Saturday, January 19, 2019

The First Time I Heard Her Voice

The first time I heard my Grandma Nora's voice was 13 February 2017.

It was a cold evening and I had decided to finally pull out those old cassette tapes that I had found at my Uncle Art's house. Uncle Art had passed away the previous spring, and in cleaning his house I found a collection of tapes that I had kept in a brown paper bag for safe keeping. I just hadn't built up the courage to listen to the recordings yet.

What would be on them? What if they were just Art's favorite songs? But maybe...just maybe...there'd be recordings of my Grandma Nora.

So I borrowed my dad's old cassette player that he was going to throw out anyway, and that cold evening I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what I might find on those mysterious cassettes. (I later discovered from Tom Perry on Extreme Genes that you should *never* use an old cassette player until first cleaning it. One of the tapes got stuck in the cassette player!)

After not hearing my Uncle Art's voice for so long, here he was again. 

"Okay this is going to be a call to Mother here, in the hospital in Richmond. This will be calling from Manassas here and it's August 10, 6:15pm, that's Monday. Okay hold goes the call!"

I quickly remembered hearing stories of my Uncle Art's love for recording. He would make audio recordings of conversations and thoughts. He was also a photographer, a journal keeper, a man who kept lists. So this didn't surprise me, though it did excite me! What would I hear next?

The first time he called the line was busy, so he tried again at 6:45pm.

"313, please."

Once the connection is made, the nurse hands the phone to my Grandma Nora. And just like that, I'm given a priceless gift that my Uncle Art never expected to give me. The first time I heard her voice.



"Oh hi Darlin'!" She's so excited to hear from her first born.

"Mrs. Williams?" Art seems almost jokingly formal.

"This is Mrs. Williams!" She replies with a sing-song giggle in her voice.

They talk about how she just had her treatments. My Uncle Art wants to go down to Richmond to see her, but he's not sure if he'll feel up for the trip from Northern Virginia. She talks about the visitors that have come, and her roommate in the hospital. Between her cancer treatments and jamming her finger in the bathroom door (something she mentions in a care-free sort of way), you'd think she'd sound upset, frustrated. But she doesn't. She's jovial. Light-hearted. Youthful. 

"Everything's just fine!" she practically purrs. This is a woman who's clearly spent her whole life thinking of everyone but herself.

"I'd love to see you....I love you. You come when you can, yea, suga'?" Her voice drips with the beautiful non-rhotic sweetness of Virginia.

Sometimes I wish you could just frame a moment; to hold on tight to a particular time spent with someone special. Bottle up the smell of fresh biscuits. Frame the voice of my Grandma Nora. 

In the next recording, Art clarifies that it's 1987. It turns out he did take the two hour trip south after all. To where he grew up, in Moseley, Virginia: an unincorporated area - not quite a neighborhood nor even a town - that hugs the border of Powhatan and Chesterfield counties. 

I'm glad to find out that he took the time to visit my Grandma Nora. That was 10 August 1987 and she she passed away 6 October 1987, not even two months after this recording. 

I was born in the interim - just two weeks before she passed away. I met her only once. One moment with my Grandma Nora. She was so happy to see that I had "Charlie's eyes" - the eyes of my grandfather. She lived long enough to meet me, to see me, but not long enough to tell me her story. 

So every day I grasp at every thread of information, every DNA match, every record, every distant cousin, every story, every photo, every little thing so that I can attempt to paint a picture with words of a woman who gave everything to everyone. Who held on long enough to give her grandson that one precious moment with his Grandma Nora.

I may not have her eyes, but I do have her heart. And I have her giggle.


This has been my first post in a year-long series that I'm participating in with the inspiration of Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. The first prompt was simply "first." I'll be catching up on the rest of January's prompts, and then hopefully afterwards I'll be on a more regular weekly schedule of blogging about a different ancestor. 

Thanks for joining me with my Uncle Art and Grandma Nora this week. I hope you'll join me soon as I strive to encounter my ancestors through family history and remember the past made present today.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Two Months Until RootsTech 2019!

Well 2018 sure has flown by! It feels like we were just saying goodbye to the last few beach days of the season, and then the trees changed colors, and just as I was getting ready to start thinking about Christmas it was Christmas Eve and my tree still wasn't up! Don't worry though, y'all, I got it up Christmas Eve night just in time...

Suffice it to say, time has gotten ahead of me. And though wishing the time away is never a good thing, there is a perk that comes with us getting closer to the end of February. It means we're closer to RootsTech 2019! In fact, we're just two months away from the largest genealogy conference...and by far the most I've ever felt like a kid in a genealogy candy shop.

*Just* *TWO* *More* *Months!*

So as we're approaching RootsTech, let's look at some of the new developments that have come out about the conference. I'm already pumped about going, but I hope you'll be as excited as I am too!

Featured Speakers

These are the folks we're going to listen to, to learn from, and to collaborate with. They are experts in various genealogical specialties, from genetic genealogy to regional and ethnic studies. They're our friends, our coworkers, and our community's icons. And you'll be together with them for days to connect over our shared passion of family history.

To see the full list of featured speakers click here and scroll down past the keynote speakers to the Featured Speakers section. If you click on a speaker's photo, it'll take you to their short bio. But make sure you also check out the full schedule for the week so you can see all the classes they're offering! Trust me, you'll want to make your schedule before you go.

Keynote Speakers

Our keynote speakers have been announced! We'll get to hear from Patricia Heaton - from Everybody Loves Raymond - on Thursday February 28. On Friday March 1, we'll have Saroo Brierley the author of his biography A Long Way Home that was turned into the successful film Lion. Last, on Saturday March 2, the talented Hawaiian ukulele artist Jake Shimabukuro will take the stage. You can check out more on all three of our keynote speakers here.

Preparing for RootsTech

Not sure how best to prepare for the conference? Check out this video series that will help you with everything you need from getting registered to learning about RootsTech. Now that the schedule is public, and we know who our speakers are, you're all ready to start planning what classes you're attending and when you'll have free time to see other area sites. With such a jam-packed schedule, and so many amazing speakers, you're going to have to manage your time well...and that means preparing beforehand.

In the new year, I'll discuss some of what I'm doing to prepare for RootsTech and what I hope to get out of the conference this year.


Two months may sound far away, but February 27, 2019 will be here before we know it! With each passing day I'm getting that much more excited about the new learning opportunities, and the new and old friends I'll get to see this year at RootsTech. Plus, I hope to get out and see more of Salt Lake City this time around! It's such a beautiful city...and that view!

Who are you most excited about hearing from at RootsTech 2019? Is there a keynote speaker you hope to meet? How are you going to prepare for RootsTech this year?

Whether you're spending New Year's Eve relaxing with family and friends or busily sleuthing in the records of your ancestors, I wish you a blessed evening and a Happy New Year! Keep striving to encounter your ancestors through family history research and remembering the past made present.

*Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash*

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Organizing DNA Matches

Some folks are just more organized than others. When it comes to our work space or our home, some of us like to keep some happy clutter...while others have a place for everything. And the more we get serious about our genealogical research, each one of us will have a different organizational style for our work.

Our genealogy will never be finished, nor will we probably ever find *every* record for any given person. And that's even more true when it comes to our DNA records. Each DNA match that we find is a new record of sorts, a new documentation that may serve to reinforce our paper research. So how do we properly organize all of these DNA matches that are forever growing in number?

In this post, I'm going to share one possible way that you can go about organizing your DNA matches, and some of the benefits of keeping your matches organized.

Organization brings clarity

When we first look at our DNA match list - be it on AncestryDNA, 23andme, MyHeritage, or FamilyTreeDNA - our first feeling might be anxiety. AH! SO MANY matches! Particularly for those with colonial American ancestry, it's common to have thousands of matches at an estimated fourth cousin or closer level. That can be overwhelming!

After we get past the shock of the fact that we're connected to thousands of people in our match lists, we need to get to some work to narrow down our connections. This means we need to organize ourselves somehow. But before I get to that, we should talk about the "why" of it all.

Organizing our DNA matches gives us clarity of vision. It makes sure that we know what we're looking at. When we first look at our DNA matches - without organization - it can be like standing at the edge of a vast forest of trees. What lies within? How do we get through? We have no idea from our vantage point. But...if we look from above - from a bird's eye view - we'll have a view that tells us the best way forward.

When we organize our DNA matches, we can make our match list more manageable and useful for us. Instead of being just a list of names, we'll see our list as a helpful tool for our genealogical research.

Getting organized

When we're surrounded by clutter, even sorting things out into piles can make all the world of difference! And when it comes to our DNA matches, that initial work can be done with the tools that our DNA testing companies give us.

With AncestryDNA, there are two tools which I first recommend everyone use: stars and notes. I recommend everyone start initially by determining which matches are on the paternal line and which are on the maternal line. Then choose which side you're going to star. After this, you can click on shared matches and star all of the closest matches that are shared with those other starred matches. It's not fool proof (you may match someone through both your mother and father) but for most folks it'll be a good place to start.

After you have most of your closest matches starred - or not starred - then you can add notes. I rely on these notes because they remind me of how a person matches the DNA test taker whose results I'm working on. Once I figure out how this person is connected, I also add them and their line into the tree associated with the DNA test. It will make your family tree grow pretty fast, but trust me it will pay off in the long run. It makes determining those more distant DNA matches so much easier!

With this first level of organization, you'll have starred matches and notes on all of your closest DNA matches. And, you'll also have all of your proven DNA connections as people within your family tree as well.

Charts?! Sheets?! Say it ain't so!

So far, everything I've shared with you is what I had been doing for the last few years. I thought to myself - self - you've done good! I thought this was enough to keep my DNA matches organized for the work I was doing. But then...I realized "good" wasn't enough! I want to do excellent work. So I need excellent organization. And one way to have excellent organization is to use charts.

I must admit up front that I do not keep charts and sheets for matches of every family line of my family. I actually only have begun this work on two of my lines. Why only two? Well, these are the lines that I'm most preoccupied with right now. I'm sure I'll do this for more, but for now this is serving to keep me organized and this has been paying off. So how do I organize my charts, and what do I use?

I'm a big believer in Google for my research. I use Google Docs for writing notes for myself and Google Sheets to make free spreadsheets. The huge perk is that they automatically save as I work. For Google Sheets, I am able to make charts that document the DNA connections for my matches. I use these sheets for family lines that I'm looking to get greater clarity in, or that I'm trying to prove or work further back past a brick wall. Since I have tested many family members and have access to some of our close and distant cousins, I can note in Google Sheets how closely each DNA match connects to each of these individuals.

How I use Google Sheets

In the first column in Google Sheets, I note the DNA match name and/or username. The next columns are for your DNA tests that you administer that you want to compare to this user's DNA. For example, when I'm looking at my Williams & Adams cousins Google Sheet, I compare each AncestryDNA user to my aunt, my father, two of my dad's second cousins, my third cousin, and two fourth cousins. You can certainly use this format even if you're only comparing each AncestryDNA user only to your DNA test results, but it gets increasingly helpful when you're comparing to multiple sets of results.

The next column I label "notes" and I use this to note how exactly this AncestryDNA user connects to the family line I'm researching. An example of one user's connection to my Adams family, I wrote, "William Adams & Mary Moore; William; Motier; William E; Linwood C; Linwood P" in the notes column. This shorthand represents this particular AncestryDNA user's descent from the ancestral couple I am studying. It also lets me know the line in my family tree to look at when I want to look at this match. It also shows me which children of my focus couple have given the most matches. This is particularly important in doing descendancy research with your DNA results

The last column I use to include a link to the AncestryDNA user's profile. From their profile page, I can contact them and I can also check back to see if they administer any other DNA test results. I can also look back to see if they've increased the information in their family tree. Also, I might want to compare this user to another person whose DNA results I now have access to.

In each row, I look at a different AncestryDNA user. In each column, I write the amount of DNA that these two people share. I get this number from the "i" symbol next to each match on AncestryDNA. For example, I might write "54.9 cM across 4 DNA segments." This is helpful because later I can look at my Google Sheets and see how large of a connection actually is between two individuals. It's much more specific than simply an estimated fourth cousin.

I use this format for two family lines I'm researching: the Stratton family and the Williams & Adams family from Powhatan County, Virginia. My Stratton Google Sheets form has - as of 27 Dec 2018 - 63 AncestryDNA test results organized and compared to four people. My Williams & Adams form has 49 individuals whose DNA is being compared to seven people.


Before I started making Google Sheets for focusing and organizing my research, I never thought too much about organization. Because I hadn't yet reaped the fruit of good organization. But now I have a visual to aid in my research. I have a resource for my DNA match list, and I don't have to go searching through the brambles of my match list anymore. 

This is only one small way that you can begin to organize your DNA matches. This is something that has helped me, but I'm sure there are countless different ways that you can organize your own matches. The important thing isn't how you organize, but that you do take the effort to tame your match list and to make it more manageable for you. So get to work, y'all!

Do you find your DNA match list too much to handle? How do you organize your DNA matches? How has organization helped to improve the quality of your genealogical research?

*Photo by Oscar Chevillard on Unsplash*

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.

The First Time I Heard Her Voice

The first time I heard my Grandma Nora's voice was 13 February 2017. It was a cold evening and I had decided to finally pull o...