"If you could meet one person from history, who would you choose and why?"
We all know that icebreaker question, don't we? It gets us to stop and think about what we value, who we value, and how they have impacted our lives.
So who would I like to meet? Besides the obvious Sunday School answer (Jesus is always the Sunday School answer), my answer would have to be one of my ancestors. Or, more specifically all of my ancestors! But knowing that that will have to wait until I pass from this life, I guess I'll try to choose just one.
My third great-grandfather is Joseph Williams. He lived in Powhatan County, Virginia and was born about 1817 and passed away by 4 March 1895. Joseph married Ona (nicknamed Oney) Ann Adams and together they raised eight children, having lost at least one child in infancy in 1858. Joseph was a landowner and also an enslaver. The 1840 census lists one enslaved woman in his household. Chancery records for his father-in-law also include Joseph selling several enslaved people in Powhatan County.
In 1842, Joseph and his wife Oney were baptized by Rev. Samuel Dorset at Mt. Hermon Baptist Church in Chesterfield, Virginia. Church records show them being active members there and at Powhatan Baptist Church. The rest that we know about Joseph lies in land, tax, and chancery records. Chancery records reveal that he had unpaid medical bills and no written will at the time of his death.
So there's a lot left unknown. When exactly did he die? Who were his parents? Where exactly was he born? Did he have a middle name?
Why I'd like to meet Joseph
Joseph is my brick wall ancestor. He's also my direct paternal line ancestor. As a male descendant of his, the Y chromosome that was in every cell of his body is also in every single cell of my body! That. Is. Amazing! That means that of all of my ancestors, I have something very specific in common with Joseph Williams that I do not have in common with all the rest of my ancestors. This just blows me away!
Knowing that I have this special connection - biologically - with Joseph makes me want to discover him all the more.
What I've done to find Joseph
I have actively sought out Joseph Williams. I have spent hours scouring over census records, vital records, tax records, land records, wills, chancery records, church records...and DNA records.
I've blogged about my search.
I wrote about how I used census and vital records to work back to my brick wall. This helped me see for sure whether I was standing on solid ground with my research or if I needed to reevaluate things.
I then wrote about using descendancy research and DNA to confirm and develop a list of living descendants of Joseph Williams.
I also wrote about the awesome things I found in marriage records relating to Joseph's family. These marriage records led me to discover amazing things about Joseph's family in Baptist church records.
Next, I wrote about how I was able to narrow down his elusive death date, and how I found more details about Joseph's life in tax records.
New clarity on Joseph
I have new clarity on the person of Joseph Williams after writing about him.
For example, I wrote about finding home in my hometown back in April 2018. At that time, I thought that Joseph had the middle initial of "H". It wasn't until doing all the writing that I mention above that I realized that this was a mistake! Only one record recorded him as "Joseph H Williams" and that turned out to be an incorrectly transcribed record for "Joseph H Worsham"!
As I collected all of these details, and I looked at the materials I had at my disposal, I realized I also had Joseph's signature. It doesn't say "his mark" next to it, either! That means he was literate - well, he could write his name at least! Someone taught him to read and write. He had at least some education.
What I'd ask Joseph
There's so much I'd like like to talk to Joseph about. How did he meet Oney? Who were his parents? Did he have siblings? You see, I've found several other Williams people living near where he lived. Are they his brother and sister? Did he know his grandparents? Did he go to church as a child? How did he feel about the Civil War? Did any of his ancestors fight for the Revolutionary War?
So many questions, and so few answers. But that's what genealogy and family history is all about. Digging. Seeking out these answers and the joy of the search.
I'd like to meet Joseph Williams of Powhatan County, Virginia. He might not be a famous person, but he's mighty special to me.
Who would you like to meet? Is there one ancestor of yours who inspires you and your research?
This post was inspired by the week 4 prompt "I'd Like to Meet..." of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.
My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!