Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Wintry Trip to Monticello

I can thankfully report that I've gotten my "Virginian Card" back. I grew up in Virginia, and nearly all of my ancestors lived in Virginia back into the 1600's. I'm nearly as Virginian as Virginian gets, you see. But somehow - how, I don't know - I had never been to Monticello until this week. I've traveled all over the world, but when it comes to being a local tourist, I'm just not quite so good.

But as life has it, some of my best friends (Thomas and Elizabeth) are moving to Guatemala to be Orthodox missionaries with OCMC for at least two years. [More specifically, I'm their koumbaro - it's like a Godfather for an Orthodox married couple. Anyhoo, I'm gonna miss them tons!] So since they're heading out next month, we're trying to get in as much quality time as we can. What better way for history nerds to hang out than to see more of the history that Virginia has to offer? Naturally, Monticello was high on our to do list. 

Even though I went to James Madison University - not the University of Virginia - I've always loved Thomas Jefferson. He's a complex figure in the history of our nation. But he's also the man whose foresight and skill with the written word gave me the freedom to worship (or not) the God of my understanding without government interference. So I was excited to visit the home of my beloved TJ!

And then it snowed. A lot! In the Richmond area, there was over a foot of snow! For Virginians, that can be debilitating. So I was worried our trip would get canceled. Thankfully Monticello was only closed for a day, so our trip for Tuesday was on as scheduled. 

Our Wintry Trip

This was our first sight of the famous Monticello - the home of Thomas Jefferson. It was a tad disappointing at first - until we realized this wasn't the nickel image of Monticello we all know and love. Turns out, this is the front of the building, and the back side is the more famous image. I have no photos of the inside because photography isn't allowed there. But, that doesn't mean I can't reflect on some of the tour.

First, let me say that the house presents a good image of the man Thomas Jefferson. He was a man interested in learning, in business, and in having the greatest technology of his age. His home was like a natural history exhibit meets science lab meets library. It feels like it would have been the sort of home you'd want to visit for a casual visit with the cool professor you made sure to Facebook after the class had ended. There were fossils, Native American tools, walls of books, and scientific instruments. He had European conveniences like an indoor bathroom, sky lighting, beds tucked into the walls and a way to open the door without getting out of bed. The dining room was meant to be casual and the tea room made you want to sit and enjoy a good conversation.

Mulberry Row
With all that said, there is also the other side of Thomas Jefferson: the man followed by controversy. That controversy followed us inside, as a guest on our tour repeatedly challenged the facts presented by our tour guide. This guest insisted that Thomas Jefferson did not father the children of Sally Hemings and that he was a faithful traditional Christian. You'd think from his indignation that there were some grand scheme to undermine the sanctity of a national saint. I reminded the man - as calmly and lovingly as I could muster - that I was there to listen to the tour of our paid guide (not of him) and thankfully he kept quite after that. It's frustrating to me that there are so many who view updates on the study of history as revisionist history. History doesn't change; our perspective though on that history can.

After our tour of the home, we took the Slavery at Monticello tour. And it was awesome! Our guide was passionate about the topic and you could tell he really gets out of bed each day to educate and to inspire that passion in others. We saw the reproduction of the Hemmings Cabin,the textile workshop, and passed through Mulberry Row where the enslaved lived and worked. We heard details of the evidence behind the relationship of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings - which I must say was fascinating if you're a genealogist! If only my ancestors had kept such detailed records of those whom they enslaved...BUT it does inspire me to dig deeper to see what records my ancestors did keep.

Yours truly with Thomas and Elizabeth Manuel

After our tours, we were able to walk around the grounds and take some more photos. It really is a beautiful site with great views of the area around Charlottesville. Thomas Jefferson had a good eye, that's for sure! Since it was just a couple of days after a snowstorm, the grounds were mostly empty of visitors. The snow had hardly been disturbed but for the occasional footprints or tracks from a passing deer.

Voila! The Nickel shot!
Reflections on a man

What struck me most about my trip to Monticello is just how American the man - Thomas Jefferson - really was. What do I mean by that? Thomas Jefferson was a Virginian. He was educated. He was a renaissance man, a leader, a businessman. Yet he was also fascinated with Europe, with having bigger and better things. He was a thinker, an idealist, a writer, a reader. And yet, he was also a man who struggled with - or perhaps found comfortable - the paradox of being a man who held ideals about human liberty who also owned hundreds of other human beings. A man who wrote the Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom adopted by the General Assembly in 1786 yet had power over the religious freedom of those in his control.

Thanks for Religious Freedom, TJ!
I did not leave Monticello thinking less of Thomas Jefferson. I did however leave Monticello with a clearer vision of the arch of American history, one whose evolution has yet to be concluded. One which is forever in a state of flux and is always getting more refined as we age as a nation. The trip for me was not so different from researching my ancestors who lived prior to the American Civil War. I was faced with the necessity of normalizing slavery in order to encounter a man who enslaved others.

I was faced with the reality of something inherently brutal and inhumane and yet I had to become numb to that reality. I had to face what it must have been like to be a man who could see a woman as inhuman enough to be my property and yet human enough to be the mother of my children. I had to face in a deeper way the life of my own ancestors - namely David Stratton of Powhatan County, Virginia - who owned their own children and grandchildren. Like Beth Wylie - a cousin of mine and blogger over at Life in the Past Lane - feel even more strongly that I have a duty to preserve and document the enslaved people of my ancestors. 

A fitting end to my trip

There's nothing like a tour through Old Virginia to work up a healthy appetite! So you'd think I'd have gone over to an old tavern or found a Southern restaurant for some sweet tea, grits, or sausage gravy biscuits right? Well, these three Orthodox kids are trying our best to keep the Nativity Fast so we sought out some vegetarian fare. That took us to a delicious Indian buffet in the heart of Charlottesville. We got there just in time to eat our fill before driving back to Virginia Beach. But as we got back to my car - after walking some of the meal off - we noticed something peculiar.

4th Street at the corner of East Water Street
Both sides of the street where my car was parked had chalk writings and drawings. We were trying to figure out what it was all about. Then we noticed the name Heather in a few places. A picture of a girl. A Bible left on the sidewalk. The word hub - love - in Arabic. 

And then it hit us - we were parked at the exact location that Heather Heyer was killed on 12 Aug 2017.

It was a sobering end to our trip to Charlottesville. We had spent the day reflecting on the paradox of American idealism. We had spent the day walking through the home of Thomas Jefferson, discovering the lives of those whom he had enslaved. And then we had parked - of all places in the city - at the exact location where a white supremacist had killed a woman peacefully protesting racism. In 2017. A chilling end to our wintry trip to Charlottesville.


I have a deep love for my country. I believe in ideals. I love that we are a nation that fights for ideals we haven't yet seen nor even fully experienced. I love that we are a country that looks at itself in the mirror and is able to pinpoint the parts we want to improve upon while also holding pride for all that is good and true and beautiful. 

This is how I feel the day after my trip to Monticello. I'm grateful to our Founding Fathers who designed a country that would be forever improving, forever becoming an ever greater America - never resting upon the laurels of our forefathers nor the illusion of an idealized past. I'm grateful to Thomas Jefferson - the man, not the saint - who like me had within himself ideals and dreams, passions and sins. 

It's this man whom I encountered this wintry trip to Monticello.

Have you been to Monticello? How did your visit impact your genealogical research or your study of the enslaved people of your family? How did Monticello shed light on American history for you?

Until we meet again, keep digging and encountering your ancestors through family history research and remembering the past made present!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving and the Mayflower Society

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash
I had the blessing of knowing my great-grandmother, Gertlie Brooks née Edgerton. She was a classy sort of woman. She always had her hair done. She liked nice clothes. Her home was filled with interesting furniture and she always had those strawberry candies I looked forward to. I grew up knowing that there was something special about her side of our family. As it turns out, her family was deeply connected to the history of our country, I just never knew the story.

Then along came my passion for family history. I was bit by the genealogy bug and did what many newbies do when they get access to the Ancestry database - I added all the names other people had in their trees! I just added and added and next thing I knew I had a Mayflower passenger in my tree! Could I really be descended from Pilgrim Elder William Brewster?

In honor of my Mayflower passenger ancestors, Elder William and Mary Brewster, I'd like to share with you the process that I took to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. As we are remembering all that we have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and as we look back at that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, here is the path I took to reconnect with my ancestors.

Why I wanted to join the Mayflower Society

As I became more involved in the genealogy community, I realized the importance of proper documentation for relationships listed in my tree. Otherwise, my family tree might be no more than a collection of fables! So I collected evidence, I confirmed relationships, and I polished my tree up. But, I still didn't have access to documentation prior to the 1800s. What was I to do if I wanted to confirm that I was descended from William Brewster?

There are many reasons to join a lineage society, but the most immediate benefit - for me - of joining the Mayflower Society is that they already have documentation and proofs for Mayflower passenger descendants for many generations. So instead of me having to reinvent the wheel, and re-finding all of the original documents, I can connect myself to a community that holds that research.

Besides wanting to access records and research, I also wanted to join the Mayflower Society to preserve my own research. It's a way of backing up my work in a safe place for generations to come. Additionally, it's another way to connect with other genealogists - and distant cousins - with a shared interest in the Mayflower and American history. And then there's the added benefit of being able to say not only with pride but also with surety: my ancestor Mary Brewster helped cook the first Thanksgiving meal! Historians and genealogists - peers and superiors - have reviewed and confirmed my descent. It's no fable, after all!

The application process

I began the application process for the Mayflower Society (GSMD) by first collecting my lineage starting with William Brewster and working down to myself. By looking at the GSMD website, I saw that I'd need to apply through one of the member societies that the GSMD has organized by state. This took me to the Virginia Mayflower Society website where I was able to read about the application process and find the Preliminary Review Form to submit to the state historian. This Preliminary Review Form allows a potential member to know how many generations of their lineage have already been proven by previous applicants.

On the Preliminary Review Form, I listed William Brewster on the first generation line, and I worked down generation to generation until I listed myself on the 16th generation. This means William Brewster is my 13th great-grandfather! I submitted this form on 26 Feb 2017. After hearing back from the state historian, my application was given to one of the assistant historians to work with more directly. By 3 Mar 2017, I knew that the Mayflower Society already had proven the first nine generations! That meant I only needed to prove generation 10 through 16!

I was ready to submit nearly all of the documentation by the end of March. My assistant historian from Virginia allowed me to submit digital files of all documentation. This was not only efficient, but it was faster and creates a solid backup of my files. Over the course of the next month, I had to order a few more documents on my great grandparents and grandparents, but it was a fairly smooth process. The GSMD does require all marriage and divorce documents for the most recent three generations though. For families like mine with a lot of divorce, it does present a bit more work....but it's worth it!

The final review of my complete application was done by 29 Apr 2017 and my the final signed application was sent to the GSMD headquarters in Plymouth on 10 May 2017. I then had to wait a bit for the national historian to approve my application but on 17 Aug 2017 I was given word that my application was approved! My hard work had paid off!

The Religious Context of the Mayflower Voyage

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash
Over the course of American history, our country has produced a narrative that has formed our sense of national identity. We are a people of immigrants, of those seeking religious freedom and of the poor hoping for social advancement. Of course this community story is one that not all have had access to - but thankfully our country is also one of ideals and of hope. And so we press on hoping for those ideals to be experienced by all! Those first European immigrants to the New World came for many reasons too. Some for gold, some for land, and others for the peace that comes by following their conscious in issues of faith.

These first Europeans were (by and large) from England. So we need to look at the religious context of these English immigrants. The 16th century was one of great religious upheaval in England. In 1534, with the Act of Supremacy, the reigning English monarch (Henry VIII at the time) became the supreme head of the Church of England instead of the Pope of Rome. By 1549 (during the reign of Edward VI), the first Book of Common Prayer was published for the Church of England. From 1554 until 1559, the Church of England was again in communion with the Church of Rome under the reign of Mary I. But with the reign of Elizabeth I, the Church of England was reestablished and the reform movement was firmly planted in England.

Context is everything here. During the early years of the Protestant Reformation, there were some who wanted more reform than the established Church of England was doing. These various groups are collectively called dissenters. Most had varied religious beliefs and many went to mainland Europe for religious freedom. In 1560, the Geneva Bible was published in Switzerland. This was a popular translation for dissenters and was the first English Bible to be divided into verses. In 1611, the King James Bible was published and it was in 1620 that the Mayflower landed on the shores of the New World.

Who was William Brewster?

Elder William Brewster
William Brewster was an educated dissenter born about 1566 in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England. He moved from England to Holland in 1608 where he became the leader and elder of a separatist congregation. More than merely a dissenter, William Brewster was also a separatist rather than a Puritan. You can read more about the distinction between Pilgrims and Puritans here.

The lives of William Brewster and his family always come to my mind during the Thanksgiving season. They left their their families twice - first in England and second in Holland. They left the comfort of a world they knew for the prospect of being in a place where they could worship as their conscience dictated. And for the blessing to be able to do this in the New World, and for their survival - they gave thanks to their God. Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, 45 died during the first winter. There were 18 women that came on the Mayflower, but only four were left by that first Thanksgiving. William Brewster's wife Mary was one of those four women.

So often in our national narrative of Thanksgiving, we remember the idealized picture of peace and mutual appreciation. Or, we debate that narrative and talk about the other side of the story - that of conquest and religious subjection. But few discuss the very personal experience of men and women who lost so much for the chance to worship out in the open. Few discuss the strength it must have taken to continue to hope, to continue to have faith in a world so filled with pain and loss. The strength that it takes to give thanks to God in times when we feel the world is so utterly out of our control.

And so today, I give thanks for my ancestors and their example to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).


Genealogy is an intensely personal venture. It's a journey that takes us from the comfort of our own family stories into the often challenging truths that we discover. It's personal because it strikes at the very core of our identities but it is also personal in the sense that it's relational. I feel more connected to my ancestors the more I discover who they were, what they fought for, and what they endured.

My journey to join the Mayflower Society has brought the English Reformation to life for me. It has made English history relevant. It has taken a yearly Thursday meal and turned it into a moment of remembrance of brave men and women who endured. 

Have you discovered Mayflower passenger ancestors in your family? Have you joined the Mayflower Society? How do you connect and encounter your ancestors during the Thanksgiving season?

I wish all of you a blessed Thanksgiving and that you too can encounter your ancestors today through family history research and remember the past made present!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Exciting News on RootsTech

I've got some news on RootsTech!

My RootsTech 4-day Pass Giveaway WINNER

First, I have an announcement to make about my RootsTech 4-day Pass Giveaway! *Drum roll please!* My winner is...Alyson Cecil from Utah! Congratulations Alyson!

One of the great things about being able to offer a free pass to RootsTech is that I get to meet another person who's just as excited as I am about getting to go to RootsTech this year!

First Keynote Speaker Announced

Secondly, we have news of ONE of the keynote speakers at RootsTech 2019! I emphasize one because I'd be perfectly content if we had just this one speaker. But, he's not all we have to look forward to (more news on the other speakers soon...) So who is this one speaker I'm super psyched for?

Our speaker on Friday, March 1 will be....Saroo Brierley! Have you seen the movie Lion starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman? (Here's the trailer!) It's an inspiring story of a boy in India who gets lost, is adopted by a family in Australia, and then returns to India to find his birth family as an adult. What makes it even more of an incredible story is that it's a true story based on the memoir "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley. To learn more about Saroo, you can check out these 3 Interesting Facts about Saroo. You can also watch an interview with Saroo Brierley and his adopted mom here.

RootsTech App available

The RootsTech App, available through the App Store and Google Play Store, was a great help for me at RootsTech 2018. It helped me keep track of my classes, where they were located and also helped me make last minute decisions about which class to go to when one filled up. Also, it helped me rate my instructors afterwards too. Super convenient. It's great!

Well, you can get the App now for your smartphone! You can start prepping now for the sessions you'll attend and get even more excited! And if you want to check out those classes from your computer, head over to the class schedule page.


That's all I've got for you now, y'all! Stay posted for my upcoming Thanksgiving related blog post!

Until then, keep encountering your ancestors through family history research and remembering the past made present.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

RootsTech 2019 4-Day Pass Giveaway!

Y'ALL! I'm so excited to finally be able to offer you this chance to win a 4-day pass to RootsTech 2019!!

I had an amazing week at RootsTech 2018. I met genealogy speakers, distant cousins, and made new friends. I was entertained and I learned A LOT! I was pretty excited about registration opening because RootsTech 2018 was everything I hoped it would be.

So here's your chance to win a free 4-day pass to RootsTech 2019 that will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah from February 27 through March 2, 2019.

What does this pass offer you?

- A 4-day pass to RootsTech and a savings of $299!
- Access to over 300 classes! Check out the schedule!
- Keynote and general session speakers!
- Access to an AMAZING expo hall! Learn more about the Expo Hall 2019!
- Evening events! (Tons of fun!)

*NOTE: This pass giveaway does not include airfare, hotel, paid lunches, or paid labs.*

Don't worry if you've already registered for RootsTech 2019! Still submit for this giveaway! If the winner of this giveaway has already registered, the paid registration fee will be refunded by RootsTech.

Giveaway Deadline & Rules

This giveaway begins October 30th and ends November 15th at Noon EST.

The winner will be announced on my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and will be notified by e-mail.

DISCLAIMER: As a RootsTech 2019 Ambassador, I am responsible for promoting RootsTech 2019. In return for this promotion, I received a free pass to attend. My airfare, accommodations and other expenses are not compensated by RootsTech, or any affiliated group/company/vendor.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Five Reasons to Join a Lineage Society

Photo by Elijah Hail on Unsplash

Growing up in Virginia, I've always known about lineage societies. Who doesn't know someone with a family member in the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Daughters of the American Revolution? It always seemed to me as quintessentially Virginian as Pecan Pie and Chicken-Fried Chicken (it's a thing - look it up!)

After all, Virginians have a deep fascination with our roots. Early settlers were sure to document connections to British royalty and - when it was no longer in vogue after the Revolution - they turned to find royal connections to Pocahontas and other Native American leaders. We see evidence of this with the "Pocahontas Exception" - a loophole in racial purity laws that allowed white Virginians to be considered white if they had as much as 1/16 Native American ancestry. But it's history like this that often keeps people away from exploring genealogy and joining lineage societies.

Plus, joining a lineage society takes a lot of work: documenting each generation along with proofs to previous generations, often for many many generations. So with all of the work it takes, what are some reasons that would make you want join a lineage society?

1. Peer review

The most convincing argument for joining a lineage society is the peer review process. In the sciences, academia and other professions, the peer review process allows a writer or researcher to have their work looked over by peers in their same field.

For those of us researching our roots through genealogy, our research can often be a lone job. We sit there looking at the same records over and over again and can easily overlook holes in our research or undocumented assumptions. Having another genealogist look at our research - along with the accompanying documentation - has the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes and a clear new mind to look at our work.

Anyone can claim a connection to someone famous. But can they prove it? The wall that divides history from genealogical fantasy is built by documentation and is confirmed by peers in our field. The application process for all lineage societies provides this peer review process that confirms - or possibly rejects - the research we present.

2. Access to resources

If I were interested in a particular topic apart from some general knowledge, I'd seek out a specialized library or museum. When we're at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., we don't go to the Natural History Museum to see the Constitution. And we don't head to the African American History Museum to see ancient fossils. But once we go to each of these museums, we find material and information we could find no where else! Lineage Societies too have resources that we might find nowhere else.

The Daughters of the American Revolution has an archives that holds records on families from around the United States. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants has documentation on generations and generations after the Mayflower passengers settled in this land. The Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia (the Manakin Huguenot Society for short) has a library documenting those first French refugees to Virginia. It's even situated on land from the original 1700 settlement in present Powhatan County, Virginia. Imagine what you could find in one of these archives!

When we struggle to find documentation for more distant ancestors, lineage societies and the resources they hold may be the key to breaking down brick walls and to proving our lineage.

3. Preservation of our research

The fear of many a genealogist is "what will happen to my research when I'm gone!?" While we hope a family member will joyfully preserve our research and pass it down to future generations, this might not be realistic or even possible. And our local state or county archives may not have the space or resources to preserve our research either (though they might - so do contact your local archives to see if this is a possibility!) But if we submit our research and it gets accepted by a lineage society, our research will be preserved for as long as that organization is continued.

In my home county of Powhatan, Virginia, we had many old churches burn in the 20th century. Many of my family members had given their old family Bibles to their churches to be kept safe only to have them burn along with the church building. As tragic as this has been, we don't have to see this happen in the future. We can apply to lineage societies and have copies of our documentation preserved in safe and secure archives in their libraries.

4. The challenge

One of the more exciting aspects of genealogy research is the challenge that it presents. If it were easy, everyone would do it. If it were impossible, we'd all give up. But with a healthy challenge, we're spurred on for more and more research and this leads to stronger evidence and clearer support of our arguments. When we apply to a lineage society, we're forced to present solid proof for generations that we may have had only shaky support for before.

Having a new challenge presented to us by a new lineage society we're applying to can be that fire that reignites our passion for good genealogical research. This challenge might be the thing that gives you the necessary experience to rethink that brick wall in another part of your tree. The challenge is what strengthens our research skills and keeps us moving forward.

5. Community

On a purely practical level, being a member of a lineage society means being part of a community. Whether it's called a "society" or an "association," a lineage society is a community of like-minded people with a common heritage or with ancestors who had a common experience. Community provides both relationships and support. In our research we can become overly self-dependent and isolated. Community through lineage societies can offer new friends and family members that we can connect with, and connections to break out of our research-induced isolation.

Being a member of a lineage society offers some benefits of community that a genealogical society also offers. When we are together with other genealogists, we can ask for help and receive advice from others who have similar interests and who might be researching similar areas. Two minds are better than one, and the collaboration that is borne from community may be that missing element in your genealogical research.


If you're considering applying to a lineage society, I hope I've inspired you to take that leap of faith to move forward in your application. Research the various lineage societies that are out there and see which of your ancestors could gain you membership with one of them. Don't miss out on this opportunity for peer review, access to established research, and a place to preserve your research. Take advantage of the challenge that comes from a new lineage society application and then enjoy the community that comes from that membership.

Have you joined a lineage society? Which of these five reasons have you found the most true for you? What is holding you back from applying to a lineage society?

Joining a lineage society is a tried-and-true way to encounter your ancestors through family history, and to remember the past made present for you and your family today.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Following Clues in Land Tax Records

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Being a genealogist is a lot like being a private investigator. We start with a mystery and a person and then we dive into all of the possible sources that might solve the riddle. We leave no stone unturned, no matter how unlikely it might initially seem to us. And as we collect data, we hope to be able to follow the many bits of information as a path that takes us to a solution to our mystery. We sure do hope for that solution, don't we!?

My person - my brick wall ancestor - that I'm seeking out as a genealogical "private investigator" is my own Joseph Williams. Last time, we dove into land deeds, chancery records, and order books to narrow down his date of death. But mysteries still abound with Joseph. Where was he born? Who were his parents? Where was he in 1850 when he disappears from the census?

To work on answering some of these questions about Joseph Williams, I took a look at land tax records to see what answers they might give. As always, I will show how I work with these land tax records in collaboration with other record types. So let's see what these records have for us about Joseph Williams!

1. Probing Land Tax Records

The Library of Virginia has a list of all of the land tax records available for the state of Virginia. The LVA has also provided a helpful resource to learn about the content and use of land tax records for the state. I decided to look for all possible years that Joseph Williams was listed as a land owner in Powhatan County, Virginia. This way, I could get a sense of the record set as well as have sources that bookend his life in the county.

Since I have already determined that Joseph died between 9 May 1889 and 4 March 1895, I started with 1892 to see if I'd find him there. I anticipated to find him through 1895. So what did I find? I found him listed in 1892, 1893, and 1895. Oddly enough, he is still listed in 1896 but not in 1897. I know that he had passed by 4 March 1895, so my assumption right now is that he was listed through 1896 because his property hadn't been divided yet.

Next, I went to see the earliest records that listed Joseph Williams in Powhatan. The earliest two record sets for Powhatan are 1782-1820 (Reel 249) and 1821-1850 (Reel 250). Since Joseph was born about 1817, I decided to begin with the 1821-1850 reel. I hoped to find him in Powhatan by 1839 because he married Ona Ann Adams on 30 Mar 1838.

I also took note of any surnames I recognized during this search to use in further research. I noticed, for example, that Joseph Williams' father-in-law William Adams is first listed in 1828 with 168 1/2 acres of land. His property is listed as "H. W. Watkins Est." and was acquired "by deed from Edward Haskins." William Adams is listed again each year from 1828 through 1844. In 1845, William Adams' property is then listed as "William Adams' estate" as it remains through 1860. William Adams' wife Mary Adams is listed as well beginning in 1855. But what about Joseph?

1828 Land Tax record for Powhatan County, Virginia

Joseph Williams first shows up in 1842 with 90 1/4 acres. I didn't find him in 1839 as I had assumed I would. I knew already that he ought to appear by 1841 or 1842 because these are years he appears in land deeds for Powhatan County. But then he disappears from the land tax records until 1861 when he is listed with 22 acres. This may reflect a land deed that involves Joseph Williams from 21 May 1860. At this point, these land tax records just seem to add more questions rather than solving the ones I already had! Let's see how we can connect these bits of confusing facts, shall we?

2. Connecting the dots

When looking at land tax records, I discovered I had a lot of disconnected dots of information. For example, I have Joseph Williams in the 1840 census for Powhatan but he isn't in land tax records until 1842. I cannot find Joseph Williams or his mother-in-law Mary Adams in the 1850 census, and Joseph Williams isn't in any land tax records until 1861. But, Joseph Williams is in the 1860 census for Powhatan County. So where was this family in 1850?

There is an 1854 chancery record related to William Adams out of Powhatan. Additionally, there is a longer chancery record from 1860 that gives more records related to that earlier more abbreviated 1854 record. In it, we discover that William Adams died about 1843. We know his will was written on 3 Jan 1843 and - according to the information recorded with the will - that he had passed away by 1 Apr 1844. The 1854 chancery record confirms that William Adams passed away about 1843. But where did Joseph Williams go from 1842 until 1861 if we know that - for at least some of that time - he was in Powhatan? Some further clues lie in this 1854 chancery record.

Excerpt from page 1 of 1854-003 chancery record, Powhatan County, VA

The chancery record reads, "That by the said will after dividing the payments of his debts he directs all the balance of his estate to be kept together for 10 years, and that at the expiration of that time all his estate should be divided among his children." The 1860 chancery record outlines all of the later division of the land, which also explains the eventual appearance of Mary Adams (his widow) beginning in the 1855 land tax list. In the 1860 census, the widowed Mary Adams is living with her daughter Ona Ann and her husband Joseph Williams. My assumption is that Joseph Williams was living on the property of the deceased William Adams during 1850. This doesn't explain why he isn't in the census, but it might explain why he wasn't paying land taxes during the period of time William Adams' estate was being kept together.


The beauty of genealogy is that there is simply no end to what we might discover. Contrary to what some say - one's genealogy is never ever complete. We must always be willing to have our preconceptions and earlier conclusions questioned and possibly confirmed or proven wrong as new information presents itself. In my case with Joseph Williams, land tax records have not solved any mysteries but they have certainly fleshed out his story a little bit more.

Looking at land tax records also shows us that we must be open to finding records about other ancestors while we are searching for one particular individual. Some of these side cases often help us inadvertently on the mission we have at hand. I now have more information on William Adams to look into that might later write some of his story. His land came from the estate of a certain H. W. Watkins and William Adams came by the land from Edward Haskins. I'll need to look for this deed and see if I can find a will for H. W. Watkins. Who knows, maybe William Adams or his wife Mary are related to the Watkins family! I won't know until I look deeper, and I wouldn't have had this clue if I hadn't looked at land tax records.

Have you looked for your ancestors in land tax records? What mysteries have they solved for you, or perhaps what clues did they lead you to next?

Next time, we'll see what we can find out about other Williamses living in the vicinity of Joseph Williams. Until then, keep on following those clues as you encounter your ancestors through family history, remembering the past made present.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

RootsTech Registration Opens Soon!

Okay, I admit it. I'm an extrovert and I love learning. I live for opportunities to be with my friends and geek out over history, religion, or linguistics. It's just what I do. So when I find out about amazing events where I can be with like-minded people - and lots of people at that - I jump on the opportunity.

For example, when I was in college, I looked forward to the day - and the hour - I could register for my Church's national college conference held each year after Christmas. I looked forward to that event so much because I knew I'd get to see friends from across the country I only saw once a year at College Conference. Plus, it was an opportunity to reconnect to my faith in an intense way - several days with church services, service opportunities, and amazing spiritual talks.

Now that I'm diving deeper into the genealogy community - discovering all the amazing opportunities to learn and to connect with others who have my passion for family, family history research, and the burgeoning field of genetic genealogy - I'm discovering I have this same anticipation for genealogy events too. Earlier this year, I had the blessing to go to RootsTech in Salt Lake City. It was amazing, y'all! It was my first time going to a genealogy conference and it sure set the bar high for all future conferences for me! It wasn't just a time to learn, it was a chance to connect with others.

Imagine a family reunion, a week of graduate school, and a party all rolled into four days.You can read about my experience (including all of the classes I attended) by clicking here.

As soon as RootsTech 2018 was finished, I was already thinking about RootsTech 2019! So you better believe I'm signing up for it! This coming conference, I'll be going as an Ambassador, which means I'll be helping to get the word out about RootsTech - and even offering a free registration to one lucky subscriber to my blog! (Stay tuned to when and how you can go about getting this free ticket!)

So when does registration open??

September 20th! That's in just FOUR DAYS! Get excited, y'all! For those who register soon, you'll get early bird pricing ($189) for this unbelievable four day conference in beautiful Salt Lake City. And don't worry, if you happen to be a winner of my RootsTech registration giveaway, RootsTech will reimburse you fully for a ticket you already purchased.

Not convinced yet? Click here to discover all the many reasons YOU should attend RootsTech 2019!

Stay tuned for my newest blog post on using tax records to work on my Williams of Powhatan brick wall and keep checking the blog regularly for news on my RootsTech registration giveaway! And don't forget to register for RootsTech 2019 on September 20th!!

Until then, keep digging, keep encountering your ancestors through family research, remembering the past made present for you and your family today.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Finding an Elusive Death Date

Photo by Chris Lawton
Cliffhangers are the worst! I prefer stories to be tidied up, closed up neatly so I can move on to the next one. Most of us like to "tie up loose ends," to "cross our t's and dot our i's." A story without a clear ending feels unfinished, unresolved, anticlimactic. And when that unresolved story is the story of our ancestors, an unclear ending or an undotted "i", can feel that much more anticlimactic and frustrating.

For many of us, the undotted "i" may be a marriage date, a birth date, or a death date. In this post, I'm going to walk you through how I've worked on finding a date of death for my ancestor Joseph Williams with no available vital records.

1. Gather what you know

When looking for a date of death for an ancestor, we can narrow down our search by finding them (and their families) in the U.S. Census. By finding them in one census, and then not finding them and/or finding their spouse listed as a widow(er), we can narrow down when our ancestor may have passed away. In the case of Joseph Williams, I have narrowed down his date of death being between 1880 and 1900 using census records. By searching census and vital records for Joseph Williams, his wife, and his children, I was certain of this much. But that's a wide window, isn't it!? Nearly all of the 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed in a 1921 fire, but some records do still exist. Unfortunately, none exist for Powhatan County, Virginia where Joseph Williams lived.

The Library of Virginia website lists which records they have on Powhatan County, so let's see for which time periods they have death records. The LVA website lists the following: Index to Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1853 - 1871; Register of Deaths, 1853 - 1871; and Death Certificates, 1912 -1917. But...none of these cover 1880-1900.

So what do I know at this point? Joseph Williams passed away between 1880 and 1900, and there are no records for deaths held at the Library of Virginia. So let's turn to some other record sets and see what they might have.

2. Land records

Powhatan County Circuit Court holds land deeds for the county. By looking through the land deed books there, I found numerous exchanges of property involving Joseph Williams in Powhatan. As expected, these were nearly all from before 1880. The first was from 27 February 1841 and the last was from 1 July 1868. But there are a few from after 1880! On 6 March 1882, Joseph Williams gave 40 acres to his son William Henry Williams. And then there are two records in the deed books regarding Joseph Williams' land that was taken by the Farmville and Powhatan Railroad: 29 February 1888 and then 6 March 1888 when the issue was concluded.

This shaves eight years off of the window for Joseph Williams' date of death. Now we know he passed away between 6 March 1888 and 1900. Since land records involve the passing along of property, what legal records might we check next?

3. Chancery records

One of my favorite pages on the Library of Virginia website is their Chancery Records Index. The wonderful people over at LVA have created searchable indexes for the chancery records from Virginia. Many - including Powhatan County - are scanned as well as being indexed. That means you can view high-quality images of an entire chancery file from wherever you live. It's amazing, really!

This is what the search page looks like at the Chancery Records Index
To search the index, first choose the county or city that interests you. You can search by first and last name of the plaintiff as well as the defendant. Or, more broadly, you can search one or two surnames that are mentioned in a particular case. You can also narrow the search by a range of years.

If we select Powhatan County, and put Williams in as a surname to search, we find 51 records including the surname Williams. For our particular focus here, I scroll to look for chancery records from after 1888 - the date we know Joseph Williams was still living. I find a chancery record with index number 1901-003 for a plaintiff "Admr. of William T. Turpin" and a defendant "Admr. of Joseph Williams etc." This looks promising, doesn't it? Chancery index numbers are dated from when the case was closed - in this case 1901 - and here admr. is the abbreviation for "administrator" - the person responsible for the estate of a deceased person.

After clicking "view details," we're taken to a new page that shows an index of surnames included along with a number of pages in the file. This case includes 57 scans and the following surnames: Davis, Gary, Gregory, Hoy, Turpin, and Williams. I know this is my Joseph Williams because his daughters and granddaughters married into most of these families. After reading through the case thoroughly - a few times over - I found a few important tidbits that proved vital to narrowing down Joseph Williams' death date. The first few pages of most chancery case files are the summary of the case - including important dates and persons involved. So let's dive in, shall we!?

4. Diving deep into a chancery record

When I first found this chancery record for Joseph Williams, I had a lot of questions. Why was the family of Joseph Williams taken to court? What's the story here? When I dove into the record, I was able to piece together the story of what took place at the end of Joseph Williams' life.
"Several years since one Joseph Williams died in said county seized and possessed of a tract of land lying in the County of Powhatan on the Farmville and Powhatan Railroad near Moseley Junction and adjoining the lands of Geo. L. Davis and others and containing 122 1/2 acres more or less. That the said Joseph Williams also died possessed of a considerable personal estate and intestate." (p. 2)
The summary continues:
"At the time of the death of the said Joseph Williams dec'd, he was indebted to the said Wm. T. Turpin dec'd for medical services rendered and supplies furnished during his illness and otherwise upon a bond to complainant the said Wm. T. Turpin having departed this life intestate and your complainant having regularly and duly qualified as his administrator brought suit by warrant upon the said bond against the said E. A. Baugh Sheriff and received a judgement for the sum of $68.75 with interest from the 12th day of August 1893." (p. 3)
The sheriff of Powhatan County was made the administrator of the estate of Joseph Williams, while the son of William T. Turpin, David L. Turpin, was made his administrator. In regards to the judgment mentioned, "The said judgment is wholly unsatisfied unpaid and still due your complainant. Execution was duly issued therein and returned 'no effects'" (p. 3-4). Joseph Williams - or perhaps his family after his death - had not paid his medical bills. Now the Turpin family was settling their accounts.

Extract of Judgment from Powhatan County Chancery 1901-003 p. 40
This shows us that Joseph Williams was deceased by 5 August 1895. Additionally, the extract of judgement shows that the unpaid bill is being charged interest from 12 Aug 1893. The chancery file also confirms that Joseph Williams died a widower and names his children and some of his grandchildren. The file also includes the correspondence of the court searching for the various descendants of Joseph Williams in Powhatan, Chesterfield, and Newport News. Other helpful details are addresses of some of the descendants as well as a written note by Joseph Williams' son in law, George L. Davis. The conclusion of the case is that Joseph Williams' land was sold at auction, his daughter Eliza Hoy bought the property and paid the family of William T. Turpin from the proceeds. The remainder of the money ($30.55) was distributed among the family of Joseph Williams. So we can now safely say that Joseph Williams passed away between 6 March 1888 and 5 August 1895. But was he living on 12 August 1893?

5. Order Books

The Library of Virginia also includes microfilm for Powhatan County Order Books. The order books include details of daily happenings in the court. After scrolling through many pages from 1891-1893, I found a few comments that Joseph Williams was still working to resolve his dispute with the Powhatan and Farmville Railroad between 9 June 1888 and 9 May 1889. So now we have a few later dates for him. I found an internal index for the order book from 1893-1898 and found Joseph Williams mentioned on Monday 4 March 1895.

Detail from Powhatan County Order Book from 4 March 1895
"The court doth order that the estate of Joseph Williams, dec'd be committed to the hands of E. A. Baugh, Sheriff of Powhatan County to be by him administered according to law" (p. 428). 

I haven't been able to find a record on 12 August 1893 that mentions Joseph Williams, nor have I found a more specific date than 4 March 1895. 


Vital records aren't always available when we need them. In their absence, we have to dig deep in the records we do have, and find the records that are still available. We can narrow a death date down from census records, get further clues from land deeds, and dive deep in chancery records and order books. 

At first, all I knew was that Joseph Williams passed away between 1880 and 1900. Now, I can say with certainty that Joseph Williams passed away between 9 May 1889 and 4 March 1895. I have yet to determine if he was living on 12 August 1893 - the date interest began accruing on the judgement against him by the Turpins - but I have new leads yet to pursue. 

Do you have elusive death dates for your ancestors? Have you searched chancery records or order books? 

There are still uncrossed t's and undotted i's in the final chapter of Joseph Williams' life. But there are also many undiscovered records in need of being read before I can discover how to write that last chapter. Until then, I'll remain striving to encounter my ancestors through family research, remembering the past made present.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Summer of DNA eConference

I love working with DNA in my genealogical research. I use AncestryDNA nearly every day, in fact!

Over the years of using AncestryDNA, I've come to appreciate all the ways that Ancestry makes their product user-friendly and - most importantly - useful for my research! So I've partnered with the folks over at Family History Fanatics to speak at their Summer of DNA eConference on August 4, 2018!

On August 4th, I'll be speaking on "Using AncestryDNA Tools" at 10:15am CDT. We'll also get to listen and learn from three other speakers. Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide whom you may know from Genealogy Gems, will speak about the role of DNA when you think your pedigree is full. Her talk is called, "Your Pedigree is Full, There is Still Room for DNA." Michelle Leonard, of Genes & Genealogy, will speak on "Using DNA to Solve Adoption and Unknown Parentage Mysteries." Last up, Kitty Cooper will speak on "DNA Segment Triangulation." Then all the speakers will gather for a panel discussion and we'll have a Q&A together.

It's going to be a great day of genealogy and DNA! 

Registration is $24.99 and includes 5 hours of learning, a replay of the conference, each speaker's handouts, and there will even be door prizes provided by MyHeritageDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, Ancestry, and Family History Fanatics!

So register today by clicking here!

You can also learn more about the eConference or about the various speakers by reading a great blog post over at Family History Fanatics. I hope you'll join me on August 4th!!

In the meantime, keep striving to encounter your ancestors through family research, remembering the past made present.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Following Leads to Church Records

Detail from photo by Nathan Dumlao

Last time, I wrote about researching the clergy listed in our ancestors' marriage records. Since then, I had the opportunity to research at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society (VBHS) on the campus of the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia. In this post, I'll share how I made new discoveries about Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams, my brick wall ancestors, through research in church records.

1. What church(es) did my ancestors attend?

After finding the names of clergy in marriage records and doing preliminary research on those clergymen, I was able to make a list of potential churches Joseph and Ona Ann may have attended. As all but one were baptist churches, I decided to focus first on those baptist communities in the area this couple lived. Since they lived in Powhatan, but on the border with Chesterfield County, I focused on the southeastern corner of Powhatan County and the southwest corner of Chesterfield County.

I determined from this research that my family had a connection with Skinquarter Baptist Church in the Moseley area of Chesterfield County, Virginia. I also knew that my father grew up at Graceland Baptist Church, whose Sunday School began in 1888 with the then pastor of Skinquarter Baptist. So I had good reason to research Skinquarter. I also knew that Old Powhatan Baptist Church was the resting place of some of my father's other family. I decided I'd see what the VBHS might have on Old Powhatan Baptist too.

2. Research at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society

The first step of doing research at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society is to call ahead and set up an appointment to view the records. The VBHS is an amazing resource for anyone researching Baptist churches in Virginia. The communities I'm interested in are part of the Middle District Baptist Association. This is important to know because the various churches belonging to this association met regularly over the years. Each of these district meetings has minutes that can be viewed and studied, in addition to the minute books for many of those local communities.

I started with Skinquarter Baptist Church. The VBHS has minute books for 1824-1844, 1868-1879, and 1880-1896. I scanned the pages for familiar surnames - particularly those of my ancestors and pastors who I had previously noted. Though I came away with notes on pastors and various members, I didn't find the names of any of my ancestors. I did, however, learn that Skinquarter Baptist Church left the Middle District Baptist Association during the years 1836-1848. Several times, I noticed there being some sort of conflict with the neighboring community of Mt. Hermon Baptist Church.

Feeling slightly discouraged, I moved on to Old Powhatan Baptist Church. The VBHS holds the 1845-1900 minute book for this community. Here, I saw many more familiar names. I saw relatives listed from other parts of my family, and finally I found Joseph and Ona Ann!

I learned that Joseph Williams and Oney (Ona Ann) Williams had been received as members at Old Powhatan Baptist Church by letter from Mt. Hermon Baptist Church on 17 July 1859. Joseph Williams also attended church meetings through at least May 1875. Next, I turned to the 1835-1854 minute book for Mt. Hermon Baptist Church. I hit gold! I discovered that Joseph Williams was baptized by Elder Samuel Dorset on 21 August 1842 and "Mrs. Joseph Williams" was baptized on 1 September 1842. Joseph Williams was then an active participant at Mt. Hermon from 17 September 1842 through at least 11 February 1854.

3. Follow-up research

I was absolutely thrilled to have clear evidence of membership at two communities in the area: Mt. Hermon Baptist Church and Old Powhatan Baptist Church. And more than that, I now have the dates of the baptisms of both Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams! But I wanted to know more. What brought them there? What could I learn about them based on their chosen communities?

I learned that Mt. Hermon Baptist Church was formed on 3 June 1835 from members at Skinquarter Baptist Church. The community at Skinquarter voted for their next pastor from between Rev. Edmund Goode and Rev. Samuel Dorset from New Jersey. Rev. Edmund Goode was against mission work, while Rev. Samuel Dorset was pro-missions and had an emphasis on Sunday School. The majority voted for Goode, and the minority left with Rev. Samuel Dorset to form Mt. Hermon. It was there, seven years later, that my ancestors were baptized.

The Daily Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, 17 June 1878.
I found an article in The Daily Dispatch describing the history of Skinquarter Baptist as well as the disagreement the community had with the founders of Mt. Hermon. A similar story is told in the biographic sketch of Rev. Samuel Dorset found in Virginia Baptist Ministers, Third Series published in 1912. Here, I learned that my ancestors chose in Rev. Samuel Dorset a pastor "described as 'well informed, sound in doctrine, and liberal in his views'" and a church community that "committed themselves to missions, Sunday schools, temperance work, and an educated ministry."

4. How far did my ancestors travel for church?

By researching land deeds and studying 19th century and modern land plats for Powhatan County, I know that my Williams family lived on Moseley Road in Powhatan County. I also know the location of a family cemetery on that same property. By using the location of the family cemetery as the approximate location of the Williams homestead, I made a map with Google Maps along with the locations of Skinquarter Baptist, Old Powhatan Baptist, and Mt. Hermon. 

A. Family Cemetery, B. Skinquarter, C. Old Powhatan, D. Mt. Hermon
All three churches are roughly equidistant from the family cemetery. By using modern roads, it is a 4 mile trip from the cemetery to Mt. Hermon, and a 6 mile trip to both Skinquarter and Old Powhatan. In the 19th century, travel would have been on much rougher roads and by horse and carriage. That my ancestors made church attendance a priority - as well as participation in church meetings recorded in minute books - despite the distance speaks to their determination and commitment. 

Map showing border of Powhatan County and Chesterfield County

I have been researching Joseph Williams and his wife Ona Ann Adams for years, but much of their story has remained a mystery to me. By noting ministers in marriage records, and following through in researching those ministers and their church communities, I was able to find my ancestors in church records. I have specific dates for when my ancestors were baptized and joined two local communities. I even know now how the Dorset area of Powhatan County got its name - from my ancestor's beloved pastor from New Jersey! I grew up driving past Dorset and Mt. Hermon, and I went to high school next door to Old Powhatan Baptist Church - all the while never knowing my family's connection to these places. Little by little, this little hometown of mine is proving to be home indeed!

Have you ever researched church records? How could church records give you a clearer picture of your ancestors?

Join me next time as we continue to encounter ancestors through family history and remember the past made present!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Discoveries Waiting to be Made in Marriage Records

When I get stuck at a brick wall, I try to find a creative way to get over it. After I've used census and vital records, and then descendancy and DNA research, I look for clues in records - both new and already used - that might give me a step up. Recently, I had an aha moment after visiting the Powhatan Circuit Court to gather some copies of marriage licenses. I realized that I've been overlooking a lot of clues! So this time, I'd like to share how marriage records can point us in new and interesting directions in our research. Maybe your next discovery is just waiting to be made in a marriage record!

1. Locate the marriage records

There are many types of marriage records made over the years in different parts of the country, and there are also various places these records can be found. Online, you can find copies of original marriage records along with indexes. In person, you can locate marriage records in local or state archives.

In the modern age of genealogical research, we can often settle for (or accept as sufficient, whatever the case may be) the indexes that are available online. There are several problems that can arise with indexes, however. Firstly, indexes are handwritten or typed transcriptions of other records. Secondly, online indexes are themselves transcriptions of those transcriptions. So if we rely on online indexes, we're likely accepting the high probability of there being human error between the event itself and the record we have of that event. So how do we get around this problem, if that's even possible?

We need to check the local archives to see if marriage registers or original marriage licenses are available. In the case of Powhatan County, there are both marriage registers as well as marriage licenses available (for many but not all years). So what was I able to find in these marriage records?

2. Details in marriage records

When looking at the earliest "Register of Marriages" in Powhatan County, there are several columns of information provided: date of bond, name of husband, name of wife, parents or guardian of husband, parents or guardian of wife, security and witnesses, and minister. In most cases for Powhatan, the parents or guardian of the husband are not listed. Additionally, the minister is often not listed in the register.

For marriage registers in the latter part of the 19th century, additional information is available: age of husband and wife, whether the parties are single or widowed, the places of their birth and current residence, the names of their parents, the occupation of husband, and the name of the person performing the marriage ceremony. But remember, this record is also a transcription of other (possibly) available records. So we should always seek out the marriage licenses to see if the names and other information have been properly transcribed.

Once we locate the marriage licenses, we might be tempted to look only at names, dates, and places. What else matters, right? Potentially very helpful to your research are those other bits of information provided in the licenses: the occupation of the husband, the precise location the marriage occurred, and the name of the minister. So for this post, let's see what we can figure out about our ancestors by paying attention to their minister.

3. Finding our ancestors' ministers

Let's see what I found on my Williams family from Powhatan. I looked first for the minister who married my earliest known Williams ancestors (Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams) as well as the ministers for the marriages of their children. I also looked for the marriage record of James H. Williams, a man from Powhatan who I have suspected may be a brother (or cousin) to Joseph Williams. In the course of searching for these records in the circuit court, I also found the marriage records of several other Williams men I have noted in earlier research.

The marriage register does not list the minister for Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams, and I haven't been able to access their license from 1838. However, based on the dates listed in the marriage register, I was able to find the marriage licenses for three of their children. The eldest child, Eliza W. Williams, was married to Archer Hoye on 5 July 1855 by Rev. Joseph Goode. Emmaline Williams was married to Benjamin Alfred Gary on 4 October 1865 by Rev. Joseph Goode. Joseph Edward Williams was married to Mary Jane Barley on 27 July 1881 by Rev. B. H. Dupuy.

Eliza W. Williams was married by Rev. Joseph Goode on 5 July 1855 in Powhatan

What about some other Williamses from the county? The marriage license for James H. Williams shows that he married Polenia Ann Utley on 26 November 1874 by Rev. Joseph Goode. Also, the son of James H. Williams (by a previous wife) named William Joseph Williams was married to Rebecca B. Faudree on 22 September 1862 by Rev. Joseph Goode. Another Williams man, the son of Henry Williams named George Madison Williams, was married to Mary Elizabeth Richardson on 11 April 1855 by Rev. Joseph Goode.

Joseph Edward Williams was married by Rev. B. H. Dupuy on 27 July 1881 in Powhatan

Are you seeing a pattern? Five of the six marriages were all performed by a Rev. Joseph Goode. These may be the same man, or they could be more than one man with the same name. These marriages range from April 1855 to November 1874. Only one was performed by another man, a Rev. B. H. Dupuy. So who were these two ministers?

4. Why discover our ancestors' ministers?

Why would I be interested in my ancestor's ministers? If, as I've demonstrated above, there is a pattern (ie. multiple family members or possible family members using the same minister) then it might suggest that there was a family church. Many denominations keep records of baptisms, marriages, membership records, deaths and burials, and even minute books. By determining our ancestors' ministers, we can not only paint a more precise picture of their every day lives, but we might even find yet undiscovered records through church archives.

5. Case Study: Rev. Joseph Goode

The signature of Rev. Joseph Goode from the marriage record of Eliza W. Williams

I started my search on Ancestry for "Joseph Goode" in Powhatan County with an estimated birth of 1820 (assuming he was at least 35 when he performed the marriage of Eliza W. Williams in 1855). I found a marriage record of a Joseph Goode to Emaline Bowles on 18 November 1833 in Powhatan. Knowing this could be one of many men with the same name, I followed this path for a bit. I next found Joseph and Emaline Goode living in upper Chesterfield County in 1850. He was listed then as a farmer. I then find Joseph and Emaline in 1860, with him still listed as a farmer, living in Southern District of Chesterfield County. When I found them again in 1870 in Chesterfield, with him still listed as a farmer, I started to lose faith he's the right man. Shouldn't he be listed as a minister? Finally, in the 1880 census, I find a Joseph Goode who is a widower and a preacher living in the Clover Hill District of Chesterfield. All four of these records give him an approximate year of birth as 1812 or 1813.

There is also an 1880 census document available called the "Supplemental Schedules, Nos. 1 to 7, for the Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes" that lists Joseph Goode in Chesterfield. It shows that he has suffered from "melancholia" for one year, since he was 66 years old. It also shows that he requires to be often kept locked under lock and key at night. When I go back to the 1880 census, it shows that he had been unemployed for that entire census year and he is marked as insane. I then find a death record for a Joseph Goode, a farmer, who died in 1881 in Chesterfield, the son of Joseph and Judith, and the widower of Emeline Goode. So it seems this might be my family's pastor, who worked as a farmer and preacher until his life ended as a widower suffering from depression. What more might I find on him?

After doing a Google search for ""Joseph Goode" pastor Chesterfield Virginia", the first result is for a book in Google Books from 1887. The book is called "Virginia Cousins: A Study of the Ancestry and Posterity of John Goode of Whitby" by George Brown Goode. On page 104, I find a description of a Rev. Joseph Goode who joined Skinquarter Baptist Church in Chesterfield County in 1796. He lived from 4 April 1776 to 13 October 1823 and was married to Judith Watkins (the daughter of Rev. Benjamin Watkins of Powhatan) in 1796. Since the marriages I've been researching occur from 1855 to 1874, I know this can't be my Joseph Goode. But, I recall (as I mentioned above) that Joseph Goode's parents were Joseph and Judith. Could Rev. Joseph Goode's father also have been Rev. Joseph Goode? As I read further on page 104, I see that one of the sons of Rev. Joseph Goode and Judith Watkins was another Rev. Joseph Goode. It reads, "Rev. Joseph, m. Miss Bowles of Powhatan, Baptist Minister and farmer in Chesterfield Co., near Genito: insane in 1880."

Excerpt from p. 104 of "Virginia Cousins" by George Brown Goode

This one page of a book written in 1887 confirms my research and also shows me that my family had a strong connection to Skinquarter Baptist Church. Perhaps the younger Rev. Joseph Goode wasn't the preacher at Skinquarter as his father was, but he certainly was working in the Genito area where my Williams family lived, and down the street from Skinquarter Baptist Church. This tells me I next need to do research on Skinquarter Baptist Church at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia. Perhaps I will find there records of my Williams family's baptisms or other membership records.

6. Case Study: Rev. B. H. Dupuy

The signature of Rev. B. H. Dupuy from the marriage record of Joseph Edward Williams

After finding so many records of my Williams family members being married by Rev. Joseph Goode, I was fascinated by the fact that my own ancestor, Joseph Edward Williams, did not get married by him when he married Mary Jane Barley in 1881. Instead, he was married by Rev. B. H. Dupuy. As I found out through my research above, Rev. Joseph Goode had passed away the year before. So was Rev. B. H. Dupuy another pastor of Skinquarter Baptist Church? Or was he perhaps the pastor of Mary Jane Barley's family?

Since I knew that Rev. B. H. Dupuy was serving in Powhatan in 1881, I first searched the 1880 census for Powhatan County for a B. H. Dupuy (hopefully listed as a preacher or minister) born around 1845 (which would make him around 35 in 1880). And voila! I found him! Benjamin H. Dupuy, born about 1845, was living in Macon District of Powhatan County in 1880 with his wife, two children, and his brother. And even better? He's listed as a preacher! I next find him in 1900 in Marion, Crittenden, Kentucky with his wife and now seven children born between Virginia, Missouri, and Mississippi. In 1910, he's listed as a Doctor of Divinity living in Lake City, Columbia, Florida with his wife and three children, and by 1920, he's a widower living in Leesburg, Lake County, Florida with his son. It's also worthy to note that in the 1910 census he's listed as a Confederate veteran. Finally, I find a record through FindAGrave of a Rev. B. H. Dupuy in Leesburg, Lake County, Florida who passed away in 1926. While the FindAGrave profile for his burial lists him as Rev. Benjamin Hunter Dupuy, his grave simply reads Rev. B. H. Dupuy. It also mentions that he was a Confederate soldier in 1863 and a Presbyterian Minister in 1876.

Next, I did another Google search: this time for "Benjamin H Dupuy Powhatan Presbyterian". The first result is a digitized copy of "The Huguenot Bartholomew Dupuy and His Descendants" by Rev. B. H. Dupuy, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church, Beverly, W. VA. published in 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky. Could this be the same Rev. B. H. Dupuy who married my ancestors?

When I do a page search (Ctrl f) for "Benjamin H Dupuy" in this book, I find that pages 207 through 209 are for a Rev. Benjamin Hunter Dupuy. It shows that he was a Confederate soldier who volunteered in May 1863 and was engaged in the battle of Gettysburg on July 2-3, 1863. He graduated from Hampden-Sidney College in 1873 and Union Theological Seminary in 1876. He was ordained in August 1876 by the Presbytery of East Hanover and was the "Pastor of the Powhatan and Stated Supply of the Willis churches, Va., 1876-83" (p. 208). It also mentions that he had been a pastor in Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky, and at the time of this book he was the pastor in Beverly, West Virginia. But is this the same man as the author? Well, page 209 reads, "A frequent writer for the Church papers and author of this volume." I guess that's a yes! It also confirms that his whole name is Benjamin Hunter Dupuy.

I then discovered through some more internet sleuthing that Powhatan Presbyterian Church later became known as Providence Presbyterian Church. Providence Presbyterian Church (Powhatan, Virginia) church records, 1825-1967 are available online at FamilySearch, as well as at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond. (You can guess where I'll be exploring soon!)


If we're doing genealogical research as a simple discovery of facts, of dates and names and places, we're only going to see what we want to find. But if we recognize that we're about discovering and encountering our ancestors, then we will want to discover some of what (and who) gave richness to their lives. Marriage records provide a window not only into the facts of an event, but can also show us who our ancestors let into the most intimate of life's celebrations.

My research helped me see that Rev. Joseph Goode and Rev. Benjamin Hunter Dupuy had meaningful relationships with my ancestors. They were more than ministers of a marriage; they were their pastors and community leaders. Their relationships with my family help point me to further research - both in Baptist and Presbyterian church records - and give me a sense of the religious diversity of my family. It also causes me to ask other questions. Were the Williamses members at both Skinquarter Baptist and Powhatan Presbyterian? Was the Williams family Baptist while the Barley family was Presbyterian? How did this difference in faith impact the dynamics within the children of Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams?

Marriage records hold clues just waiting to be discovered that will point you to the next research questions for your genealogical research. What have you discovered from marriage records for your ancestors? Have you ever researched your ancestors' ministers?

By researching marriage records and discovering my ancestors' pastors, I've also encountered my ancestors themselves, remembering the past made present. I hope you'll join me next time on this journey of discovery!

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