William Holloway, Martha Branson & Phebe Crispin: A genealogical game of hide and seek

My maternal Quaker Holloway family has begun to rival my maternal Quaker Harlan/Harling family, my paternal and maternal Quaker White family, and my paternal and maternal Ulster Scots and Scottish Stuart/Stewart family in terms of size and importance. These four families are enormous. Together, they connect me to a mind-blowing number of Americans from all walks of life.  The sheer number of DNA cousins I have through these four families makes my head spin at times.

The Moses Williams Project (https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/the-moses-williams-family-tree-project-update-1) has brought my Holloway line back into sharp relief. I think I have identified a Holloway granddaughter of Moses Williams, Sr  in Edgefield County, South Carolina. The sticking point is this woman’s mulatto father, Harry Holloway, born around 1797 in Edgefield. I know there is a blood connection between this Harry and my mulatto 4x great grandfather, Edward “Ned” Holloway. They are either brothers or first cousins. Additional DNA triangulation work needs to be done to nail down the relationship between these two men.


Holloway family crest

Harry is of particular interest for another reason. His descendants are matching descendants of Moses Williams through the Williams line. Initial DNA segmentation work is showing cMs in the 3.2 to 3.5 region.  Along with other DNA variables too complicated to outline here, the common ancestor is looking like Moses.  Specifically speaking, that common ancestor is beginning to look like one of Moses’s unknown 40 daughters, five of whom have already been identified. Finding a sixth daughter would be awesome. Not to mention that if Harry and Ned are indeed brothers, this would mean that Ned Holloway would also be a descendant of Moses through this same daughter. You can see why sorting through the DNA triangulation process to understand this match is so important.

However, in order to solve the mystery of identifying another unknown daughter of Moses, we must begin to solve the question of Harry Holloway’s paternity. Which means returning back to my Quaker Holloway research. DNA triangulation has already identified the white Holloway man who fathered Ned Holloway. While Ned’s father, William Holloway (1765–1838) wasn’t a Quaker himself, he is a descendant of the Quaker Holloway family. So it’s once more into the breach where Holloway genealogy research is concerned.

The image above is from a book myself and the Genealogy Adventures research team have found to be invaluable. So far, we’ve worked our way through two-thirds of the lineages outlined in the book. As it so happens, I accidentally opened the book to a section the team had already worked through. It’s a section that has a family group filled with brick walls.  These brick walls all had to do with the children of William Holloway and his two wives: Martha Branson and Phebe Crispin.

To begin, I always find it impressive, no, awe-inspiring, that antiquarian researchers could compile lineage research with none of the modern research tools we take for granted today. Olin Holloway, for instance, relied on sending countless letters to Holloway family members.  This formed the backbone of his research.  Added to which, he visited various repositories to search through records, compiled data from numerous Holloway family bibles from the various branches of the family, and interviewed kin when and where he could. While there are wee errors here and there in the book, or differences in name spellings, the work he compiled is very accurate.  Digitized records have proven it. So my hat is off to this cousin for this important work on the Holloway family.

However, like the main Harlan family book, The Genealogy of the Harlan Family, by Alpheus Harlan, there are some 18th and early 19th Century family lines who ceased to be Quakers…and seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. For those of you who are not familiar with Quaker records, the Quakers kept meticulous and thorough records. These records largely have to do with Quaker Monthly Meetings. Think of these meetings as community administrative records.

Such records include details about:

  • Births, deaths, and marriages within the community;
  • Genealogical information: names of parents, siblings, children, and spouses;
  • Information about where a member of the community was living, and when they lived there;
  • Removals to other Quaker communities: A member, and his or her family, required a certificate from the leaders of their old community when they were planning to remove themselves to a new community.  Think of this as a kind of letter of introduction. These certificates are invaluable. They provide dates, names, and locations; and
  • Removals from the Quaker faith. This gives the date an ancestor or kinsman or woman was removed from their Quaker community. Broadly speaking, this could be from bad behaviour, lapse in attending the monthly meetings, marrying outside the faith without permission, or being married by a non-Quaker minister.

These records are a goldmine of family history and genealogical information.

The first time the research team came across William Holloway, Martha Branson, and Phebe Crispin, we added the information above into the family tree and moved on. At the time, we felt that if Olin Holloway couldn’t pick up their trail, the chances were high that we wouldn’t be able to either. When I accidentally opened up the book to this page, it was kind of providential.  This time around, I wanted to see what I could find.

This seemed like a providential moment for a few reasons. One reason I am going to share is pretty straightforward.  Having worked our way through two-thirds of this book, the research team and I knew where other family groups at a similar generational level had initially moved to:  Ohio. Columbiana County and Mahoning County, Ohio to be precise. So it made sense to look in these two counties to pick up William’s trail.

And I found him.

However,  I found him in a completely different part of Ohio from his Holloway cousins. I found him and his family in Clark and Guernsey Counties, Ohio. His journey goes something like this:



William and Phebe with children in 1820. Source: 1820 U S Census; Census Place: Madison, Clark, Ohio; Page: 8; NARA Roll: M33_88; Image: 23



William and Phebe with children in 1830. Source: 1830; Census Place: Madison, Clark, Ohio; Series: M19; Roll: 128; Page: 92; Family History Library Film: 0337939



William and Phebe with children in 1840. Source: 1840; Census Place: Madison, Clark, Ohio; Roll: 383; Page: 54; Family History Library Film: 0020161

Finding Additional Records

While the census returns were an exciting discovery, they by no means proved that the William Holloway living in Clark County, Ohio was one in the same as the William Holloway who married Martha Branson and Phebe Crispin; the man who was outlined in Olin’s lineage book. However, I knew where to look to seal the deal now that I was researching in Clark County, Ohio. This lead to the first of a series of marriage and death records that provided additional proof: marriage and death records.


This marriage certificate proved that William had moved to Ohio, the place where he and Phebe had married.  Source: Ancestry.com. Ohio, County Marriages, 1774-1993 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.

Locating his Will and probate records was another key find:


This 1839 Will, filed in Clark County, Ohio, clinched that this was indeed the correct William Holloway outlined in Olin’s book. Source: Record of Wills, 1819-1902; Probate Place: Clark, Ohio. Please click for larger image

This 1839 Will raised as many questions as it answered.  Isn’t that always the way when it comes to genealogy?

The children cited in this Will were by his second wife, Phebe Crispin.  I was able to pick up the trail for most of the children he had with Phebe. I have been able to trace these children’s descendants to the present day.

None of his children by his first wife, Martha, were mentioned. Not only that, neither I nor the research team, can find any definitive trace of the children William had with Martha. Where were they?  It was back to the Quaker records for William:


William’s birth as recorded at the Shrewsbury Monthly Meting in Monmouth County, NJ. Source: Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Record of Marriage Certificates; Collection: Quaker Meeting Records; Call Number: MR Ph:584

Not that we had any doubts, this record confirmed the names of William’s parents, his date of birth, and his place of birth.


William’s removal record. Source: Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Certificates of Removal (Issued), 1783-1927; Collection: Quaker Meeting Records; Call Number: MR Ph:584

Transcription of the removal record:

Springfield Monthly Meeting –

From the Monthly Meeting of Friends at Upper Springfield in New Jersey held the 9th of the Seventh Month 1788 to the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Crooked Run, Virginia. dear Friends, application being made to us for a Certificate on behalf of Elizabeth Holloway, wife of George Holloway, and their children who have removed to live within the (undecipherable) of your Meeting there may certify that on inquiry it appears she was a good degree of a sober life, conversation and sometimes attended our religious meetings.  The children (to whit) William, Mary, Sarah, George & Thomas being in their minority, have a right of membership with us; as such we recommend them to your christian care and oversight & subscribe ourselves, your friends, brethren, and sisters (undecipherable) in on behalf of said Meeting. Signed

So what does this tell us? As of 1788, a young William left Monmouth County, New Jersey for Crooked Run Meeting House in Virginia with his mother and siblings. Crooked Run was a vital clue.  Numerous Holloway cousins of William had left Pennsylvania and New Jersey for the same place.

Thanks to Olin’s lineage book, I knew the 3 places associated with the Crooked Run Meeting House where William’s cousins were living.  It didn’t take long to pick up his trail in Lynchburg, Virginia.


William’s 1812 petition to the Crooked Run Meeting to remove himself and his family to the Fairfield Meeting House in Ohio. Source: Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Minutes, 1788-1789;Collection: Baltimore Yearly Meeting Minutes; Call Number: RG2/B/C761 1.4 Please click for larger image

So, William and Phebe (Martha had died by 1808) were still very much Quakers in 1812. This record confirms it, as well as where they moved to from Virginia.

A few things still remain unclear. We have yet to find a marriage document for William and his first wife, Martha. Nor have we discovered a death record for her.  Both are unusual for Quaker records. However, we know that both events occurred in Virginia. And we roughly know where in Virginia. So we have some good parameters to work with to locate these records.

The children William had with Martha are playing a good game of hide and seek. These kids are stubbornly remaining hidden.  However, we have three solid places to seek them out in Virginia:  Lynchburg, Warren, and Frederick, Virginia. The problem is there are many Holloways with the same names born around the same time as these children living in the same three places. It is a slow, methodical, and meticulous task of ruling out those we know aren’t matches to the children we are seeking in order to focus on the candidates we believe will ultimately be these missing children. Did they remain in Virginia?  Or did they move to Ohio as their father, half-siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins did? And did they remain Quakers? And why was there no mention of these children, or their children, in William’s Will? This strikes me as unusual.  Was there a falling out within this family?

There is a last question regarding William and Phebe.  It appears that they ceased to be Quakers. We have yet to find any Quaker Meeting records for them, or their children, in Fairfield County, Ohio, which is where they moved to in 1812.  Thus far, it doesn’t appear that their children remained Quakers. William and Phebe’s children have every kind of record you would expect to document their existence – every kind of record save Quaker records. What happened?  That too remains a mystery.

For now, we’re happy to have broken through some brick walls for this family group…and add to Olin Holloway’s amazing research.


When black and white DNA cousins meet online: A tale of two very different experiences

Genealogy is an adventure. There is no two ways about it. The adventure was something I mentally and spiritually prepared myself for prior to diving in at the deep end. I’ll explain.

Approaching genealogy like it’s a Norman Rockwell painting is never a good idea.


Credit: Freedom from Want | Norman Rockwell | Oil on canvas | 1943 Story Illustration for the Saturday Evening Post | SEPS Norman Rockwell Museum Collection

It isn’t. Picture perfect genealogy doesn’t exist. Our ancestors and ancestral kin were real people. They lived. They breathed. They flourished…and they made mistakes. They had their strengths. They equally had their faults and shortcomings. They were human and, as such, they were subject to the same foibles, pressures, life events, choices and decisions, and predilections as any other human being.

I knew before I began this journey that I was going to have a multitude of white relations who would be utterly unknown to me. How? From my complexion, my freckles, my hair, and just about every other external aspect of my being…there was more than enough evidence of it. If I had any doubts, all I need do is to look at the wide circle of my immediate family. The evidence of numerous cross-ethnic unions down the generations abound.


Credit: from The Genetic Genealogist via Visualizing Data From the Shared cM Project, https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2015/05/29/visualizing-data-from-the-shared-cm-project/

So I was prepped and ready. While I didn’t have a name for a single white ancestor in my direct line before I began my journey, I knew that DNA testing would eventually uncover the identities of my unknown white forebearers. And it has, more than I could have ever imagined, much less anticipated.

On the whole, it has been a positive and affirming experience. It’s certainly underscored various family quirks. I will also admit that I was exceedingly spoiled when it came to meeting my first groups of white DNA cousins on the Sheffey and Roane sides of my father’s family, both online and in person. The words ‘warm’ and ‘welcoming’ don’t adequately describe how I was greeted. They will do for the time being. Were those initial exchanges awkward in the beginning? Yes, in all honesty, but only for a hot minute. The author of that initial feeling will always centre around the how’s and why’s of how we’re related: slavery. Yet, we immediately found common ground. And in the intervening years since we first met? We have a genuine fondness for one another. We are family. So I kind of relaxed into a mood that other white DNA cousins would be equally receptive and welcoming. However, America being America, that halcyon experience didn’t last for long.

When it came to white family members I shared deep roots with in Virginia, North Carolina, and the Quaker communities that dotted the US Eastern seaboard, my experience in meeting cousins from a different ethnic group was truly pleasant. However, cousins who came from states to the south of North Carolina, that experience was split between it being 40% positive, and 60% negative. Those numbers haven’t changed much over the past few years. Given the current zeitgeist in America around the subject or race and race identity/politics, the negative responses have verged on the outright hostile.

I’ll always remember my first negative reaction from a white DNA cousin in South Carolina. She was adamant that she wasn’t related to black people. She even went as far as to suggest that AncestryDNA had swapped my DNA test with someone else. I was far from being the first person this individual said this to. While she wasn’t directly hostile, it was clear she just wasn’t having it. I found this curious at the time. If you know you come from a long line of American chattel slavery enslavers, you ought to be prepared – especially if you do DNA testing – to discover relations who are people of color. Truly, that shouldn’t come as a scud missile to your reality. Nor should a person act like that this is the worst news they have ever heard in the entirety of their lives. As someone who has experienced four miscarriages with a partner, two of them being late term, discovering you have relations who are people of color doesn’t even register on the pain stakes. An awkward experience? Perhaps. I’ll give you that. The worst experience ever? No. Far from it.

I can’t speak from the other side of the coin. For my own part, I have always been open and receptive to white DNA cousins who introduce themselves. That’s just me. I can’t speak about negative reactions from people of color towards newly found white DNA cousins. I don’t doubt that this happens. It’s merely a situation I haven’t come across within my own family.

Let’s fast forward to the past four weeks. I have had two starkly different reactions from white Holloway DNA cousins. The first ran along the lines of my Sheffey, Price, and Roane cousins. She wasn’t fazed in the least. So much so that she felt comfortable enough to send a Facebook invite, which I accepted. I’m certainly looking forward to chatting more in depth about our mutual Holloways. That’s the way it ought to go.

Then there was my second experience with a Holloway family descendant from a different Holloway family line. Ms K sent a fairly passive-aggressive message to me in Ancestry. I can only guess that she felt the message she sent me was perfectly normal and acceptable. You can decide for yourself. Her request was absolutely unambiguous: “Please remove all details of my family’s line from your tree. I don’t want anyone to know I’m related to black people.” I had to re-write my response a few times before I sent it. My first reaction veered towards the “Hell no” variety of response. I was offended and outraged. This was my family too. Thorough research on the Holloways will enable me and the GA team to do some overdue DNA segmenting analysis in order to break through some very stubborn Holloway family brick walls. The more lines you have to work with, the better able you are to do the genetic work needed to tackle this monumental task.

Instead, I counted to ten, took a few deep breaths, and merely responded with: “Sorry, love, but this is my family too. I can’t help how you feel about having black relations. You’re just going to have to wrap your head around it.”

If I could be bothered to do so, I’d try to wrap my head around what the fear factor is with this brand of knee-jerk reaction. I am not looking to be added to Christmas card lists. I don’t expect birthday presents. Nor am I going to hit anyone up about paying my student loan. There is nothing that Ms K, nor those like her, has that I want or need…apart from information. Information is the only thing of value that individuals like Ms K might have. Items like slavery-era probate records that a family member might still have. Or slave deeds. Or old family pictures with black household members who might be my ancestors, or ancestral kin, who were enslaved by their family during slavery, or worked for them after Emancipation. Or information about members of the enslaved families held by their ancestors. You know, fairly basic things that would make my genealogical research a far easier process. That’s pretty much it.

Even better is finding out about family quirks and characteristics. For instance, I can say beyond a shadow of doubt that I get my sense of determination, entrepreneurialism, pioneering spirit, drive to succeed, and hard graft from my Quaker ancestors. I’d say the same thing for my sister and a whole host of first cousins I’ve known all of my life. I probably inherited my sense of humanitarianism from my Quaker ancestors too. My political views are absolutely Sheffey in nature. I’m going to embarrass them, but my Sheffeys re-affirm my belief in decency and basic goodness. I also couldn’t imagine life without my cousin Bill Sheffey. There isn’t a day that he doesn’t crack me up with laughter online. I simply couldn’t imagine life without them.


I would have never imagined myself chatting on the phone with an elderly Roane cousin from Tennessee who describes himself as a mountain man redneck. I look forward to our monthly chats on the phone. He too is an endless source of good-natured humor and running commentary on day-to-day affairs in the US.

Where did I get my eye for finely made things and my sociability? That’s pure and undiluted Roane. My belief in humanism? That probably comes from so many of the American founding fathers I am either directly descended from or related to (and yes, I openly acknowledge the cognitive dissonance between those founding fathers who were enslavers and their belief in humanism during The Enlightenment). Where did my quick-fire temper come from? Ohh, that’s definitely and undeniably Edgefield County, South Carolina…which I’m guessing sits next to my Scottish and Irish side. That last one has actually spawned a new saying: ‘Don’t make me go Edgefield. You won’t like me if I go Edgefield’. If you don’t know what that means, do a little reading on my ancestor Representative Preston Brooks (D, SC).

I can’t neglect my African-descended ancestors. From those I have researched, studied, and come to know, I inherited an endless resilience, mental fortitude and strength, as well as a dedication towards striving for a better future. You don’t survive 245 years of chattel slavery without these characteristics.

Learning about, and understanding, the various traits I’ve inherited enables me to better understand myself. That’s always a cool thing.

Perhaps, just perhaps, acknowledging you have relations from an ethnicity other than yours will be one way America can demolish a seemingly insurmountable wall of difference and “othering”.

It all begins by conversing.

Will the real parents of Reuben Holloway (1740-1806) please stand up?

I have a gentleman in my family’s ancestry who is causing myself, and the whole Genealogy Adventures team, one enormous headache. He is my 6x great grandfather, Reuben Holloway. He falls on my mother’s maternal side of the family tree. His story is typical. While we know quite a bit about his life in Edgefield, we know little about his life before he arrived in that county. We know nothing about his childhood.

The problem with Reuben has everything to do with correctly identifying his parents.

Years and years ago, when I first discovered I was a direct descendant of Reuben and his wife, Peninah Jordan, I came across a Holloway family lineage book which claimed that Reuben was the son of a David Holloway (1664-1732) and Elizabeth Frances Matthews (1671-1736).

David Holloway

Click for larger image

David and Elizabeth were born and died in Charles River, York County, Virginia. Like any genealogy newbie, I was naïve. I figured every lineage book had been vetted and was correct. And, yes, that dozens upon dozens of family trees couldn’t possibly be wrong. So I duly added David and Elizabeth as Reuben’s parents and didn’t think anything more about it.

Then I took an autosomal DNA test. Yep, Pandora’s box got opened!


Reuben was one of the first people I wanted to check to see if I shared DNA matches with his other descendants. I did. Around two dozen of his descendants appeared as distant DNA cousins. With cMs in the 3.5 to 3.9 range, the match, in terms of generational time, these DNA cousin matches lined up perfectly. Triangulating DNA segments with some of these descendants who were kind enough to let the team work with their DNA results, as well as my own results, sealed the deal. However, all of these DNA matches ended with Reuben and Peninah. I had zero matches for descendants of David Holloway. I did, however, share DNA with David’s descendants through his wife, France Elizabeth Matthews. The reason was simple. Elizabeth Frances was an ancestral cousin via my mother’s Matthews/Mathis family. The lack of matches via David really made the whole team scratch its head. There were questions after questions after questions.

Further DNA work, which required us to drop matching cMs down to 3.0 cMs, revealed that David was indeed a cousin. However, the matching cMs were small with regards to his Holloway descendants. Tiny, actually – ranging from 3.0 to 3.3 cMs. Dropping cMs this low is contentious; and rightfully so. When you drop cMs this low, you run a very high risk of getting false positive DNA match results. However, when you are looking at common ancestors who lived in the early-to-mid 1600’s, you have to work with small DNA segments. Nevertheless, you really need to understand what you are looking at in terms of tiny DNA segments in order to gauge if that small matching segment is correct and/or relevant. This is what I (heavily) rely on my genetic genealogists to determine.

The common ancestral link between myself and David goes back at least another two generations. One thing became immediately apparent: David and Elizabeth Frances couldn’t be the parents of Reuben. Instead, David Holloway would have been Reuben Holloway’s cousin. In all probability, they were second cousins. That is where things seem to stand at the moment

So…once we ruled David and Elizabeth Frances out as the parents of Reuben, there was one question left. Who were the actual parents of Reuben?

In the course of doing deep research on Reuben’s origins, we stumbled across an old Holloway lineage book Genealogy of the Holloway Families written by Dr Olin E Holloway which was published in 1927. This book is available for research via Ancestry.com. Naturally, we eagerly dove into the book in the hopes of finding Reuben. We found plenty of Reubens…but not my 6x great grandfather. However, what we did find was highly illuminating. With regards to the Holloways detailed in this book, Reuben was far from being an uncommon name for this Holloway family group. Which was telling. It was telling for a simple reason: there weren’t known Reubens in the David and Elizabeth Frances Holloway line.

I have a quick caveat. While there are small errors in the book regarding the spellings of some names, and other small errors, the lineages covered in this book are correct. At least so far – and we’re two-thirds of the way working through this book. Countless records support the information Dr Olin Holloway uncovered in the course of his research.

A few things became clear. The Holloways in the book arrived in the American colonies as Quakers, which is what we expected. So that was some good information to confirm. These Holloways married into the same Quaker families who figure so largely in my family’s ancestry, families such as: Heald, Harlan, Ewing, Poole, Hollingsworth, Hoopes, and Mendenhall. While this was good to confirm, the genetic genealogists groaned. This line too had centuries of heavy endogamy, or generations of cousin marriages within the Quaker community stretching all the way back to northern Ireland, and then further back in the western shires of England and Wales. With all of this shared DNA going back centuries, DNA segment work was going to be far, far, far from easy. To give you an idea, I match one descendant of Reuben and Peninah on 11 different chromosomes. This means we share more than one set of common ancestors. Most, if not all, of these matches will be the Quaker families we share in common. Applying ancestral family names to each match segment is going to require a herculean amount of painstaking work.

The other thing that became instantly clear was the first names used by the Holloways in this book. Certain names leapt out. I had seen them widely and commonly used in my own Edgefield Holloway family on both the black and white sides of the family. The work began in earnest to uncover who Reuben’s parents might be.

While the rest of the team tackled reading through the lineage book, I began to dig into my Holloway matches on AncestryDNA, Genebase, Gedmatch, and FamilyTreeDNA. One gentleman continued to surface among many of my confirmed Holloway DNA matches: George Holloway I, who was born in Burlington County, New Jersey at some time around 1710, and who died in Brunswick, York, Virginia in 1778. Now for the tricky bit. There are as many George Holloways who were born around 1710 living in Virginia as there are grains of sand on the beach. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. However, there are times where that’s exactly how the team feels. This makes it a hard name to research.

George Holloway

Click for larger image

The second issue we have faced is the wife of this George Holloway, Ruth Woods, who was also born around 1710 in Little Compton, Newport, Rhode Island, USA, and died in 1776 in Burlington, New Jersey. The problem with Ruth is straightforward. Some of my DNA matches, including my sister, have DNA cousin matches with Ruth’s Woods family. Others do not. At present, it’s 50/50 between those who match her descendants and extended family, and those who do not. I fall into the category of those who do not show any matches with her family. It’s the ole autosomal DNA inheritance lottery. Which is why you should test as many family members as possible. At the moment, I’m hoping my maternal aunt’s DNA results (which I am impatiently waiting for) will seal the deal. Just a note: everyone matches Ruth’s husband, George.

So, while we await the results of my aunt’s DNA test, the team is also investigating George’s brothers as the possible father of Reuben…just to be thorough. There should be a classic genealogy hashtag, something like #NoStoneUnturned!

At the moment, we know we are looking at the correct family group where Reuben is concerned. There are two misgivings. The first is that Reuben is never mentioned in any of the probate records found to-date for Ruth or George. The second? We can’t find a baptism record for him in York or Brunswick Counties in Virginia. Basic things like these always makes me uneasy.

Let’s back up for a minute. We know that Reuben arrived in Edgefield County, South Carolina from Virginia. We know he married Peninah Jordan in Brunswick County, Virginia in 1764 via their marriage records. Their three eldest children were born in Virginia, which we confirmed through baptismal records. They were in Edgefield County by 1773, where their daughter, Keziah, was born.

Reuben didn’t arrive in Edgefield alone. He removed himself from Virginia with a whole host of Holloway cousins from Virginia just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. If George and Peninah are truly his parents, Reuben would have also arrived in Edgefield with some of his siblings. Again, this all initially points to this specific group of Holloways as being Reuben’s immediate and close kin.

On the up-side, my sister and I, as well as other DNA cousins, are matching descendants of George Holloway’s parents (John Holloway and Mary Pharo), as well as John Holloway’s parents (Thomas Holloway and Anne Gartery), and Mary Pharo’s parents ( James Farra/Pharo and Mary Ann Murfin). As we dig more deeply into this branch, another picture is coming into focus. As much as this family group married into known and confirmed ancestral Quaker families – it also married into Quaker families neither I nor my researchers have ever come across before in the course of our research. Tracing these new Quaker family lines back anywhere from 5 to 8 generations show no known connection with the Quaker families my Harlans and Holloways married. In short, these new Quaker lines are stand-alone lines with no known links to any other families in my tree. We hope these stand-alone ancestral lines will help in the DNA segment matching work that needs to be done.

While we have answered some questions where George is concerned, much remains to be done. Hence the caveats we have put in George’s Ancestry.com profile.

Reben comments

The Genealogy Adventures team puts alerts like **See Comment** in profiles where a person’s ancestry is subject of speculation, or requires additional research. It really is best practice. It alerts other researchers that there is either an issue, or that more work needs to be done. People will still blindly copy what we have in our tree. However, we do all we can to place such alerts on the Genealogy Adventures public tree.

reuben's comments 2

The above is an example of the information we provide for other researchers to let them know the conclusions we have drawn, why/how we have drawn them, and to open up dialogue from other people researching the same families. Doing this – and being 100% transparent – has led to remarkable finds, clarification, and missing documentation being discovered.

This is a practice I wish more online genealogy service users would do. Yes, others will blindly add people with question marks into their tree. However, as genealogists, all we can do is be transparent and state that there are questions around a person’s parentage.

If Donald Trump knew he had black relations, would this give him an epiphany?


I rarely get personal when it comes to Genealogy Adventures. I definitely don’t air political views, although I have an enormous interest in politics. Genealogy Adventures is my baby and, like any parent, I’m probably a bit over protective of it. Yet, American events over the past year or so provide me with a unique opportunity to discuss race/ethnicity, politics, and genealogy. Yes, those are three very odd bedfellows. A curious current national zeitgeist brings all three into a perfect alignment.

So yes, this article will be political…but not in the way you think it will be.

Around the time that Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy, I discovered that I was related to him through his mother’s Scottish ancestry.  Due to the volume of ancestors we share, she was a cousin many-times over. She was a 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th cousin quite a few times removed – the degree of cousin changes depending on which common ancestral line you look at. Her Stuart/Stewart, Gordon, Hamilton, Bailey, and McKenzie lines are threaded throughout my colonial ancestry. The reason is pretty straightforward. It all has to do with the Highland clearances after the failed bid by Charles Stuart to take the British crown during the Jacobite rebellion. The other reason for our shared ancestry were our Scottish ancestors who were Covenanters; Scottish Presbyterians whose faith fell foul of the established Church of Scotland. The last common set of ancestors we share were Scottish Quakers who left Scotland for the same reasons as the Covenanters.

Each group arrived in the American colonies. Some would go on to became enslavers. Of those who became enslavers, more than a few fathered children by their enslaved women. I am the product of some of those unions in the American colonies. I am also the product of such unions that occurred throughout the 18th Century and 19th Centuries in the American south.

I am far from being the only African American or person of color to be related to the presidential incumbent. He has more relations within communities of color than he could ever imagine. If I had to make a conservative bet, I would wage that number runs into the high hundreds of thousands.

Would knowing this change how he speaks about African Americans? Would it change his rhetoric? Would he set aside the proverbial dog whistle his melanated cousins hear loud and clear?

I am not looking to shame the man. When has trying to shame an adult really ever worked? It’s also not in my nature to shame. I prefer to educate. I would hope this knowledge would make him think. Think about what? Well, what this actually means, for starters. To take some space and let this realization sink in and percolate for a bit. For instance, I would hope that he would look at his immediate family, and extended family members he knows…and then think about hundreds of thousands of melanated Americans who are also part of his (very) extended family. Would that change his rhetoric? Would that enable him to see melanted Americans as something other than a monolithic ‘other’, you know, seeing us as “The Blacks”? Would that be enough for him to make our social justice issues his own? I wonder. And yes, I also hope. Some of the same blood that runs his veins also runs through our own. I would hope that would give anyone pause to think.

Had he known this, would his first response to Charlottesville have been different? Would his recent NFL and NBA comments have been different? Instead, would he have said “I hear you. I share your concerns and the issues that you face. And here is my roadmap to change the set of historical and current experiences your communities have faced within this country.” He doesn’t like sports players kneeling in protest?  Fine.  Be the change agent. Roll up your sleeves and start tackling the root causes that underlie the protest. Start addressing the causes that led to sports personalities to take the knee in the first place.

It is easily in his power to do so. It merely requires the will for him to do so. Playing to the gallery of 30% of Americans won’t change a thing, and the social injustice train will continue to roll down the tracks it’s been on forever in this country. If I were to ever meet him, which is absolutely highly unlikely, I’d simply tell him that if he wanted to go down in the history books in the right way, the best way possible, being the president who tackled social injustice and inequality in America would secure that for him. The hardcore 30% of Americans who form his base can never give that accolade to him. In fact, they are keeping him from ever achieving this. It’s a numbers game. And as one cousin to another, he’s been focusing on the wrong set of numbers.

I don’t know if he will ever see this article. I hope he does. And I hope it makes him think. If he sincerely wants to be the ‘Uniter in Chief”, I couldn’t think of a better place to start that process.


Using maps in your genealogy research

There are times I wish I could clone myself. This is one of those times. My apologies for slowing down on the writing front. I’m in the midst of promoting a new book from my cousin Donya Williams, Comes to the Light.  It’s a creatively written Non-Fiction/Social History book about some of our Edgefield County, South Carolina ancestors. You can find out more about the book here https://www.facebook.com/comestothelight

So it’s been an “all hands to the pump” period. This hasn’t left me much time for my own research. Or for writing.  Of course, I made an intriguing discovery about my Edgefield, South Carolina Quaker-descended Holloway family just before starting the book’s promotional campaign . I’d definitely have one clone carry on that with. It will have to wait.  Still, I can’t wait to share my findings about that discovery.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a quick article about maps…and how you can use them as part of your genealogical research practice.

I spent a hot minute or three chatting about how I use maps during my keynote talk at the Le Comité des Archives de la Louisian hosted genealogy conference in Lafayette, Louisiana.

My first stop during this part of my talk was introducing how I used maps to research my different enslaved Sheffey ancestral groups in southwest Virginia:


Map illustrating where different African American Sheffey groups were located in southwest Virginia between 1790 and 1865.  Click for larger image.

Plotting where each group of enslaved Sheffeys lived prior to 1865 better enabled me to understand the relationships between these different groups within the extended family. These relationships were reflected in the 1870 and 1880 Census returns. I could see marriages between these different groups. Marriage and death records showed how these various Sheffey groups married one another. The family bond was strong, largely due to remaining in place for such a long period of time.

I also tend to be a very visual person in terms of engaging and understanding data and information.  The map above was the perfect visualization tool. Plus, in terms of public speaking, maps are just a great tool tool for conveying information.

The map below was also part of the same talk. This map outlines Moses William’s journey from Virginia, to North Carolina, to South Carolina from the time of his birth in 1765 in Virginia to his death in 1884 in South Carolina.


The story of Moses’ journey in slavery from Virginia to North and South Carolina illustrated in a simple map.

Each point on the map represents a know period in Moses’ life – a story that’s still being researched.  It’s one thing to simply rattle of a quick list of places where he lived. It’s quite another to see the distances his journey covered during his lifetime.

The Sheffey and Moses Williams maps were pretty easy to do using Google Maps (https://www.google.com/maps) This article steps you through the process: How To Pin Point Multiple Locations On Google Maps via https://www.create.net/support/218-how-to-pin-point-multiple-locations-on-google-maps.html

The last set of maps I used in my talk were related to genetic genealogy:


A map illustrating the journey the African portion of my YDNA underwent within Africa. Click for a larger image


A map illustrating the journey the African portion of my mtDNA underwent within Africa. Click for a larger image


A map illustrating the journey the African portion of my father’s mtDNA underwent within Africa. Click for a larger image

It’s one thing to recite a list of countries that formed each one of these epic DNA journies. It’s quite another to throw an image on the screen that brings that story to life.

Another kind of map that is very useful in our research work are property and state/county boundary maps. The Carolina’s are a perfect example.  As genealogists, we have to remember the boundaries we recognize today aren’t anything like the boundaries our ancestors from a hundred years ago – or more – would have recognized.


Map displaying the Carolinas as a single territory. Click for larger image


An early map displaying a nascent North and South Carolina. Click for larger image


This map gives you an idea of how dramatically South Carolina’s county boundaries changed from their first iteration. The original boundaries are illustrated by the thick, black lines.  The modern counties are shown with the thin lines.  Click for larger image

State and county boundary lines have undergone enormous changes throughout the course of the Carolinas’ history.  From the earliest existence of the Carolina territory, to its being split between North and South Carolina – to the formation of the North and South Carolina state and county boundaries we recognize today – boundaries roamed around quite a bit.

To put this into context, there were times when I thought some of my Carolinian ancestors had extreme wanderlust. Between 1790 and 1830, they seemed to bounce back and forth between North and South Carolina (or South Carolina and northern Georgia) – or bounced around different counties within the same state.  Not a bit of it. They actually stayed on the same patch of land they always had.  It was the state and/or county boundaries that changed dramatically over time. Referring back to state and county boundary maps enables me to make sense of this.

This is a perfect example: I frequently come across death certificates for my Edgefield-born ancestors who were born in the 1870s and 1880s and died in neighboring Greenwood County, South Carolina in the 1900s. The informant for the death certificate typically put Greenwood as the county of the deceased person’s county of birth. However Greenwood, as a county, didn’t exist until 1897.  Part of it was carved out of Edgefield County. In fact, the deceased was born in Greenwood, Edgefield County, South Carolina. It just so happened that the Greenwood section of Edgefield where they lived would go on to form Greenwood County proper in 1897. It seems like a tiny and inconsequential detail.  However, it can cause merry havoc trying to find the location of where an ancestor was born if you’re looking in the wrong county. I’m hip to this now. Now, when I see Greenwood County for anyone born before 1897, I know I need to look at property maps for the Greenwood section of Edgefield County.

Maps…the subject may not be as sexy as genetic genealogy among researchers and genealogy enthusiasts. Nevertheless, maps have an important role to play in understanding and uncovering critical information about your family’s history.

This story has barely been told: Diversity, Multiculturalism & Africans in pre-British colonial America

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Stuart, a member of a Virginia genealogy society. Our conversation was initially about me presenting at a genealogy conference in 2018.  As any lover of genealogy and history will tell you, once you begin chatting about all things genealogy and history…conversations become far ranging.  Ours wasn’t any different.

Stuart filled me in on how the Freedmen’s Bureau Records project began.  This project was the culmination of years of digitizing an inconceivable number of records from the Freedmen’s Bureau.  For those not in the know, The U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (popularly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau) was established in 1865 by Congress.  Its remit was to help former black slaves and poor whites in the South in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War (1861-65). Some 4 million slaves gained their freedom as a result of the Union victory in the war.  The Freedmen’s Bureau provided food, housing and medical aid, established schools and offered legal assistance. It also attempted to settle former slaves on Confederate lands confiscated or abandoned during the war. 

The story that Scott conveyed was one of a personal mission for the man who envisioned the project via The Mormon Church elders and FamilySearch.org in Utah. It was an incredible story, and I’m honored that Scott shared it with me.

His story prompted one from me. I relayed to him one of my life’s missions: to give names to the “20 and odd Africans” who arrived in the American colony of Virginia in 1619. I want to give these 20-odd souls their rightful names, or at least the names they went by in the Virginia colony…and that I suspect this information is located somewhere in the British National Archives. The English were (and remain) consummate administrators. Copies of colonial documents were regularly sent back to England. The arrival of 20 plus Africans had to have been documented. And, I am willing to hazard a guess: documents about these Africans will include their names and what happened to them.  On the one hand, I want to restore their names to them.  On the other, and yes, for slightly selfish reasons, I want to prove or disprove a story that has threaded its way down through the generations of 3 families I’m related to and/or descended from: the Goins/Gowen/Goings, Thomas, and Christian families of Charles City County and Henrico County in Virginia.  These three old free families of colour claim descent from some of the 20-odd Africans of 1619. Seeing as how I have traced each back to the 1690s, this isn’t such an outlandish claim for them to make.  However, there are only two things that can clinch these claims: 1) documents; and 2) DNA.  However, in order for DNA to truly be of use, we need names in order to trace the descendants of these people.

Then I unexpectedly threw Stuart a curveball.

I asked Stuart if he’d ever heard of any records or documents about the Africans and African-descended people who were in North America long before the British arrived on North America’s shores. I had to repeat the question because he wasn’t sure if he’d heard me correctly. Like me before I began my adventures in genealogy, he’d never heard of African or African-descended people in North America before 1620.

So I sent him some links to some books I had found particularly helpful. You will find links to some of them in the Bibliography section at the end of this article.

My own journey in this lost part of America’s history began a few years ago when researching my mother’s Matthews/Mathis family. To cut a long story short, this part of her family had been enslaved by the Matthews going all the way back to the Pennsylvania Colony of the 1690s. Reading about colonial Pennsylvania meant reading about the colony that was there before William Penn rocked up onto these shores: New Sweden. Reading about this earlier colony grabbed my attention immediately.  In and amongst the cultures hidden in my mother’s mtDNA is a rather large amount of Swedish markers. More specifically, thanks to the DNA testing service Genebase, I know this Swedish DNA largely comes from Ostergotland and Jonkoping.


Ostergotland in Sweden


Jonkoping in Sweden


These are fairly rural and sparsely populated parts of Sweden, which is something that I hope will work in my favour when uncovering the identity of this Swedish ancestor.  You can read about the data set used by Genebase to calculate and interpret this result via the journal article Homogeneity in mitochondrial DNA control region sequences in Swedish subpopulations via https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19590886The Genebase data set pool of testees used for this Swedish analysis consists of 40 people. I match 23 of the people who provided DNA samples. That’s just over half. That, in and of itself, was a pretty significant discovery. Now it’s just a matter of working out how and from whom this DNA came to be introduced into my mother’s mtDNA.

As it turns out, the early Quaker settlers of Pennsylvania purchased enslaved Africans and African-descended people from the Swedes of New Sweden.  My gut tells me that it’s during this time period that a girl or woman of Swedish-African parentage came into the possession of the Matthews family in Pennsylvania. At the very least, one of the lines of descent from this mixed-heritage woman or girl would remain enslaved by the Matthews family from around 1691 in Chester County, Pennsylvania until 1865 in Edgefield County, South Carolina, when the Confederacy surrendered to Union forces.

So what was going on in Pennsylvania and the other Mid-Atlantic states during this early period of North American colonial history?

Mid-Atlantic States

To be clear, there were two different European colonies in this part of North America.  Both pre-dated the British settlement of the region.  The two colonies were New Amsterdam, a Dutch colony, and New Sweden. Both, it turns out, brought Africans to North America from Africa and the Caribbean prior to the arrival of the British.

New Sweden


The chronology of the Swedish and Dutch colonies in North America is straightforward.  New Sweden was established first, and was subsequently handed to the Dutch, and became part of New Amsterdam.  The Swedes, it would seem, couldn’t make their colony a go in economic terms. The animal pelts and fish didn’t generate enough income for the colony to become profitable.  While I’m still reading about what work the Africans and African-descended people did in New Sweden, labour seems to have been boiled down into four basic areas:

  • Hunting for the pelts the Swedes would trade, and fishing;
  • Farming and farm laboring;
  • Clearing land; and the construction of buildings;
  • Skilled trades work (metal work, etc)

The Swedes settled along the Delaware River in the early part of 1638. Present-day Wilmington, Delaware, sits atop of their first settlement, Fort Christiana.

Prior to William Penn’s arrival, the black population of New Sweden was never very large (Miller, et al 1997:176).  Nevertheless, African and African-descended people were part of the colony from its earliest period. The first named black inhabitant of New Sweden was a man by the name of Anthony, who arrived in New Sweden in 1639 aboard a ship from the West Indies (Miller, et al 1997:176). It is unclear if he arrived in New Sweden as a free man or as an enslaved man.  Regardless, he was free in later life.

I’m still actively reading up on this subject. However, a picture is slowly emerging about the form of slavery the Swedes practiced in the colony. Unlike the system of chattel slavery that would be developed by the Americans, the Swedes had a system of manumission, or the freeing of enslaved people.  In other words, it was not a status carried for life, for the most part, in the colony. Like indentured servants, enslaved Africans could serve a period of time before gaining freedom. However, like indentured servants, an enslaved person in New Sweden could have his or her enslavement extended for what was deemed bad behavior (theft, immoral behavior (e.g. children out of wedlock), drunkenness, etc).

I am also searching for an indication of how many African and African-descended people were a part of New Sweden.  Hard and fast numbers are proving elusive. For now, I know they were here on these shores. And they were here early on.

New Amsterdam


While the earliest mention of New Amsterdam appears in 1614, a permanent settlement was secured by 1624 on the present day island of Manhattan in New York (Haviser: 63). It’s estimated that free and enslaved Africans and African-descended people accounted for as few as 15% and as much as 40% of the 9,000-plus population. The Dutch took control over New Sweden in around 1665. By this time, the colony had grown to the size of England: stretching from the Chesapeake Bay area to New England.  By 1681, control over the territory passed to the British.

Prior to passing to the British, New Netherlands became the America’s first multi-ethnic society. Barely half the settlers were Dutch; most of the rest comprised Germans, French, Scandinavians, and Africans, both free and slaves. In 1643 the population included Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims, speaking eighteen European and African languages. (Boyer 2012:58)

Notably, the Dutch had a system of slave manumission. While it was a limited system, a policy for freeing the enslaved was established. As to be expected, marriages between blacks and the other inhabitants of New Amsterdam weren’t uncommon. The Dutch, it would seem, were more interested in maintaining harmonious, orderly, and efficient working practices in their colony rather than separating people based on religion or cultural backgrounds (Haviser 2016: 64-5).

In 1664, one-quarter of the 300 enslaved people who arrived in New Amsterdam were initially settled in New Amstel (renamed New Castle) on the Delaware River. Most of these 300 became casualties of war when Britain beat the Dutch during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Classed as spoils of war, these 300 souls were passed over to the British in order to be sold as slaves in Virginia (Miller, et al 1997:176).  

Like the Swedes, the Dutch seemed pretty chilled when it came to different cultures mixing. An orderly, efficient, harmonious society seems to be their primary concern.

The Carolinas and Georgia

Spanish explorers brought enslaved Africans to what are now the Carolinas around 1526 – nearly 40 years before the first permanent European settlement in North America. These Africans escaped in what is the first recorded slave revolt in North America.

In March 1540, the Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, along with Afro-Hispanics and African slaves, reached the territory of the Ichisi, in what is now central Georgia. From here, his exploration party continued to work its way northwards into present day North Carolina and Tennessee. He and his exploration party would arrive in what is now South Carolina on 21 April 1540…the day of a Full moon no less! He and his party would arrive in present day North Carolina on 21 May 1540. For details of his expedition, visit http://www.carolana.com/Carolina/Explorers/desotoincarolinas.html

While it is believed that the Spanish ultimately didn’t establish any permanent settlements north of Florida, they did leave something behind in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee: Spanish, African, and Afro-Hispanic comrades. It’s believed they settled among the various Native American tribes in the region.

Spanish North America

Africans and African-descended people arrived in Florida with both the French and the Spanish in the 16th Century. Their presence in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas is documented as early as the 1520s.

The first Africans from Spain were known as ladinos, or Hispanicized Africans.  They were soldiers, servants, settlers, and slaves. They began to arrive in the Americas as early as the 15th century, many as auxiliaries to the Spanish and Portuguese explorers. As Matthew Restall states, “[F]rom the very onset of Spanish activity in the Americas, Africans were present both as voluntary expeditionaries and as involuntary colonists” (Restall 2000:172). Many people of African descent initially saw passage to the New World from either Spain or the Caribbean as a means of bettering their social and economic positions. Landers notes, “[G]iven their numbers and roles in Spanish port cities like Seville, and their generally depressed economic conditions, it is not surprising that both free and enslaved Africans hoped to improve their lots by crossing the Atlantic on the earliest voyages of exploration and conquest” (Landers 1999:9). Those who voluntarily set out on expeditions, and became part of armed auxiliaries, were more likely to gain their freedom than those in unarmed roles.

African men and women were part of a number of Spanish expeditions. The Panfilo de Narvaez Expedition of 1528 from Cuba to Florida is one example. This expedition included Esteban, perhaps the most notable African male to aid in the exploration of North America. The 1540 Coronado Expedition to Southwestern North America included a free African man who later served as an interpreter and would eventually become a Franciscan friar. The Juan Guerra de Resa Expedition of 1600 included African soldiers, their mulatto wives and children, and Isabel de Olvera, a mulatta woman. These are just three examples of the many expeditions which included Africans and African Americans among their members.

The account of Esteban, a Muslim, is one example of adaptation and survival in the New World. Esteban – also known as Estevan, Esteven, Estebanico the Black Man, Stephen the Black, and the “Black Mexican,” – was born in Azamar, Morocco. He was the first documented African in Texas and what would become the Western United States. As Juan Flores and others recount, he was one of the four survivors in the ill-fated journey of Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528, from Cuba to the Florida coast (Flores 2004). Read more about Esteban.

Thanks to Genebase, I know my YDNA and my mother’s mtDNA is found in Latin America. I always believed this was via the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Meaning that some ancestral African cousins went to either the Caribbean first, and they, or their descendants, were taken to South and Central America – or they went to the Americas direct. This remains the most straightforward theory. However, I can no longer dismiss the idea that I may have a direct connection to that part of the world through some unknown ladino ancestor. I have deep roots in North Carolina and Tennessee. All it would take is one descendant of a ladino for me to have inherited this directly. A long shot?  Absolutely. Is it inconceivable?  If my genealogy adventures have taught me anything…it’s to keep an open mind. My genetic links to Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Honduras have to be based on something.

Then there is the history of Louisiana, a state with an ancient mix of Native American, European, and African peoples. And, of course, the former Spanish held territories of American southwest, California, and Nevada. Wherever the Spanish went, Afro-Hispanics accompanied them and settled territories alongside them.

Wrapping things up

Needless to say, this was quite a bit to hit Stuart with. It’s quite the thing to take in when you’ve never heard this history before. And what I’ve provided above is merely the highlights. He laughed when I ended the topic with: “When certain Americans talk about a white America, I don’t know what country they speak of. People of colour have always been here. Many different peoples have been here from the beginning. And I won’t apologize if that’s an inconvenient truth.”

The last bit of the conversation is what truly captured his imagination:  Somewhere in the National Archives of Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, are colonial era documents about this period of North American history. Those documents will be a treasure trove for genealogists. For in them will be the names of some of the earliest non-Native settlers of North America who were from all walks of life and many different cultures. Within them lays the history of the settlement and growth of the earliest colonial settlements, which forms the true nascent history of America. How I would dearly love to be part of a project that begins the processes of digitizing them.


Blakely, A. 2001. Blacks in the Dutch World: The Evolution of Racial Imagery in a Modern Society, Indiana University Press.

Boyer, P.S., Clark, C. E., Halttunen, K., Hawley, S., and Kett, J. F. 2012. The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People, Volume I: To 1877, Concise, Cengage Learning.

Coughlin, E. K., 2007. The De Soto expedition, Learn North Carolina.

Finkelman, P., 2006. Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619-1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass Three-volume Set, Oxford University Press.

Haviser, J. B., and MacDonald, K.C. 2016. African Re-Genesis: Confronting Social Issues in the Diaspora, Routledge.

Johnson, J. G. 1991. Black Christians–the untold Lutheran story, Concordia.

Landers, J., 1999. Black Society in Spanish Florida, University of Illinois Press.

McGinty, B., 2016. The Rest I Will Kill: William Tillman and the Unforgettable Story of How a Free Black Man Refused to Become a Slave, W. W. Norton & Company.

PBS. This Far by Faith: 1526-1775: From Africa to America via http://www.pbs.org/thisfarbyfaith/timeline/p_1.html

Randall M. Miller, John David Smith. 1997. Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery, Greenwood Publishing Group.

Restall, M. 2000, Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish America, The Americas, 57:2 October 2000, pp. 171-205 via http://originalpeople.org/black-conquistadors-armed-africans-in-early-spanish-america-1500s/

Sheppard, D.E. Hernando De Soto’s 1540 Exploration of the Carolinas via http://www.carolana.com/Carolina/Explorers/desotoincarolinas.html

United States National Park Service, Park Ethnography Program: African American Heritage & Ethnography: African Explorers of Spanish America via https://www.nps.gov/ethnography/aah/aaheritage/SpanishAmB.htm

Williams, W.H., 1999. Slavery and Freedom in Delaware, 1639-1865, Rowman & Littlefield.

Pleasant Roane Part II: An unexpected link to Thomas Jefferson and Monticello

There are times when my adventures in genealogy blow my mind.  This is one of them.

I wrote about my visit to Monticello last week (Visiting Monticello via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/visiting-monticello )  What I didn’t say in that post is that the day after my visit to Monticello, I received an email from a Steven D. Now, Steven had no idea that I had visited Monticello the day before he sent his email.  No one did.  My phone battery had died by the time we reached the estate, so I had no way of sharing that adventure on social media.

So imagine my surprise when I received the email from Steven regarding the remarkable story of Pleasant Roane (Pleasant Roane (Rowan) and the road to manumission in Lynchburg via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/pleasant-roane-rowan-and-the-road-to-manumision-in-lynchburg):

His [Pleasant’s] father was Peter. Peter was owned by [John] DePriest, but Peter, his wife and a son were purchased from Thomas Jefferson in 1791. I have copies of John Sr and Jr, wills regarding the slaves they kept and sold.


Thomas Jefferson

Monticello and Thomas Jefferson…again.

I also now have the name of one of Pleasant’s parents, which I didn’t have previously: his father, Peter. This short email has opened a new line of research for Pleasant and his family. 

To clarify, Steven is a DePriest family descendant. I literally had goose bumps when I read Steven’s email. I was just there. I had just stood on the ground where Peter, Pleasant and their family had lived and toiled until they went to John DePriest. Take away the modern developments, and the trees that were planted by the subsequent owners of the estate…I had just seen the same vista that they would have seen. That’s some powerful mojo.

This is the perfect reason why genealogy is a powerful actor in my life. I never know what discovery is on the horizon.

Needless to say I’m in touch with the people at Monticello to see what records exists for Pleasant, his parents, and his siblings.

Visiting Monticello

I had the opportunity to visit Monticello the other day. Considering my recent trip where I visited some of my Roane family relations on another plantation in Louisiana, I knew It was going to be a day of mixed emotions.

While I knew Monticello sat atop a mountain, it never occurred to me exactly what went into its actual construction. Enter our (amazing) tour guide, Mary. One of the first things she told our tour group was that it had taken hundreds of enslaved people to literally level the uppermost part of the mountain in order to create the flat plateau visitors to Monticello see today. It didn’t occur to me until long after our tour had finished to ask how much earth had been removed as part of that human engineering feat. It was an exceedingly hot and humid day when we visited. I couldn’t image the physical toll that endeavor must have taken. While the view from the house and the surrounding gardens and terraces are stunning…they came at a real human price.


The land surrounding Monticello is what remains of the top of a mountain which was cleared away through the labour of enslaved people


The image above gives you some idea of the view of the surrounding area from Monticello.  You can literally see the surrounding countryside for miles in every direction.

Thomas Jefferson, the man behind the building of Monticello, was a practical man. The tons of earth his enslaved population removed, in order to clear the land for the estate, were used to make the very bricks which built the house. It was also used to daub the gaps of the cabins built for his enslaved population. Very little, it seems, went to waste.


The bricks used in the construction of the house and the surrounding terraces and outbuildings were made with the distinctive red soil that was removed in the creation of the flat plateau.

At the start of the tour, Mary asked people in our group where we’d come from. I mentioned that I was from London and Boston. I can’t remember the exact question that prompted my next answer. It had something to do with was I excited about being there. I laughed as I told her I was, but for a reason she probably would find very hard to believe. She countered with “Try me.” So I mentioned that Thomas Jefferson was an ancestral cousin via one set of known common ancestors – Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset, and his wife, Margaret Wolton. Mary didn’t blink and answered with something of a cheeky grin: “Why on earth would I find that hard to believe?” There are other common ancestors via my Randolph line, however, I need to do much more work on that family to find the relatively more recent common ancestors via that line. My sister mentioned that Sally Hemmings was also a cousin and a Sheffey family relation via her Woodson descendants.

It was at that point that I clocked her surname…and spent the rest of the tour impatiently waiting for a chance to ask her a question about some of her ancestors. Mary’s surname is one that I know very, very well from years of researching my Virginia family. Because I haven’t had an opportunity to ask her if she’d be fine with me using her full name (I’m positive she would be. However, it’s always good to have that permission), I’m not going to publish her surname.


My brother (left) and I chatting to our newfound cousin Mary (centre). The small building in the background is where Thomas Jefferson and his family lived during the construction of Monticello.  Picture courtesy of Khoncepts

So, as we moved to one of the terraces, I asked her if she was a descendant of a famous Jamestown family. She readily answered ‘yes’. I explained how I was a descendant of the same family via a labyrinth of Ball-Mottrom marriages on my father’s maternal line through his Roane line, as well as Poythress-Strother marriages on his paternal side of his family through his Clark line. She laughed out loud. That was it. We were cousins. I had to laugh myself. I joked with her that she couldn’t have expected that as she got ready for work that morning. She couldn’t resist sharing that piece of news with the rest of the tour group.

Which just goes to prove one of the central premises behind Genealogy Adventures: Americans are connected to each other in amazing, surprising, and long forgotten ways – regardless of race, ethnicity, or other measures used to divide us from one another.

Things took a decidedly deeper, more contemplative, and spiritual turn as my siblings and I made our way to where Sally Hemmings had her rooms.


My brother and I standing in front of Sally hemming’s rooms. Picture courtesy of Khoncepts

Where she lived is currently an active archaeological dig site, so we were not able to actually go in and see. Nevertheless, in the moments before the above snap was taken, I spent some time contemplating the life of this familial relation. The range of emotions was wide and varied.

Next came Mulberry Row.  It was here that I stood inside a cabin for enslaved people for the first time in my life. The Hemmings cabin, as it’s called, is a reproduction – and by no means your typical slave cabin. From what our second tour guide told us, it reflected the status of the Hemmings family – well, as much ‘status’ as any enslaved person could attain  Just to put that into a realistic context.


Exterior shot of the Hemmings cabin


Interior shot of the Hemmings cabin

Too many thoughts went through my head to share here. Everywhere I looked, I returned to the thought than an entire family would have shared this humble space. I went pretty quiet as I contemplated that existence.  Suffice to say it was a powerful and stark experience. My only comment was to my brother as I said that, while I knew there were many African-descended Americans who couldn’t make the same claim – that our family had come a long, long way from the days this cabin represented. That’s all that needed to be said.

Our final stop before we left was the cemetery for the enslaved people. That space hit me the hardest.


There are 400 known enslaved souls who toiled at Monticello. To-date, only 40 of their burials are known. No one knows who any of these 40 individuals were. They are nameless. The area of the demarcated cemetery is small. It would take a minute to walk across its width, and about a minute to walk across its length. It’s small. As for headstones or engraved markers? There are none. Just a few rocks.


The image above is a plaque with a list containing the names of only a fraction of the enslaved souls who died at Monticello.  It is not an indication of any of the 40 known graves in the fenced off portion of the cemetery.

To say this hit me hard would be an understatement. It was like being sucker punched. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Nor was I alone. A friendly, middle-aged European-descended couple arrived just as my siblings and I were leaving. The wife asked us if we knew where the slave cemetery was. My siblings and I pointed to the space in front of us , and said, almost in unison: “This is it.”

Both of them looked perplexed. And the wife asked us another question: “But where are the headstones?” My voice was pretty flat as I spoke. “Those handful of rocks. That’s it.” Both of them were horrified, and visibly upset. All I could offer them was, “It is what it is.”  Really, that’s all I could say.  In that instance they got it.  I knew they got it. I could see it on their faces. And, I suppose, that is the unspoken power of places like Monticello.

That’s the full circle of my experience at Monticello.  At the start, it was visiting the ancestral home of a distant cousin.  The latter, the stark reminder of why I am related to Thomas Jefferson at all….through slavery. It’s quite the thing to wrap my head around at times and face.  However, as I said to the couple at the cemetery for the enslaved, it is what it is.

The Moses Williams Project in the news: San Diego Free Press

image showing The Moses Williams Project Article: A Genealogy Adventure with Slave and Supercentenarian Moses Williams | San Diego Free Press

The Moses Williams Project Article: A Genealogy Adventure with Slave and Supercentenarian Moses Williams | San Diego Free Press

Donya Williams, the four-times great-granddaughter of a man named Moses Williams, asked me if I would help draw attention to some research she and a cousin are doing titled: Stronger Together: The Moses Williams Genetic Genealogy Project.

So I started reading a bio she sent me of their work and can’t help but think they already know what they’re doing.

I was barely into reading other information when the names Strom Thurmond, 50 Cent, Al Sharpton, and L.L. Cool J jumped out at me – names I wouldn’t ever expect to appear in the same sentence.

I mean what could a white Southern senator who loves the KKK and a man who raps, “There’s no business like ho business” and a melodramatic Baptist preacher “Keepin’ it Real” and the creator of “Mama Said Knock You Out” possibly have in common?

Well, they’re all from Edgefield, South Carolina. And they’re all in one way or another related to the cousins. When this project is completed I want to hear that story.

Read more:  https://sandiegofreepress.org/2017/08/a-genealogy-adventure-with-slave-and-supercentenarian-moses-williams

Critical Thinking: An important skill in genealogy research

I thoroughly enjoyed delivering my keynote talk at this year’s 1 day genealogy seminar hosted by Le Comité des Archives de la Louisiane (http://www.lecomite.org) in Lafayette, Louisiana. The hospitality was warm and welcoming. The attendees were brilliant (it was great seeing such a wide range in ages!). And the food?  My mouth waters at the memories of all of the delicious Louisiana dishes I sampled for the first time. It’s official.  I’m addicted to shrimp Po Boys.

One point elicited more post-talk questions than any other in the course of my 2 hour Discovering My American Identity discussion.  The questions arose from one thing in this slide below:

LouisianaThe questions had to do with critical thinking.

Critical thinking is part of my basic toolkit in terms of life skills. It’s no wonder considering I minored in philosophy as part of my university degree.  Critical thinking is one of the cornerstones of philosophy. It’s a skill that I apply to pretty much every aspect of my life. It is also the bedrock of my genealogical work.

So what is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is a  an approach to  thinking, regardless of  subject, or content, or a problem.  It is a process through which a thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing their thought process; analyzing the route by which a person goes from Point A to points B, C, and D in his or her thinking. Boiled right down, critical thinking is thinking about thinking. Done right, it is a self-corrective process.  It entails effective communication and problem-solving skills. Critical thinkers make a commitment to overcoming their native egocentrism and sociocentric beliefs – or biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or down-right prejudiced thinking, in other words (Critical Thinking Community).

Why is it important?

The folks over at the Critical Thinking Community put it best:

A well-cultivated critical thinker:

  • Raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  • Gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively;
  • Comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • Thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as needs be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
    via http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/our-concept-of-critical-thinking/411

So what does Critical Thinking have to do with genealogy?

Quite a bit as it so happens.

My 2011 post entitled A Tale of Two Emily Petersons (https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/a-tale-of-two-emily-petersons-edgefield-county-sc/) was actually a post about critical thinking in a genealogical context. It outlined an early attempt at me applying my critical thinking skills to a genealogy problem. In a nutshell, I was faced with the prospect of two family members who bore the same name, lived near to one another, and who were clearly related to one other. However, one would be my direct ancestor, while the other would be an ancestral cousin. Critical thinking would be the key to unlocking who each of these two women were in relation to my ancestry.

Once I learned how to unlock all of the information various vital records and state records (e.g. censuses) held, I was able to solve the mystery. Well, records and a better understanding of my Edgefield County, South Carolina family’s history. Time, diligence in my education as a genealogist, and critical thinking, each played a part to enable me to ask the right questions in order to read the necessary records…and reach a correct conclusion.

I am fortunate that the lives of my famous relations are well documented. Their lineages have been researched and argued over for over a century…and longer in some instances. Critical thinking really comes into play with my ancestors and ancestral kin whose lives did not play out in the local or regional spotlight, or on the national stage.  Whether they were poor immigrants/indentured servants, lived in remote areas in the nascent American colonies/early years of the Republic, free people of colour, or the enslaved, their existence in official records is patchy at best. Typically, any records and written materials in which they are mentioned weren’t for them.   Rather, there exist only cursory mentions about them in regards to the lives of other people.

For instance, Mary Turner, an Irish indentured servant, only appears in court records due to her master’s complaints about her conduct.  Once freed of her indenture, she seemingly disappears from the face of the earth. She was poor, and a woman – probably illiterate – and as such, much of her life story remains unknown. The sole reason I know her name stems from her giving birth to three mulatto children out of wedlock, and the punishments meted out to her as a result. Did she ever marry? Did she remove herself and her children to the then frontier territories opening up in Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina? These territories were occupied early on by free people of colour. While she was white, her children were not, and this hypothesis makes as much sense as any other. Critical thinking may enable me to unlock the mystery of her whereabouts after 1695.

My enslaved ancestors appear as property in deeds filed in the local courts as part of property transactions. Researching the enslaved requires a high degree of critical thinking as it involves piecing together the life story of a people with enormous gaps in their history.

Critical thinking comes into play when there are gaps in the records. Or, like my question about Emily Peterson, you have to do some deductive thinking to finally hit upon the right answer.

An example

Here is bog standard application of critical thinking in a genealogical context:

Here is a family branch for my 3x great uncle, Rev Edward Mathis.

ed mathis 1

ed mathis 2

Look at the year Charlotte Sue Hardy was born. Then, look at the years of birth for all of Edward’s children.

I’ve seen too many trees that show Charlotte as the mother of all of Edward’s children. I’ve even had a few arguments over it. Born in 1898, that just can’t be. A woman born in 1898 won’t be the mother of children born between 1905 and 1910. It is arguable, and even probable, that she could indeed be the mother of James Leroy Mathis, who was born in 1916.  There is a noticeable gap between the birth of James and his nearest sibling in age,  Lauvinia. This has me hedging my bets that James was the first child born to Edward Mathis and his second wife, Charlotte. Seemingly, Lauvinia is the last daughter born to him and his first, currently unknown, wife.  However, there is another significant gap between James and his sister Beulah. Given the information on her death certificate, Beulah is the first confirmed child of Charlotte Hardy. So…I’m awaiting the discover of James’s death certificate to confirm that Charlotte is indeed his mother.

This is critical thinking at its most basic.The Moses Williams project involves turbo-charged critical thinking; especially as the team is working with one-named ancestors in the depths of slavery.

Interrogating information – especially conflicting information (i.e. dates of birth or marriage or death, places where our ancestors were living at any given point and time, name misspellings and name variations, etc) – are all bits and pieces of information that require critical thinking when determining whether the record you are looking at is for the person you are researching.

Last, but by no means least, critical thinking enables me to explain to a fellow researcher how I reached a certain conclusion when a clear paper trail of documents is lacking. This doesn’t automatically mean that I am correct.  It forms an understandable and explainable framework that informs someone else how I reached a conclusion. He or she can then respond in kind until we work out what the truth actually is.

The Critical Thinking Process

The McGraw Education website goes into depth explaining the 6 steps to critical thinking as shown in the image above.  I highly recommend visiting the site which can be accessed via Reichenbach: An Introduction to Critical Thinking, Chapter 2 Study Guide: http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/philosophy/reichenbach/m1_chap02studyguide.html

The images below syntheses the McGraw Hill information in two handy infographic:

Here’s an outline of the critical thinking process:


for a larger image, please click https://genealogyadventures.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/29018-blooms2btaxonomy.png. This infographic will make sense once you have read through the material on the McGraw Education website

The infographic below tackles the Six Steps of Critical Thinking:

If you’re new to the whole critical thinking process, I appreciate it can be daunting at first. I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is to stick with it, and incorporate it into your genealogy working practice. You will find your research will progress in leaps and bounds.