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!

Monday, June 18, 2018

My Interview with Faces of NextGen Live!

Y'all! I'm pretty excited about something coming up tonight, 18 June 2018. I'm going to be interviewed by Eric Wells on Faces of NextGen Live!

You can view my interview live at 7pm CST or 8pm EST on the NextGen Genealogy Network YouTube page.

What is NextGen Genealogy Network, you ask? It's a network of young genealogists (those between 18 and 50) founded in 2013. You can connect with the NextGen Genealogy Network by visiting their website or by following them on Twitter.

I hope you can join us for the conversation tonight! If you're busy and can't make it, I hope you will check back at the link above to view the conversation at another time. It'll be a great opportunity to get to know me a little better. You can even ask me a question to answer on air!

See y'all tonight!

Research and Family for Father's Day Weekend

Being a perfectionist can, at times, make genealogical research a tad more frustrating. I want to be able to close the door on one story so I can move on to the next. I want to have a conclusion to a particular research question before reporting back on my research. I want to know the answers before sharing what I've done. But invariably that just keeps me from writing, and this can lead to wandering around in more mental circles that could have been avoided....had I just written it out!

So in lieu of more procrastination, I decided to report on some of the research I've been doing and how I'm hoping it will bear fruit in my Williams of Powhatan family riddle.

The beauty of living two hours away from the area where many of my ancestors lived is that I can go back often to do research in both county and state archives. I get to do some research and visit family in the same trip - I can encounter the departed and the living in one weekend. What a gift! So as I plan a potential trip, I make sure to jam as much into my schedule as possible. And then I accept that I'll probably be running a bit behind schedule as the records keep me turning "just one more page!"

So here's how I got the most out of my Father's Day weekend.

1. Planning

Whenever I go on a trip, I know that if I'm going to get the most out of my time, I need to be prepared. Where will I be going? What records do I need to view and which records are a priority over others? Who do I need to schedule to meet up with?

For this past weekend, I decided I'd focus on obtaining copies of marriage records (rather than just marriage index records) as well as some copies of some more recent land deeds from Powhatan County. This would mean I'd need to spend some time at the courthouse in the archive section of the Powhatan County Circuit Court. 

I always make sure to plan time to visit the Library of Virginia when I go to Richmond. There's just so much there! Last time I visited, I went through a whole box of unprocessed records from the mid to late 19th century. There is a wealth of little known records there, and most are available for public viewing in the manuscript room. I made the decision to limit my research this trip to the Powhatan County Order Books for the 1890s. I first visited the Library of Virginia website and found the list of all Powhatan County Microfilm records. Next, I found the reel numbers for the appropriate order books I needed and wrote those details down to take with me.

Lastly, I planned my schedule around when I could meet up with family. Lunch with a cousin, coffee with another, and some quality time with my dad were the priority. Research was plugged in around family. Family is what it's all about, y'all!

2. Research

There's a saying that the record you need is usually in the recordset that burned in a courthouse fire or the one that happens to be missing. Or more optimistically, it's usually the last record in the pile you will spend hours combing through. Well, the latter was my experience this past Friday. I was going through piles of unorganized 1870s marriage certificates and finally found the one I was looking for second from the bottom! I was able to leave the courthouse on Friday with six records I needed, and was only twenty minutes late to my lunch with a cousin. Like I said, be open to being late when setting a schedule that includes research.

On Saturday, I took my regular trip to the Library of Virginia. I spent two hours looking over a reel of microfilm for Powhatan Order Books from the 1890s. I'll report back in an upcoming post about what I was able to figure out about my Joseph Williams. I'm busy narrowing down his date of death using both chancery records, order books, and judgments on a court case he was involved in around the time of his death. I have to plan another trip soon to start off where I left off. 

3. Time with Family

Genealogy is all about people. The beautiful thing about genealogy in the 21st century is that it's easier than ever to meet with extended cousins. This trip, I met up with my recently found cousin for lunch. It's always nice to see my cousin Crickett! That afternoon, I met with my dad's second cousin (from my Williams side) Jim and his wife Debbie. It was such a pleasure to meet for the first time with someone so obviously family. I left our coffee meeting more than ever motivated to plan a Williams family reunion. We're one of those families that always says at funerals, "We should get together more often, not just at funerals," and then we don't see each other until the next funeral. 

All smiles with Jim and Debbie!

On Saturday, I spent some time with my dad in Manchester. Manchester is a fascinating place because it's now just known as South Richmond or South Side. It was an independent city from 1874 until 1910 when it was annexed by Richmond. It sits on the south side of the James River, across from the rest of Richmond. I had driven through Manchester but had never visited the sites where our family lived. Father's Day was the perfect excuse to explore!

In my research I had discovered that some children of Joseph Williams and some siblings of Ona Ann Adams had moved from Powhatan to Manchester. I knew from newspapers I found on USNewsMap.com that Joseph's daughter Emmaline had her funeral presided over by a pastor from Central Methodist Church. I also had her address where she had lived in Manchester from census and directory records. So I made a point to drive past the church and the address where she had lived. Though her home is no longer standing, I was grateful to see that the church is still there.

Central United Methodist Church in Manchester

And no trip to a new place would be complete without checking out the local food! I found Plant Zero Cafe at the corner of Hull Street Road and 3rd Street in Manchester. They have a creative menu (with a lot of vegetarian options), they serve local coffee, and they also have excellent service. It's also connected to a local art gallery! I'll definitely be back!

My healthy & DELICIOUS lunch at Plant Zero Cafe

I had a great trip to Powhatan, Richmond, and Manchester! And while I love researching and reading through records (what a genealogist thing to say, right?), my trip was that much richer for the wonderful experiences I had with my family - face to face, just being family.


When we're sitting behind the records and praying for that dreamed-of document that will break down our brick wall, it's easy to be discouraged. But it's hard to walk away from a weekend full of not only research but also of family without feeling amazingly blessed. Genealogy has brought me so many connections to new and lovely people. It has also brought me closer with my own immediate family as I connect them to our past and together we make the path for our family's future.

Holidays like Father's Day are a great opportunity to not only connect with family but also to dig deeper in paper research and in exploring the places our ancestors and relatives called home. Weekends like this past weekend give me renewed vigor for my research and the hope that it's not in vain. My family, and my concept of family, is forever expanding; what could be better!?

Did you make any genealogical discoveries this Father's Day weekend? Were you able to make any new family connections over the holiday?

I hope you'll join me next time as I encounter my ancestors by remembering the past made present.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Using Descendancy Research and DNA to Scale a Brick Wall

When most people hear of genealogy, they probably think only of a long line of ancestors, going back generation after generation. But is genealogy only about our ancestors, or is it also about our cousins? What happens when we hit a brick wall and can go no further back?

As we saw last week, we have to be certain that we're following the right path, that we're standing on solid ground in our attempt to scale that brick wall. So we double check our research, we use census and vital records at our disposal to make sure our brick wall is where we think it is.

Once we know we're correct in our deductions, we can move forward with two of the Ten Steps to Family History Research: remember that siblings matter and that DNA is the way! The principle that siblings matter tells us that not only should we move backward to determine ancestors, but we should work with all available records that relate to our ancestors' siblings as well. And if we're aiming to access all available records, we must acknowledge the powerful and evolving record that is our own DNA. Just as paper records hold a wealth of details about our past, our DNA can help us follow, confirm, and even reject the conclusions we've made from our research.

In this week's post, we'll look at the use of descendancy research and DNA to scale my Williams of Powhatan brick wall.

1. Descendancy Research

In my last post, I showed how I worked back to my brick wall ancestors of Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams of Powhatan County, Virginia. In order to discover the parents of Joseph Williams, I will need to find out all that I can about Joseph Williams and his immediate family with Ona Ann Adams. This is helpful for a few reasons. Most immediately, each child of each generation leaves behind different records that can confirm their relationship with the previous generation. This could ultimately provide important information about Joseph and Ona Ann. Secondly, descendancy research tells the wider story of the descendants of the ancestral couple. And perhaps most importantly, descendancy research provides a list of modern descendants of the ancestral couple with whom we can connect and collaborate.

When doing descendancy research, be forewarned that your tree will grow large, and quickly! I include every birth, marriage, divorce, census, city directory, social security application, death, and burial record for every descendant of the ancestral couple. Since I began my descendancy research for Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams, I have worked down all lines at least to 1940 (the last U.S. census available) and in many cases much further to include living descendants.

The challenge is finding confirmed descendants of the target ancestral couple. Here, obituaries come in handy! They often provide names of children and grandchildren of those who were born prior to 1940. From there, with some genealogical sleuthing, you can usually find some of your cousins online through google and social media. In my case, I've even figured out I went to high school with some of my cousins!

For most of us, paper research isn't going to be enough. We're going to need to collaborate with people in a way that can absolutely confirm genetic relationships: through DNA.

2. Genetic Genealogy

Genetic genealogy is where descendancy research and the use of DNA combine to form an incredibly powerful tool in our family history research. Since I have worked down from Joseph and Ona Ann, and have discovered as many of their descendants as possible, DNA helps me connect much more easily to living descendants of my brick wall ancestors.

What sorts of DNA testing are most helpful in this process? Since this is a paternal line ancestral couple I'm working to discover more about, Y-DNA testing will be important. But since we're also looking at the wide spread of descendants of two people, we also need to utilize autosomal DNA. So let's look at these two types of DNA briefly before going on to show how they have helped me connect to DNA cousins.

Every cell in our body holds within it 23 pairs of DNA that are our own unique combination of the DNA inherited from our parents. One of those pairs are known as the sex chromosomes and determine our physical sex as male or female. Each person inherits an X chromosome from their mother and either an X or a Y from their father. Men inherit a Y chromosome, while women inherit another X chromosome. Y chromosomes remain almost unchanged from generation to generation, which means that the Y-DNA I inherited from my father will be (usually) the same as the Y-DNA his father passed on to him. The degree of difference between two men who match on the Y chromosome can give us clues as to how far back they share a common paternal ancestor. The measurement used to show this difference is called "genetic difference" and refers to the number of differences between two men's Y-DNA caused by naturally occurring mutations on the Y chromosome.

When we study autosomal DNA, on the other hand, we're looking at the DNA that both of our parents passed along to us. Keep in mind that each generation looses 50% of the DNA from the generation before. So while autosomal DNA is hugely important, especially when combined with descendancy research, a negative match between two people does not necessarily mean that there is no shared ancestor. It simply means that they share no sizable segment of DNA. While the two individuals might not be related after all, it's also possible that two related individuals simply did not inherit the same segment of DNA from their shared ancestor. But when two people do share autosomal DNA, it can unlock mysteries that sometimes paper records haven't yet.

So what does it actually look like when we combine forces, when we combine the use of records (descendancy research) and DNA in the case of Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams?

3. Y-DNA research

To test my Y chromosome, I have used two tests. First, I tested my father with FamilyTreeDNA with a Y-DNA37 test. This test looked at 37 different locations on my father's Y chromosome to compare it with others in their database. The lower the number of markers tested, the lower the definition (so to speak) of the picture it can give of the Y chromosome. I chose a 37 marker test over the 12 marker or 25 marker test for this reason. Next, I upgraded to a Y-DNA67 marker test for even greater precision. Since Y-DNA is passed from father to son, my dad's Y-DNA should ideally only match other Williams men (since surnames in the British Isles are also passed from father to son).

Y-DNA67 results from FamilyTreeDNA

As you can see, only one of the 15 men tested have the surname Williams. The other surnames are Blackwell (3), Thomas (1), Harris (1), Traylor (3), Miles (1), Roberts (1), Rogers (2), Rowland (1), and Owen (1). The Williams match is my father's second cousin (which confirms that they both descend from Joseph Edward Williams at the very least). The next two most common surnames are Blackwell and Traylor. At 37 markers, there were also a few men who match with the surname Blackwell and Traylor but have yet to upgrade to a 67 marker test. I reached out to the Blackwell and Traylor matches and found that their earliest known ancestors lived in neighboring counties to mine in Virginia! I also have joined the Surname Projects on FamilyTreeDNA for each of those surnames in addition to the Williams Surname Project. These results show one (or both) of two possible scenarios: our common ancestor was before the adoption of surnames in the British Isles, or there was a NPE (non-paternity event, non-paternal event, or mis-attributed paternity) since the time our shared male ancestor.

More recently, I tested with a newer DNA testing company, LivingDNA. In addition to their autosomal DNA test, they also test the Y chromosome. While FamilyTreeDNA estimates my paternal haplogroup as R-M269, LivingDNA gives a much more specific result of R-L21 with the subclade R-DF13. This means that my paternal line descends not only from R-M269 (the most common haplogroup for Western European men) but from the more specifically 'Atlantic Celtic' haplogroup R-L21 and its subclade (subgroup) R-DF13. I've also ordered an additional SNP test through FamilyTreeDNA in hopes that they can confirm the same results that LivingDNA found.

So far Y-DNA research has shown that my Williams line is not closely related to any other Williams line that has been Y-DNA tested. My paternal line is however closely related to Blackwell and Traylor men from the neighboring counties of Goochland and Chesterfield. I also know that my Y-DNA is connected mostly with men from Atlantic Celtic ancestry, which makes sense considering Williams is a Welsh surname. What can autosomal DNA research reveal about Joseph Williams?

4. Autosomal DNA research

When working with autosomal DNA, the trick is to get as many of the oldest generations tested as possible. This is because the oldest generations have retained more DNA from the target brick wall ancestors. In addition to my father and his two sisters, three of their first cousins were tested. This gives me a firm foundation of autosomal DNA to compare all of the rest of our matches. Additionally, since I have access to my father's and aunt's autosomal DNA results, I can look at DNA matches for both of their tests. I was able to test my fourth cousin who I discovered through descendancy research and who also grew up with my father. His connection has proven invaluable as he matches some distant cousins that neither my father nor my aunt connect to.

Through analyzing the shared cousin matches of my father, my aunt, and my fourth cousin from the Joseph Williams line, I was able to identify the following matches that descend from the children of Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams. I found two from Eliza W. Williams, six from William Henry Williams, three from Emmaline Williams, and one from Ellen Frances Williams. As for the descendants of Joseph Edward Williams (from whom my line descends), I have found five matches from the other siblings of Arthur Lewis Williams (my great-grandfather). In total, there are ten descendants of Arthur Lewis Williams that have been DNA tested. I have yet to find matches to descendants of three of Joseph and Ona Ann's children: John H., Mary Ann, and George W. Williams.

Since we are working with matches that vary from as close as sibling matches to as distant of matches as forth cousins-once removed, not all of these individuals share DNA with one another. But they do all match with the same general pool of DNA cousins. Additionally, I have been able to confirm their connection to Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams.

There remains a large pool of mystery matches that connect with many of the individuals listed above (and to one another) but whose connections to us is unknown. Some have no known relationship to the Williams and Adams families. Others connect with other families from Chesterfield and Powhatan. Yet still others descend from other Williams men from Powhatan living at the same time as Joseph Williams, namely James H. Williams and Powell Williams. I hope to determine the relationship of these two men to my Joseph Williams.


When you hit a brick wall, and have done an exhaustive search of the census and vital records available, descendancy research and genetic genealogy can be powerful tools in your genealogical toolkit. Descendancy research gave me a wide web of DNA cousins that I could connect with, and using autosomal DNA, I was able to confirm matches to individuals already in my tree. Y-DNA has told me more about the deeper roots of my paternal ancestors and their roots in the British Isles. And while my paper research led me to Joseph Williams, DNA research has confirmed that I do in fact descend from him.

Have you utilized descendancy research for your brick wall ancestors? Have you gotten the full use out of your DNA test results to assist in breaking down your brick wall?

The question may remain as to who the parents of Joseph Williams were, but my research - using both traditional records and genetic genealogy - has helped me to once again encounter my ancestors as I remember the past made present.

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