above Wilsons while one collaborators became a test taker himself. I was able to find test takers for all of the five Wilson men except for William B. Wilson, who appears to have never had any biological children. 

Although I previously had my Y-DNA tested, I opted to find another male descendant to represent my James H. Wilson line as I was on average one to two generations further removed from the assumed common ancestor than the other test takers. Given that Y-DNA can mutate with each successive generation, it is recommended to find individuals who have fewer generations separating themselves from a common ancestor to minimize the number of possible mutations. 

Each test taker took a Y-DNA test from FamilyTreeDNA where 111 markers were tested. At the time of this research in 2009, a 111-marker test was the most advance test available. The figure below graphically displays how each test taker connects to the hypothesized common ancestor on the Wilson paternal line (note: the two most recent generations, including the test taker, are privatized). Test takers are denoted with the letters A, B, C and D.

Before presenting the results of the test, a quick note about ordering tests for participants. Unless you are 100% certain of your test taker’s lineage, I first recommend ordering an entry level Y-DNA test rather than one testing all available markers. For example, today a Y-37 test is an entry level test for the male Y chromosome and the Big Y700 is the most advanced test at FamilyTreeDNA.com, which differs in pricing by more than $300. This can potentially save you money by making sure all participants match at the lower level before upgrading the number of tested markers to a level able to discern closer family relationships. You may quickly learn that your test takers don’t match your family requiring you to adjust your hypothesis.

Interpreting the Results
As alluded to in Part 1 of the blog post, interpreting the results was extremely challenging, especially in 2009 when Y-DNA tests had only been commercially available for several years. However, what was easy to interpret was that all four test takers were part of the same haplogroup (I-M253), which refers to the major branches on the human paternal family tree. This was encouraging as it told me they all share a common paternal Wilson ancestor…but how far back in time was their most recent common ancestor (MRCA)?

Beyond the identification of the haplogroup, Y-DNA tests also provide the values for each of the 111 markers tested. Differences in marker values between test takers is referred to as a mutation. The greater the number of mutations, the greater the genetic distance and so the more distantly related the two individuals are to one another. The genetic distances for my test takers are found below. For example, the genetic distance between test taker A and B is four meaning that the two men had four markers with different values or mutations.

The genetic distances between my test takers ranged from three to six mutations. Most of the test takers were five generations removed from the hypothesized MRCA. FamilyTreeDNA suggests the chance of these four men sharing a male Wilson ancestor within five generations was below 50%.1 Not entirely encouraging. 

However, research then and now indicates that some of the 111 markers mutate much more rapidly than other markers and so calculating the time and probability to the MRCA may not be so straightforward.2 Some of these so-called rapidly mutating markers are also thought to vary by paternal family haplogroups.3 Indeed, several of the markers where differences existed for my test takers clustered on several markers, which appeared to be rapidly mutating as more than half of the test takers had different values at these locations (i.e., DYS570, DYS710, and DYS712). 

While it would be difficult for a layman like myself to mathematically adjust the time and probabilities to the MRCA based on the identification of some rapidly mutating markers, I knew this likely improved the odds for these men being kin. How much? I was not sure. However, I did have other documentary evidence suggesting these five Wilson men were not strangers: one sold land to another in 1854 and two were enumerated adjacent to one another on the 1850 census.4 In 2011 when I concluded my research, I cautiously proclaimed them to be brothers or at the very least cousins. This tentative conclusion permitted me to cast a wider genealogical net in the search for the parents of my James H. Wilson ancestor. 

Fast-forward by nearly 10 years when I discovered an 1848 estate file in Chester County, Pennsylvania for John Wilson who died prior to 1840 in Tuscarawas County, Ohio.[5] The file contained an 1850 deposition from a cousin of John Wilson (deceased) identifying John’s heirs as none other than the following siblings living in Meigs County, Ohio (listed in the letter in the following order): William B. Wilson, James Wilson, John Wilson, Robert Wilson, David Wilson, and Sarah Ann Burnison. All were heirs of William Wilson (deceased), the father to John Wilson (deceased) and the grandfather to William B., James H., John B., Robert, David, and Sarah Ann. William had died in 1804 in Chester County leaving an estate that took more than two decades to settle. William’s son, John Wilson, had died before 1840 in Tuscarawas County leaving no estate file making the discovery of William’s estate file (and name) a real chore.

In addition to confirming the tentative conclusion from the Y-DNA analysis, the deposition also identified a sister and a grandfather for James H. Wilson! Talk about a winning the genealogical lottery, which is not to diminish the discovery of the estate file as an instance of luck. As mentioned, it took nearly 10 years to find.

While the process of finding the 1848 estate file is the subject for another (future) blog post, the Y-DNA project suggesting kinship for the Wilson brothers gave me the confidence to quickly proclaim my James H. Wilson as THE James Wilson listed in the letter because I knew he was genetically associated with William, John, Robert, and David, who were also listed in the letter.

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Sources
1. Family Tree DNA (n.d.), “If two men share a surname, how should the genetic distance at 111 Y-chromosome STR markers be interpreted?” accessed on 7 February 2022 from https://learn.familytreedna.com/y-dna-testing/y-str/two-men-share-surname-genetic-distance-111-y-chromosome-str-markers-interpreted/.
2. Ballantyne, Kaye N. et al. (2010), “Mutability of Y-Chromosomal Microsatellites: Rates, Characteristics, Molecular Bases, and Forensic Implications,” The American Journal of Human Genetics, 87(3), 341-353.
3. Kerchner, Charles F. (2005), “An Overview and Discussion of Various DNA Mutation Rates and DNA Haplotype Mutation Rates. Do the YSTR Haplotypes in some Y Chromosome Male Lines Mutate Faster Than in Other Male Lines?” accessed on 7 Feburary 2022 from http://www.kerchner.com/dnamutationrates.htm.
4. 1850 U.S. census, Meigs County, Ohio, population schedule, Rutland, p. 89a-b, image 1-2 of 42, Robert Wilson and David Wilson households; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 7 February 2022); NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 710. And Meigs County, Ohio, land deed, John B. and Letisha Wilson to Robert Wilson (1854), Book 17, p. 427, Recorder of Deeds, Pomeroy; database with an image (www.familysearch.org), image 236 of 704, film 313488.
5. Chester County, Pennsylvania, estate file, no. 11253, John Wilson (1848, Tuscarawas County, Ohio), Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Targeted Y-DNA Testing: Uniting a Band of Brothers, Part 1

Sometimes the solution to breaking through your own genealogical brick walls resides within the DNA of other people. You could wait around for that “other” person to test, or you could proactively search that person out. Constructing a research plan to find the living descendants of the family to whom you think you are connected and asking them to take a DNA test is called targeted testing.

I would like to share a success story about how I used targeted DNA testing to discover the identity of my 4x great grandparents. This two-part blog post will not only share the DNA results and analysis but also a four-step process for finding research collaborators to help with the targeted DNA testing.

The Research Context
The year was 2009. For nearly 10 years prior, I struggled to identify the parents of my 3x great grandfather, James H. Wilson (1815-1885). While I was seemingly at a dead end, I had noticed a pattern in the 1850 census in Meigs County, Ohio. In the same small town of 1,748 souls in rural Southeastern Ohio where my ancestor lived, there were three other male Wilsons about the same age – one was born in Pennsylvania like my ancestor and two who were born in Ohio.1 By 1860, a fourth male Wilson appeared in town, who was also born in Pennsylvania.2 

Including my ancestor, the five Wilson men were:

  • William B., born 1810 Pennsylvania
  • James H., born 1815 Pennsylvania
  • John B., born 1818 Pennsylvania
  • Robert, born 1820 Ohio
  • David, born 1825 Ohio

Could they be brothers? If I could prove they were, researching each of them might help me cast a wider genealogical net in the search for documents leading to the discovery of my elusive 4x great grandparents. 

Y-DNA Tests as a Research Strategy
I had previously taken a Y-DNA test three years earlier, and so I was familiar with its ability to identify males as being part of the same patrilineal group. Y-DNA tests analyze the Y male chromosome for genetic markers passed down mostly unchanged from father to son. So, if I could find a living male descendant with an unbroken paternal connection from each of the above-mentioned lines, I might be able to prove they were all brothers. While this wouldn’t directly identify the parents of James H. Wilson, I hoped it could generate qualified leads. 

Finding Research Collaborators for Targeted Testing
I thought the most difficult task would be finding a living male Wilson descendant to take the Y-DNA test. It actually wasn’t. As it turned out, it was relatively easy. The most difficult tasks were waiting for the results and then interpreting them. Below is a four-step process I developed to find the test takers that made the search task less difficult.

Step 1: Find Active Researchers
It is important to search for fellow genealogists who are actively researching your line of interest or who are simply actively researching in general. These researchers are the most likely to be receptive to the “ask” and respond to messages. 

At the time, I relied on listservs and message boards (then Rootsweb and Genealogy.com) to find others who were posting information or queries about any of “my” Wilson men or their descendants. Today, I rely on Ancestry.com message boards, queries posted in local historical society publications, and member profile pages on genealogical websites indicating how active they are. For example, see the member profile page for my Ancestry.com account, which is viewable to all Ancestry members, and one of my matches on Living DNA. Both sites indicate how active researchers are (highlighted within the red circle). Ancestry.com and Living DNA readily indicate who active we are.

I also use posted family trees. Because I was looking for male Wilsons to take the Y-DNA test, I needed a male who is currently a Wilson descending patrilineally from one of my Wilson lines of interest. I start by entering the name for one of the other potential brothers into a family tree search engine like those at Ancestry.com. In the search, I concentrate on family trees where its owner had included Wilson in the title of their family tree (see red circle in the image below). I find most researchers posting family trees either title it with their birth surname or the surnames associated with their four grandparents. 

The owners of these trees are likely the genealogist in their family and are likely more willing to take the test themselves or convince their family members to take the test, which works better than a cold call from me. I find it doesn’t matter whether the owner of the tree is male or female providing they are within one or possibly two generations of my Wilson surname of interest as they can likely find a brother or first cousin to take the test. 

Step 2: Build Rapport
Often, we want to jump into the ask before establishing rapport. People are funny about DNA – even fellow genealogists. So, I never ask for their assistance in taking or finding someone to take a DNA test in the first communication. Over the course of several messages, I establish that I am actively researching the Wilson surname in that town, ask if they are aware of any connections of their line to the other Wilsons there, offer to share other research or documents I have accumulated, and ask their advice on researching in the locale. 

Once the researcher responds to my message, I believe there’s both an art and a science to the timing of the reply. I find people are more responsive if you match their sense of urgency. If they respond in a couple of hours, I try to do so. If they take several days to respond, I take a couple of days to respond even though I am often biting my tongue while waiting! My experience has been that if I am too eager in responding and they are not, I might come across too impatient, obsessed, or even a scammer. 

I have only one exception to the above strategy. When I’m replying to someone through an in-app messaging platform, such as Ancestry.com, that requires the user to login to see and reply to the message, I respond as quickly as I can. This is especially important if you know they’re not an active researcher as they may not return to the website to see my response for several months.

Step 3: Make the Ask
When it comes time for the ask, I take a soft-sell approach so as to not appear too aggressive. Over the course of several messages, I ask if they are familiar with DNA testing or had ever considered using it as part of their research strategy. This may take several messages. When I feel the time is right, I then ask if they are willing to participate in my research project as either a test taker or in finding someone. 

I typical use some form of the following language indicating that “I would be willing to sponsor the test as it would be most helpful with my research”. I purposely use the word “sponsor” rather than saying I would “pay” for the DNA test. While the difference is subtle, I believe “sponsor” is more professional sounding and research-focused. I also find it less likely to offend or suggest that someone doesn’t have the money to pay for it themselves. 

Lastly, I of course offer to share the results in whatever format they desire and respect whatever privacy wishes they have in managing the test and its results.

Step 4: Follow Up with Your Collaborator
As genealogists, we know it can often take considerable time to get the results back contingent on the company and/or type of test. Depending on your agreed upon communication schedule or rapport you established with your research collaborator, I recommend keeping them in the loop but don’t overburden them with messages. If you are to be the administrator for the test, at the minimum, I recommend letting them know when the kit is received by the testing lab, when the results are back, and when you complete your analysis.

I realize these four steps may sound overly strategic and void of emotion. It’s important to note that I don’t treat collaborators as transactions, but I do pay attention to the details. I actually think with my head but engage with my heart. The truth is the collaborators who helped in this research project actually turned out to be third cousins and after 10 years, we still remain in relatively close contact, and I have actually met several of them in person!

In Part 2 of the blog post, I present the results of the targeted Y-DNA testing and discuss how I used it to expand my research and break through my genealogical brick wall.

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Sources
1. 1850 U.S. census, Meigs County, Ohio, population schedule, Rutland, p. 89a-b, 98b, and 109b, image 1-2, 20, and 42 of 42, Robert Wilson, David Wilson, James Wilson, and John Wilson households; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 7 February 2022); NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 710. 
2. 1860 U.S. census, Meigs County, Ohio, population schedule, Scipio, p. 187, image 34 of 45, William Wilson household; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 7 February 2022); NARA microfilm publication M653. 

Identifying John Wilson’s Irish Origins, Part 3: Documentary Evidence & Conclusions

Using both Y-DNA and autosomal DNA (at-DNA) in the previous two blog posts, the ancestral origin of John Wilson (1716-1799) appears to be in an area east of Enniskillen, which is the largest town in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The purpose of the final blog post is to use documentary evidence to corroborate previous findings and use historical writings to provide rich context to John Wilson’s story of immigration to America.

For the documentary portion of the research, the relevant time periods span the late 1600s to capture the period leading up to the birth of John Wilson in 1716, to the mid 1700s to capture when the Pennsylvania Cluster likely left for America, and to the mid 1800s to capture when the New Haven Cluster similarly left for America. Unfortunately, very few Irish records are available to search due in part to the early period of interest and that many early records were destroyed in 1922 during the Irish Civil War. The available records searched for this research project include:
– 1630 Muster Rolls
– 1749-1753 Freeholders’ records
– 1766 Religious Census of Ireland
– 1823-1840 Tithe Applotment records
– 1848-1864 Griffith’s Valuation records

Religious Census of Ireland (1766)

The earliest and most comprehensive set of records is the 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, which provides a list of heads of households and their religion and was used to help the Church of Ireland retain its monopoly power in Ireland.1 Heads of household are listed by townland.

The prior Big Y, autosomal, and chromosome mapping DNA analyses suggest that Bannon, Burgess, Cosgrove, and Farry are, in a manner of speaking, the members of John Wilson’s FAN Club (friends, associates, and neighbors). While Wilson was one of the more common surnames in County Fermanagh in the 18th century (20 families), the surnames of Bannon (3 families), Burgess (2 families), Cosgrove (1 family), and Farry (2 families) were less prevalent.2 Identifying where the Bannon, Burgess, Cosgrove, and Farry families lived during the 1766 Religious Census and triangulating it with the locations of where the Wilson families lived may help to better pinpoint the ancestral townland for John Wilson.

All Bannons, Burgesses, and Farrys were found in the parish of Derryvullan or in neighboring Enniskillen (see Table 1 below). The only Cosgrove (Cosgrave) is found in the far north of County Fermanagh and not likely relevant given the locations of Bannons, Burgesses, and Farrys. As hypothesized in Figure 5 in second blog post, it is probable that the DNA cluster with Cosgrove is related to Henry Cosgrove’s reputed wife, Mary Jane Wilson, rather than the Cosgrove line.

When the Wilsons are overlayed onto the Bannon, Burgess, and Farry results, two clusters are visible around two different townlands, which are about 2.5 miles apart and to the east of Enniskillen in the Parish of Derryvullan. Five Wilson heads of household are found in Derryhillagh (i.e., John, Richard, William, William, and Widow) and one Wilson head of household in Cavancarragh (i.e., Robert). See Figure 9 below.

Derryhillagh is the townland from where two of the Big Y cluster matches hail (see Wilson 4 and Wilson 7 in Figure 2 in the first blog post). Cavancarragh is the townland where the Bannon New Haven at-DNA Cluster were from and the town near where the Farry County Fermanagh at-DNA Match was from. While more Wilson heads of household are found in Derryhillagh than in Cavancarragh, all the allied surnames of interest are found around Cavancarragh with only Bannon and Farry heads of household found here making Robert Wilson in Cavancarragh a person of interest.

Tithe Applotment Records (1823-1840)

The next earliest and most comprehensive set of records in County Fermanagh are the Tithe Applotment Records, which was a tax payable to the Church of Ireland for occupiers of agricultural holdings.3 Concentrating on the area east of Enniskillen previously identified in the Religious Census as the possible focal area, all Bannon, Burgess, Cosgrove, and Farry heads of households living in the area were mapped and is displayed in Figure 10. The Tithe Applotment Records in this area of County Fermanagh were created between 1829 and 1835.

Similar to the 1766 Religious Census, a majority of the Wilson heads of household were found in Derryhillagh, but only the Bannon and Farry heads of household are found in and around Cavancarragh suggesting that Cavancarragh may be a townland of interest, especially for the at-DNA clusters previously presented in the second blog post who arrived America in the mid 1800s, i.e., Bannon New Haven Cluster and the Farry County Fermanagh Match. Indeed, the ancestors of the Bannon New Haven Cluster are found in the Tithe Applotment Records in Cavancarragh (James, James Jr., and Michael Bannon).4 The Wilsons in Cavancarragh include Catherine, John, Mary, and Robert.

Griffith’s Valuation (1848-1864)

The final most comprehensive set of early records available in County Fermanagh are Griffith’s Valuation, which was a property tax administered between 1848 and 1864 and provided a detailed valuation of agricultural and built property.5 This resource is helpful in establishing where in Fermanagh the “County Fermanagh Farry Match” likely resided before arriving in Philadelphia in the 1880s (see the previous blog post for a more detailed discussion of the Farrys). Bridget (Farry) Carr is the immigrant ancestor for this cluster. Her parents were James Farry and Catherine Bannon, and their children were baptized in the Tempo Parrish, which is near Cavancarragh.6

While Griffith’s Valuation was administered between 1848 to 1864, the area surrounding Cavancarragh was principally assessed in 1862. James Farry’s first child appears to have been born in 18587 and so James should be listed in Griffith’s Valuation. One James Farry was identified in the vicinity of Tempo Parrish, and he was in the townland of Cloghtogle, which is a tier 1 townland to Cavancarragh.8 The only other James Farry near Tempo was in the townland of Cavantilly-Cormick, which is located further from Tempo but still only a couple of miles from Cavancarragh.9 In either instance, it establishes that Bridget (Farry) Carr’s origins are likely near Cavancarragh.

Historical Evidence

Based on the preceding evidence, it appears that Cavancarragh is the location of interest and the Robert Wilson found in the 1766 Religious Census in Cavancarragh is a potential person of interest. Reviewing historical accounts of County Fermanagh may confirm whether Cavancarragh is the ancestral origin of John Wilson (1716-1799) and whether John is a direct descendant of Robert.

Historical Context

The British (English and Scottish) settlement of Ulster (Northern) Ireland began in 1610, and by 1630 Scottish settlements in County Fermanagh were the greatest around Ballinamallard, Lisnaskea, and between Derrygonnelly and Lisgoole while English settlements were greatest around Castle Archdale, Enniskillen, and Newtown Butler (see Figure 11).10 The lands surrounding Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh are located in the Barony of Tirkennedy, which were granted to servitors (i.e., those who served the king in Ireland as soldiers or government officials) and to the native Irish (i.e., the Maguire clan).11 However, British settlement in this part of Tirkennedy was sparse in 1659.12 Indeed, in Derryhillagh, only eight Irish people were living in the townland during the 1659 Census of Ireland and none were British.13 The town of Cavancarragh was not listed in the Census.

Little migration from Scotland and England occurred after 1622 in County Fermanagh, and the Scottish and English populations in the County mostly grew naturally from this time forward.14 It seems likely that British migration into the townlands surrounding Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh came from neighboring areas, such as Enniskillen (English), Ballinamallard (Scottish), or Lisgoole (Scottish).

Freeholders’ Records (1749-1753)

While no other comprehensive records exist for the early time period of interest for this research project, one source may provide additional insight: The Freeholders’ records, which listed men who either owned their land outright or who held it for the duration of their life.15 These records were not a census and so no guarantee can be made that it includes all settlers of British origin, but the earliest Freeholders’ records in County Fermanagh are from the 1740s and 1750s. In the area of Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh (inclusive of Enniskillen), six different Wilson heads of household are found between the years 1749 and 1753, as shown in Table 2.16

Based on the Freeholders’ records in Table 2, no Wilsons are identified as living in Cavancarragh, which suggests that the Robert Wilson found in Cavancarragh during the 1766 Religious Census most likely had not yet migrated to this townland or had not yet acquired a lease. However, there are two Wilsons in Derryhillagh – Richard Wilson Sr. and Jr. It is probable that the Richard Wilson Jr. in the Freeholders’ records in 1749 is the same Richard Wilson found in the 1766 Religious Census. It seems that Richard Wilson Sr. identified in 1749 (Freeholders) likely died by 1766 (Religious Census) and the Widow Wilson in Derryhillagh for the later record was his wife.

While Robert Wilson was not found in the Freeholders’ records in Cavancarragh, there is a Robert Wilson in Ballydoolagh, which is a tier two townland of Derryhillagh and a couple of miles from Cavancarragh. It is possible that this Ballydoolagh Robert Wilson moved to Cavancarragh between 1751 and 1766 as no Wilsons are found in Ballydoolagh in 1766.

Theories of Migration Based on Historical and DNA Evidence

Up to this point, no early records establish a definitive location within County Fermanagh for the ancestral origin of John Wilson (1716-1799). Robert Wilson of Cavancarragh does not appear in this townland until 1766, which is after the birth of John Wilson. So, it seems unlikely that John Wilson lived at any point in Cavancarragh.

In absence of any other early records for the Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh areas, two competing theories are proposed. First, the ancestors to the Wilsons of Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh were in their respective townlands much before 1749 and may have arrived the area during the Ulster Plantation in the early 1600s. It’s possible then that no records survive to the present day to prove otherwise. Alternatively, the Wilsons could have migrated into this area from other places in Fermanagh or neighboring Ulster counties in the decades just before 1749 in search of better land and prosperity. Indeed, this area of Tirkennedy was sparsely populated by British settlers prior to 1659,17 and many early settlers were greatly disappointed with conditions in their new Ulster home and began migrating internally within Northern Ireland.18

Indeed, Castle Coole, which was the Ulster Planation manor associated with ownership of the area where Derryhillagh and Cavancarragh are found, changed ownership in 1655 from an English landlord to a Scottish landlord.19 Castle Coole is located just east of Enniskillen and a couple of miles from Derryhillagh and Cavancarragh. If the Wilsons were Scottish, as believed, then they may have moved into this area at this time.

Regardless, Derryhillagh, or the townlands immediately surrounding it, may be the original homestead for the Wilsons no matter when they arrived the area. Two early publications on the historical accounts of the region provide some valuable insight as to why this might be. The first is an 1881 publication of the historical deeds and family documents in the possession of Somerset Richard Lowry-Corry, who is The Earl of Belmore, and was at that time the owner of Castle Coole. The Earl of Belmore describes a 1707 improvement to Castle Coole and in doing so mentions a Wilson farm on the outskirts of this improvement in the townland of Killyvilly, which is a tier two townland of Derryhillagh:

“[The improvement] took up most of the townland of Killyvilly – the rest being held by one Wilson, a descendant of whom still holds a portion of the original holding, and is I think the only tenant now holding land in the manor who could trace his family back in the male line, in the same farm, to this time. There may be some indeed whose ancestors were undertenants, but I have no means in my possession of identifying them.” 20

The second publication is from 1919 and states that the Far Mill near Derryhillagh has been “for about two centuries connected with the name of Wilson”.21 In support of the evidence from the two publications is that most of the Big Y-DNA matches previously presented have ancestral origins in and around Derryhillagh, and two at-DNA matches identified earlier and found on FamilyTreeDNA also have Wilson ancestral origins in or near Derryhillagh (see Figure 8 in the previous blog post).

It is quite possible then that Robert Wilson identified in Cavancarragh in 1766 migrated from Derryhillagh to Ballydoolagh prior to 1751 and then to Cavancarragh by 1766 in search of better land.

Another interesting observation is that most of the at-DNA matches in Cavancarragh also have Bannon ancestry. Bannon is a native Irish clan residing in 1766 in Coolbuck, which is adjacent to Cavancarragh.22 Bannons were Catholic.23 The Wilsons were Protestant.24 Intermarriage between the British and the native Irish was rare, especially in the 1600s.25 Yet, despite this, evidence of an early Wilson-Bannon marriage was found in Cavancarragh and is discussed next.

Bannon descendants of a James Bannon (1768-1852) indicate that he was married to Sarah Wilson. A transcript of James’ will, which was dated 1829, indicated he lived in Cavancarragh, had a wife named Sarah, and six daughters and one son, Robert.26 It is possible James’ son may have been named after Robert Wilson, who resided in Cavancarragh in 1766. In his will, James names his son Robert of Tattymacaul and Patt Bannon of Killee as executors (Patt’s relationship to James is unknown). The will further mentions a promissory note to Thomas Wilson. What is interesting about the claimed marriage of James Bannon to Sarah Wilson is that the 31.6 cM DNA match shown in Figure 8 in the previous blog post claims descendancy from Patt Bannon, who witnessed James’ will and is named as James’ executor. It is possible that Patt Bannon is a brother to James and similarly married a Wilson, perhaps Sarah (Wilson) Bannon’s sister. This would explain the 31.6 cM autosomal DNA match descending from Patt Bannon. More research is required to sort out the possible relationships between these Bannons and the Wilsons of Cavancarragh.

Conclusion

Based on the Big Y-DNA analysis presented in the first blog post, it seems John Wilson (1716-1799) was likely from County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Evidence also suggests he may have been Scotch-Irish with his ancestors being part of the Ulster Plantation.27 No autosomal DNA matches or 18th century documentary evidence connects John with other Wilson families or Irishmen in Bucks County, Pennsylvania where he first appears in the 1740s. It is probable that John came to America on his own as a young man. Many emigrants from County Fermanagh in the 18th century were children of plantation settlers who realized conditions in Ulster did not live up to their expectations.28 Until the year 1770, many hundreds left each spring for the U.S. and Canada.29 Upon arrival to Bucks County, John likely worked at Thomas Pryor’s mill in Solebury Township like many of the Wilsons back in Derryhillagh who also worked at or owned mills.30

According to a historical account of Scotch-Irish immigration into the U.S., the first wave of immigrants to arrive American shores landed in Philadelphia and began migrating up the Delaware River entering Bucks County by 1720.31 It is probable that John was a latter participant of this first wave. The same text indicates subsequent waves of Scotch-Irish immigration into Pennsylvania came after 1766 moving through areas, such as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, up the Susquehanna valley settling in places like Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. This latter path is the route the Wilsons associated with the Burgess and Cosgrove families in the Pennsylvania Cluster traveled after the Revolutionary War.

In answering the research question proposed by this report and blog post series, it appears that John Wilson’s (1716-1799) ancestral homeland is County Fermanagh with further ancestral roots in Scotland. If born in County Fermanagh, it is probable that John was born in or near Derryhillagh. The Robert Wilson who appears in Cavancarragh in 1766 is most probably a close relative of John given the number of at-DNA matches and the size of the matching DNA segments for these individuals who descend from Cavancarragh ancestors. It is possible that Robert might be John’s father, but it seems more probable that Robert is a brother to John. Robert was not a common forename in John Wilson’s descendants, but it was in the Wilson/Burgess clan. Furthermore, no additional information is known about Robert other than his appearance in the 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, so it is uncertain whether Robert was John Wilson’s age suggesting a sibling relationship or much older suggesting a paternal relationship.

A link to full unabridged report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson is found on my website here.

This blog post was initially posted as a guest blog at FamilyLocket.com.

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Sources
1. NI Direct Government Services (n.d.), About 1766 religious census returns, accessed 22 August 2021, https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/about-name-search#toc-6.
2. The 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, County Fermanagh, database, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland(PRONI, http://www.apps.proni.gov.uk, accessed 21 August 2021); Tenison Groves transcripts. 
3. The National Archives of Ireland (n.d.), The Tithe Applotment Books, accessed 22 August 2021, http://titheapplotmentbooks.nationalarchives.ie/search/tab/home.jsp.
4. “Ireland Tithe Applotment Books, 1823-1838,” Irish Genealogy Hub (http://www.irishgenealogyhub.com/fermanagh/tithe-applotment-books/parish-of-derryvullan.php, accessed 15 August 2021), > Fermanagh Genealogy > Derryvullan Tithe Applotments, James Bannon Sr., James Bannon Jr., and Michael Bannon, Cavancarragh, 1835. 
5. Ask about Ireland (n.d.), What is Griffith’s Valuation? Accessed 24 August 2021, http://www.askaboutireland.ie/reading-room/history-heritage/irish-genealogy/what-is-griffiths-valuati/.
6. Wilson, Rick T. (2022). Research Report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson, who died 1799 in Franconia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA, available at www.MyFamilyPattern.com
7. Ireland Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915, Northern Ireland, County Fermanagh, Tempo Parrish, Mary Cath Farry (16 Aug 1858), image 19 of 46, database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 13 September 2021); National Library of Ireland, Dublin, microfilm 05570/02. 
8. Griffith’s Valuation, County Fermanagh, Tirkennedy Barony, Enniskillen Parrish, Cloghtogle, James Farry (printed 1862), p. 216; database with image, Ask About Ireland (www.askaboutireland.ie, accessed 14 September 2021). 
9. Griffith’s Valuation, County Fermanagh, Tirkennedy Barony, Magheracross Parrish, Cavantilly-Cormick, James Farry (printed 1862), p. 231; database with image, Ask About Ireland (www.askaboutireland.ie, accessed 14 September 2021). 
10. Johnston, John (1979), “English Settlement in County Fermanagh, 1610-1640,” Clogher Record, 10 (1), 137-143. 
11. Johnston, John (1980), “Settlement Patterns in County Fermanagh, 1610-1660,” Clogher Record, 10 (2), 199-214. 
12. Johnston, J.D. (1980), “Settlement and Architecture in County Fermanagh, 1610-41,” Ulster Journal of Archaeology,” 43, 79-89. 
13. Poll Money Ordinances (1660-1661), Dublin, Ireland: The Stationary Office, Government Publications Sale Office. 
14. Johnston (1980), “Settlement Patterns in County Fermanagh, 1610-1660”. 
15. Northern Ireland Direct Government Services (n.d.), About freeholders’ records, accessed 8 September 2021 from https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/about-freeholders-records.
16. Freeholders’ Records, database, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI, http://www.apps.proni.gov.uk, accessed 8 September 2021).
17. Johnston, J.D. (1980), “Settlement and Architecture in County Fermanagh, 1610-41”. 
18. Livingstone, Peadar (1969), The Fermanagh Story: A Documented History of the County Fermanagh from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Monaghan, Ireland: Cumann Seanchais Chlochair.
19. Lowry-Corry, Somerset Richard (The Earl of Belmore) (1881), The History of the Two Ulster Manors of Finagh in the County of Tyrone and Coole, Otherwise Major Atkinson, in the County of Fermanagh, and their Owners, London: Longmans, Green, & Co. 
20. Ibid, p. 149.
21. Trimble, W. Copeland (1919), The History of Enniskillen with References to some Manors in Co. Fermanagh and other Local Subjects, Volume 1, Enniskillen, Northern Ireland: William Trimble. 
22. The 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, County Fermanagh, database, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland(PRONI, http://www.apps.proni.gov.uk, accessed 21 August 2021); Tenison Groves transcripts. 
23. Livingstone, Peadar (1969), The Fermanagh Story: A Documented History of the County Fermanagh from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Monaghan, Ireland: Cumann Seanchais Chlochair. 
24. The 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, County Fermanagh, database, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland(PRONI, http://www.apps.proni.gov.uk, accessed 21 August 2021); Tenison Groves transcripts. 
25. Johnston (1980), “Settlement Patterns in County Fermanagh, 1610-1660”. 
26. Transcript of James Bannon’s will, dated 1829 and extracted from the Registry of the Diocese of Clogher, County Monaghan, Northern Ireland; transcribed by E. Brown, Tampa Bay, Florida, U.S. 
27. Chapman Brothers (1887), “Robert J. Wilson” in Portrait and Biographical Album of Linn County, Iowa
28. Livingstone, Peadar (1969), The Fermanagh Story: A Documented History of the County Fermanagh from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Monaghan, Ireland: Cumann Seanchais Chlochair. 
29. Ibid. 
30. Trimble (1919), The History of Enniskillen with References to some Manors in Co. Fermanagh and other Local Subjects, Volume 1.
31. Ford, Henry Jones (1915), The Scotch-Irish in America, Princeton, NJ: The Princeton University Press. 

Identifying John Wilson’s Irish Origins, Part 2: Autosomal DNA Analysis

Having identified the probable ancestral origin of John Wilson (1716-1799) using Y-DNA in Part 1 of the blog post series, Part 2 uses autosomal DNA (at-DNA). The purpose here is to provide corroborating evidence that John’s ancestral origin is County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland as well as to offer greater geographic specificity within the county.

Compared to Y-DNA, at-DNA has the benefit of identifying more recent cousins (possibly as far back as six to eight generations). Also, both males and females can take the test enabling a larger pool of people who can ultimately help answer the research question.

For this analysis, I used a third cousin who is two generations closer than I am to John Wilson (1716-1799). John is her 4x great grandfather giving her potentially as much as 75% more DNA from earlier ancestors than I would have received. The objective of the at-DNA analysis is to find genetic clusters of DNA matches linked to the Wilson line and determine if the cluster(s) support the tentative County Fermanagh ancestral origin conclusion from the earlier Y-DNA analysis. Ancestry.com’s autosomal DNA product is used.

Genetic Cluster Identification

Two genetic clusters were identified using Ancestry.com’s “Shared Matches” feature using what I call an “earliest-known generation sibling search strategy”. To identify relevant clusters, this entailed viewing the shared matches for cousins who descend through other children of John Wilson (1716-1799) and his wife, Ann Skelton (1721-1803), other than the one my cousin and I descend. Unfortunately, all clusters here were associated with the Skelton side of the ancestral couple. Therefore, I moved down a generation through John and Ann (Skelton) Wilson’s son, William Wilson (d. 1804), through whom my cousin and I also descend.

This resulted in the identification of two viable clusters. Care was taken to ensure these clusters were not associated with the line of William Wilson’s wife, Phebe Penrose (d. 1842), but rather the Wilson line. This was done by reviewing the shared DNA matches for members of each cluster to ensure they were not associated with other matches who are confirmed to be part of our Penrose line. None appeared to be so.

As discussed shortly, I call the two identified clusters as the “Pennsylvania Cluster” and the “New Haven Cluster”, which are depicted below in a Gephi network graph (see Figure 4).1 The graph was created by downloading all my cousin’s in-common with matches and corresponding segment data from Ancestry.com using the DNAGedcom Client.2 From the resulting DNAGedcom file, only the members of the two identified Ancestry.com clusters were retained for analysis. DNA matches are sized according to the amount of shared DNA in centimorgans (cM).

The network graph delineates the two clusters. Highlighted are four matches who descend from children of William and Phebe Penrose Wilson other than the one my cousin descends, and these matches are labeled with either a 1 or 2. The Pennsylvania Cluster is a larger network, which is probably due to a couple of factors including the number of people who have tested and its members having immigrant ancestors who arrived the U.S. about two to three generations prior to those in the New Haven Cluster, which makes sense given that American Ancestry.com DNA test takers outnumber international test takers.

Prior to a brief introduction of the Pennsylvania and New Haven Clusters, Figure 5 theorizes how these clusters likely fit into John Wilson’s (d. 1799) extended County Fermanagh family tree. It serves as an additional reference point for understanding the many matches, sub-clusters, and documentary evidence yet to be presented. For a full discussion of the clusters, readers may review my final research report, which will be posted with the third and final blog post.3

Pennsylvania Cluster

Figure 6 graphically presents the DNA matches for the Pennsylvania Cluster. The cluster is comprised of 53 shared DNA matches forming five sub-clusters, which are organized using their family trees back to their own common ancestral pair rather than the theorized family tree presented in Figure 5. All sub-clusters match one another within the overall Pennsylvania Cluster. One sub-cluster (12 DNA matches) represents the DNA matches who descend from William Wilson (d. 1804) and Phebe Penrose (d. 1842). The other sub-clusters, which are named based on their ancestral origin of birth, include the so-called “County Fermanagh Cluster” (21 DNA matches), “Irish Cluster” (10 DNA matches), and a single match called “County Fermanagh Farry Match” (1 DNA match). The final sub-cluster (9 DNA matches, which is not graphically shown) consists of the “unknown match group” whose respective family trees are not publicly available and for whom I could not reconstruct a tree through genealogical means.

Across the three Irish sub-clusters (excluding the William Wilson Cluster), the amount of shared DNA varies from 44 cM to 8 cM with eight matches having more than 30 cM of shared DNA. According to Ancestry.com, these eight matches possess a high level of confidence (95%) of having a recent shared common ancestor with my cousin.4 The high confidence matches are found within each of the sub-clusters: County Fermanagh Cluster (5 high confidence DNA matches), County Fermanagh Farry Match (1 high confidence DNA match), and Irish Cluster (2 high confidence DNA matches).

The identification of the ancestral origins of the County Fermanagh Cluster comes from a biographical sketch of Robert J. Wilson (b. 1845), who is a great grandson of David Burgess Sr. The sketch states that Robert’s grandparents were:

“…John Wilson and Mary (Burgess) Wilson, natives of the Emerald Isle, but of Scotch descent. They were born in County Fermanagh, Ireland, emigrated to America shortly after the Revolutionary War, settling in Lancaster County, Pa., where they resided several years. Thence they removed to Mifflin County, [Pennsylvania] where most of the children were born and raised. Subsequently, they removed to Ohio…” 5

The County Fermanagh sub-cluster includes Mary Burgess, who married John Wilson.6 It also includes David Burgess Jr., who married a woman named Nancy.7 Because Nancy’s surname is unknown and Mary Burgess married a Wilson, I wondered whether Nancy might be a sister of John Wilson and whether the at-DNA connection is through the Burgess line and/or the Wilson line. As such, I engaged in targeted Y-DNA testing and recruited a male Wilson descendant of John and Mary (Burgess) Wilson and sponsored his Big Y-DNA test. Results confirm that he is a Y-DNA match to me, and the recruited Big Y test taker is graphically represented by “Wilson 10a” in Figure 2, which was presented in the earlier Part 1 blog post. While these results do not confirm that David Burgess Jr.’s wife Nancy is a Wilson, it does provide some support for the theorized County Fermanagh family tree for John Wilson (1716-1799) presented in Figure 5.

The Irish sub-cluster includes Henry Cosgrove who married Mary Jane Wilson.8 Both County Fermanagh and Irish sub-clusters lived about eight miles from one another in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania in the early 1800s and by 1830 all moved near Westchester, Ohio, which is town in Tuscarawas County, Ohio bordering Harrison County, Ohio. 9

For the County Fermanagh Farry Match, the paternal great grandmother of the test taker for this match emigrated from County Fermanagh to Philadelphia in the 1880s.10 Because this “sub-cluster” has only one match, it is difficult to ascertain for certain that the identified connection is through the Fermanagh great grandparent line. However, a thorough review of the test taker’s other lines finds no other possible connections to William Wilson (d. 1804) or Phebe Penrose. The great grandmother is Bridget Farry (1859-1921), who married Charles Carr in Philadelphia.11 Bridget Farry’s mother was Catherine Bannon, who resided near and died in Cavancarragh in County Fermanagh.12 The importance of the Bannon surname and Cavancarragh is discussed next and further supports the theorized County Fermanagh Wilson family tree presented in Figure 5.

New Haven Cluster

Figure 7 graphically presents the DNA matches for the New Haven Cluster. The cluster is comprised of 28 shared DNA matches forming three sub-clusters. One cluster (12 DNA matches) represents the DNA matches who descend from William Wilson (d. 1804) and Phebe Penrose. The other so-called “Cavancarragh, County Fermanagh Cluster” is comprised of five DNA matches. The remaining 11 matches constitutes “unknown matches” for whom trees were not available and/or their connection to the cluster could not be determined. Within the Cavancarragh sub-cluster, the amount of shared DNA varies from 37 cM to 11 cM with two matches having more than 30 cM of shared DNA. These two matches have a high level of confidence (95%) of having a recent shared common ancestor with the test taker.13 The common ancestral pair of the Cavancarragh Cluster is James Bannon III (b. 1829) and Bridget McHugh. The ancestral origins of James Bannon III’s wife, Bridget McHugh, is unknown.

Based on evidence presented in a family research report prepared by M.S. Pitkin,14 the Bannons appear to have immigrated to New Haven in a couple of waves during the 1840s and 1850s. James Bannon III (b. 1829), along with his parents, James Bannon II (b. 1800) and Margaret (last name unknown), and siblings, were enumerated in New Haven in 1850.15 James Bannon II’s (b. 1800) father, James Bannon I (b. 1767), appears to have immigrated in the 1850s and died 27 Mar 1858 in New Haven.16 James Bannon I (b. 1767), James Bannon II (b. 1800), and James Bannon I’s other son, Michael Bannon, appeared in the Tithe Applotment Books (agricultural tax records) for 1835 in Cavancarragh in Derryvullan Parish, County Fermanagh, which is within a couple of miles from several of the towns identified in the Big Y-DNA analysis presented in the earlier Part 1 blog post.17

Chromosome Mapping and Segment Triangulation

An important determination when analyzing shared DNA matches within a cluster is to ensure they share a portion of the same segment on a chromosome. Ancestry.com does not provide a chromosome mapping feature, and so I uploaded my cousin’s at-DNA to GEDmatch, MyHeritage, and FamilyTreeDNA, which provide this feature. While only a few of the shared Ancestry DNA matches were also on these sites, enough were present to identify matching segments. Triangulated segments were found for two contiguous segments on chromosome 7 as displayed in Figure 8. The shared DNA matches from the New Haven Cluster appear to be located at the lower end of chromosome 7, and DNA matches from the Pennsylvania Cluster are located immediately adjoining the New Haven Cluster. Situated within and across the lower and upper portions are descendants from William Wilson (d. 1804).

While reviewing the family trees for matches on MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA at the identified locations on chromosome 7, four new relevant matches were found. One is a new member of the County Fermanagh Cluster group, which is part of the larger Pennsylvania Cluster, descending from David Burgess Jr. (identified in Figure 8 as sharing 19.4 cM). The second new match also appears to fit within the Pennsylvania Cluster based on its location on chromosome 7 (31.6 cM match). Interestingly, this match has a direct paternal line back to a Patrick (Patt) Bannon who lived in Killee in County Fermanagh, which is an adjacent townland to Cavancarragh. According to this match’s family tree, Patrick was born about 1788 and died between 1852 and 1862.18

The other two matches have Wilson ancestry from County Fermanagh and are also situated at the same location on chromosome 7 as the Pennsylvania Cluster. One match (12.6 cM) descends from Mary (Wilson) Armstrong (1804-1866), a daughter of James Wilson (1769-1853) and Rebecca Coulter of Derryhillagh, County Fermanagh. The final new match (12.0 cM) is also located at the same location as the Pennsylvania Cluster and descends from Hall Price Wilson (1851-1924), a son of Alexander Wilson (1819-1905) and Rebecca Price of Lackaboy, County Fermanagh. Lackaboy is about one mile from Derryhillagh, which is where several Big Y-DNA matches have ancestral origins as presented earlier in Figure 2 in the Part 1 blog post.

Summary in Brief

Evidence from the at-DNA test appears to confirm County Fermanagh as the ancestral origin of John Wilson (1716-1799). In conjunction with the Y-DNA analysis, the at-DNA analysis additionally appears to preliminarily point to an area just to the east of Enniskillen in County Fermanagh near the townlands of Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh as a more specific location of John’s origin (see Figure 3 from the Part 1 blog post for a map of this area).

The next and final blog post utilizes documentary evidence and historical writings to corroborate prior DNA evidence and contextualize the results. A link to full report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson is found on my website here.

This blog post was initially posted as a guest blog at FamilyLocket.com.

Don’t miss new blog posts. Complete the form below to be notified every time I write a new blog.


Sources
1. Gephi.org. (2021). Gephi version 0.9.2, available at www.gephi.org. Visualization settings: The layout or dispersion of nodes used ForceAtlas 2, and modularity class was used to partition and color the nodes into sub-clusters. To improve visualization, all DNA matches who descend from the test taker’s direct line from John Wilson (b. 1784) were removed as were DNA matches with fewer than six connections to another DNA match. 
2. DNAGedcom LLC. (2021). DNAGedcom Client, available at www.dnagedcom.com
3. Wilson, Rick T. (2022). Research Report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson, who died 1799 in Franconia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA, available at www.MyFamilyPattern.com.
4. Ancestry.com (n.d.), What does the match confidence score mean? Retrieved 23 July 2021 from https://www.ancestry.com/cs/dna-help/matches/confidence.
5. Chapman Brothers (1887), “Robert J. Wilson” in Portrait and Biographical Album of Linn County, Iowa, Chicago, IL: Chapman Brothers, p. 311-312.
6. Ibid. 
7. Tuscarawas County, Ohio, land deed, David and Nancy Burgess to Neal Morris (1829), Book 5, p. 478, Recorder of Deeds, New Philadelphia, Ohio. 
8. While the Henry Cosgrove’s marriage to Mary Jane Wilson is undocumented, Henry had a child named Wilson Cosgrove and a grandson named James Wilson Cosgrove: “Public Member Trees,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com, accessed 2 April 2021), “Cosgrove” family tree by Tracy Cosgrove DeCarlo, profile for Henry Cosgrove (1768-1845). 
9. 1820 U.S. census, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Union, p. 191, image 2 of 4, David Burgess; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); NARA microfilm publication M33, roll 102. And 1820 U.S. census, Tuscarawas County, Ohio, population schedule, Perry, p. 176, image 1 of 2, John Wilson and David Burgess; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); NARA microfilm publication M33, roll 95. And 1830 U.S. census, Tuscarawas County, Ohio, population schedule, Perry, p. 14-15, image 5-6 of 6, John Wilson and David Burgess; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); NARA microfilm publication M19, roll 141. And 1820 U.S. census, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Armagh, p. 352, image 4 of 4, Henry Crossgrove; database with image, Ancestry(www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); NARA microfilm publication M33, roll 102. And 1830 U.S. census, Harrison County, Ohio, population schedule, Freeport, p. 228, image 9 of 16, Henry Cosproue [Cosgrove]; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); Family History Library Film 337944.
10. The Philadelphia Inquirer (1921, December 17), “Carr, Bridget E.”, p. 21, col. 7, Philadelphia, PA; online database, https://Newspapers.com, accessed 12 August 2021. 
11. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951, Bridget Ferry and Charles Carr (1887), license 14821; database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); Clerk of Orphans Court, Philadelphia. 
12. Civil Records of Death, General Register Office Enniskillen, Catherine Farry (5 Jun 1879), Cavancarragh, No. 401, p. 63-1, database with image, Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (www.irishgenealogy.ie, accessed 1 January 2022). 
13. Ancestry.com, What does the match confidence score mean?
14. Pitkin, Mary Stanford (2013), “The Descendants of James Bannon of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland,” unpublished family research report, p. 11-12; PDF in author’s files, p. 6. 
15. 1850 U.S. census, New Haven County, Connecticut, population schedule, New Haven, p. 219b, image 230 of 485, James Barnow [Bannon] in James Barnow [Bannon] household; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 15 August 2021); NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 47. 
16. Pitkin (2013), “The Descendants of James Bannon of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland,” p. 11. 
17. “Ireland Tithe Applotment Books, 1823-1838,” Irish Genealogy Hub (http://www.irishgenealogyhub.com/fermanagh/tithe-applotment-books/parish-of-derryvullan.php, accessed 15 August 2021), > Fermanagh Genealogy > Derryvullan Tithe Applotments, James Bannon Sr., James Bannon Jr., and Michael Bannon, Cavancarragh, 1835.
18. “Moore Web Site,” database, MyHeritage (www.myheritage.com, accessed 28 August 2021), person-150013_457807291, Patrick Bannon (1788-1852).

Identifying John Wilson’s Irish Origins, Part 1: Y-DNA Analysis

Have you been fortunate enough to trace one of your American ancestors back to the 1700s but found no records indicating where in Europe they originated? Oh, and what if you are “lucky” enough for this ancestor to have a common or occupationally derived surname, such as Smith or Miller, providing no clues as to its origin?

I had such a problem until I embarked on a systematic, four-step strategy to identify where in Europe my 6th great grandfather John Wilson (1716-1799) originated. Figure 1 summarizes my research strategy and evidence used to identify my ancestor’s Scottish and Northern Irish roots. I utilized Y-DNA as a compass to point me to a country/region of interest and then used autosomal DNA to navigate to a smaller area within that country. Documentary evidence added structure and corroborating support for the patterns observed in the DNA results. Finally, published regional histories, academic journals articles, and historical immigration and emigration texts provided rich illustrations and meaning to my ancestor’s journey.

John Wilson first appears in American records in 1747 when he places a newspaper advertisement offering a 20-shilling reward for his strayed mare.1 He indicates his residence as near Thomas Pryor’s mill in Solebury Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The next record finds John attending the Quaker marriage of his wife’s brother, William Skelton, in Solebury Township.2 Quaker marriage certificates list family members and friends who were present at the marriage with parents, siblings, and other close family members listed in the far right-hand column under the groom’s and bride’s names, which is where John was listed. While John’s own marriage is not found in Quaker records, John likely married Ann Skelton (1721-1803) about 1746.3 The Skeltons lived near Thomas Pryor’s mill. John and Ann (Skelton) Wilson left Solebury about 1752 for Franconia Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania,4 which is where John lived the remaining years of his life.

Big Y-DNA Analysis

Because Y-DNA analyzes the Y chromosome, which is passed down mostly unchanged from father to son, I found it to be the ideal place to start the ancestral origin analysis for John Wilson (1716-1799). I used FamilyTreeDNA’s Big Y-700 test, which tests 700 genetic markers and is the most advanced Y-DNA test available. I tested myself, as I possess a direct paternal line back to John Wilson. I also used targeted testing and sponsored Y-DNA tests for two autosomal DNA matches who had Wilson ancestors for whom I could not connect into my tree but who were part of genetic clusters principally comprised of my 3rd and 4th cousins with shared Wilson ancestry.

My closest Big Y-700 STR DNA matches (17 in total) are graphically displayed below in Figure 2 in what FamilyTreeDNA calls a block tree, which I redrew and edited to better tell my story. Each gray bar below the black bar represents a genetic mutation that was passed down to subsequent generations enabling distinct branches to be identified with each gray bar representing more recent genetic ties. The alpha numeric identifiers in the black and grayed boxes are the named SNP variants delineating each haplogroup branch. According to FamilyTreeDNA technical support, the common male ancestry at I-Y32317 represents a time frame going back about 300 to 400 years.5 My own Y-DNA results are shown as “Wilson 1a” in the red box and the other DNA matches are similarly privatized by including only their surname (e.g., “Wilson”), group/cluster number (e.g., “2”), and individual designation (e.g., “a”). Wilson 1b and Wilson 10a are the two men who were part of my targeted testing efforts.

The family trees for the 17 Y-DNA STR matches were either posted to FamilyTreeDNA by the respective test taker or obtained through personal communication. Not all test takers had extensive knowledge of their paternal line, but all were able to confirm paternal ancestry back to Northern Ireland and a near majority to County Fermanagh. In several cases, test takers were still residents of County Fermanagh and, while not having extensive knowledge of their family tree, knew their paternal ancestors had lived in the area for hundreds of years.

For each branch, the geographic location within Northern Ireland for their earliest known paternal ancestor is noted, which is located between the grayed boxes and the privatized test taker boxes. Geographic location and test taker boxes are color coded for easier pattern recognition. County Fermanagh matches are denoted by shades of green, neighboring County Tyrone matches in mustard brown, and those in my smaller haplogroup branch are in red.

Except for one branch (Wilson 8), all close Big Y-DNA matches have ancestral origins in County Fermanagh, and most of these are to the east of Enniskillen (see the above map in Figure 3). Nearly all matches also carry the Wilson surname except for two clusters who carry the Toner surname, which is due to an 1883 non-paternity event.6 Within my cluster (Wilson 1), Wilson 1b is an individual who descends from a Wilson man who resided in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s, but whose connection to my line are presently unknown despite my completion of descendancy research for all of John Wilson’s children into the mid 1800s.

Summary in Brief

Based on the evidence from the Big Y-700 DNA test, it appears that John Wilson’s ancestral origins are in County Fermanagh.

The next blog post utilizes autosomal DNA to narrow down from where in County Fermanagh John Wilson might originate. A link to full report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson is found on my website here.

This blog post was initially posted as a guest blog at FamilyLocket.com.

Don’t miss new blog posts. Complete the form below to be notified every time I write a new blog.

Sources
1. The Pennsylvania Gazette (1747, December 3), “Strayed away”, p. 4, col. 3, Philadelphia, PA; online database, https://Newspapers.com, accessed 15 December 2017.
2. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, William Skelton and Susanna Beck, 23 April 1748, Buckingham Monthly Meeting, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, p. 151, image 81 of 242; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 19 July 2021), citing Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, Quaker Meeting Records.
3. Wilson, Rick T. (2022). Research Report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson, who died 1799 in Franconia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA, available at www.MyFamilyPattern.com.
4. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, Ann Wilson, 6 April 1752, Buckingham Monthly Meeting, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, p. 182, image 103 of 151; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 19 July 2021), citing Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, Quaker Meeting Records.
5. FamilyTreeDNA (2021), personal communication with technical support, August 16, 2021. 
6. The non-paternity event is associated with, Francis Toner, who was born on 11 May 1883 in Derryhowlaght to an unwed mother, Eliza Jane Toner. Derryhowlaght is eight miles south of Enniskillen. Source: Ireland, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1864-1958, Francis Toner (11 May 1883), vol. 3, p. 205, Derryhowlaght, registered in Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 27 December 2021); citing Family History Library film no. 101059; citing IrishGenealogy.ie, Civil Records. And “Public Member Trees,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com, accessed 27 December 2021), “Christine Hilda Toner Family Tree” family tree by Christine Toner, profile for Francis John Toner (1883-1964).

The Power of Original Records

Have you come across a derivative record transcribed from an original document? Ever wonder if it is worth the time, effort, and expense to obtain a copy of the original? The answer to the last question is a definite YES. Let me explain through a brief example.

When reviewing my autosomal DNA matches on Ancestry.com, I discovered a genetic network or cluster of matches showing great potential to help me break through a brick wall and go back another generation on my Wilson line. This cluster contained 24 matches who matched one another suggesting all descend from a common ancestor. Most matches in the cluster descended from two different ancestral couples who appeared to travel together in the early 1800s from the same places in Pennsylvania to the same places in Ohio. Adding to the intrigue, one person within each of the two couples was a Wilson. [Can you feel the excitement?!] However, there was another group of four matches within this larger cluster who appeared to descend from the union of John L. Craig and Nancy Jane Burgess, who were generally from the same time period and traveled the same migration route as the other two groups. But how do John and Nancy Jane fit into the genetic network?

To learn more about John L. Craig and Nancy Jane Burgess, I started by finding their marriage record, which I found in the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State’s online Illinois Statewide Marriage Index.1

The record was a derivative or a transcription and did not contain an image. Yet, I noticed something interesting. The record indicated Nancy Jane was a “Mrs” suggesting she might have been previously married. Could Nancy Jane have been born a Wilson? It seemed logical given the other Wilsons in the cluster.

I then expanded my search to Ancestry.com. I found the record here too, but again no image. Interestingly, this record included no mention of Mrs for Nancy Jane. Now, I was not only agitated by the lack of an image, but I was also now confused. Was she or wasn’t she previously married? Which record is correct?

The only way to reconcile the issue was to obtain an original copy, which I did by contacting the Illinois Regional Archive Depository at Western Illinois University. In an era where we only wait seconds for online images to load, ordering an original from a repository felt like an eternity. Yet, after several weeks and $17 (well worth the wait and cost), I received the following copy of the original.

In reviewing the original record, it becomes clearer where the confusion originated. The marriage license, which is in the upper portion of the record, states that Nancy Jane was a “Miss” suggesting she was a Burgess by birth. (“Miss” is written using the long s, or “Mifs” without the crossbar on the f, which is the old style of writing a double s.3) However, the recording of the completed marriage, which is in the lower portion of the record, appears to indicate that Nancy Jane was a “Mrs”.

While the original record doesn’t conclusively answer the question whether Nancy was a Miss or Mrs, it does explain why the online Illinois Statewide Marriage Index and Ancestry.com show conflicting information.

Professional genealogists often insist that researchers obtain original copies of records and not rely on transcripts. So, it’s worth repeating here again. Transcripts are made by people. People make mistakes. Had I relied solely on the online Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, I might have recorded Nancy Jane’s maiden name as unknown, and perhaps through confirmation bias, believed (or hoped) her maiden name was Wilson because of the genetic network to which she belonged among my autosomal DNA matches.

On the other hand, if I solely relied on Ancestry.com, I would have recorded Nancy Jane’s maiden name as Burgess. However, having access to the original record provided me with the necessary knowledge to interpret Nancy Jane’s marital status at the time of her marriage to John.

The moral of the story is that there is power in the original record. Spend the time, effort, and expense to locate it because it will ultimately save you time, effort, and expense in the end.

Spoiler Alert: Further research (and time) led me to identify Nancy Jane’s parents and confirm that she was a Burgess. The same research also has me believing that Nancy Jane’s mother might be a Wilson, but that’s a story for another blog.

Don’t miss new blog posts. Complete the form below to be notified every time I write a new blog.

Sources
1. Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900, John L. Craig and Mrs. Nancy Jane Burgess (20 March 1843), Fulton County, Illinois, Vol. A, p. 110, license number 39, database, Office of the Illinois Secretary of State (ilsos.gov, accessed 7 November 2020).
2. Illinois, U.S., Marriage Index, 1860-1920, John L. Craig and Nancy Jane Burgess, database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 5 December 2020); citing Illinois State Marriage Records, Illinois State Public Records Office.
3. Donal, A. (n.d.), “Reading Old Documents: The Long S,” Family Tree Magazine, accessed 9 January 2022 from https://www.familytreemagazine.com/strategies/reading-old-documents-the-long-s/.

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