Amy Roan of Halifax, North Carolina: a mystery with some answers

Last Wills and Testaments are an essential part of my ‘go to’ tool kit when researching ancestors. Amy Roan is the perfect reason why.

Amy was born approximately in 1752 in Halifax County, North Carolina. She is a member of the Roan family group who were resident in early-to-Mid 18th Century Halifax County as well as Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina. This is a particularly difficult family group to research.  18th Century records are patchy at best for them. This makes it difficult to understand how the different Roan family groups in this region of colonial America are related to one another. DNA cousin matches and the use of specific family names within this group show there is a blood connection between these family groups. The progenitor of this line remains something of a mystery. However, a Will that I discovered yesterday might hold a clue as to who the founding member of the North Carolina family was.

Amy Roan would go on to marry Isham Hawkins and raise a family in Halifax, North Carolina.

Amy is a person of interest. My father, my sister and I match around a half dozen or so of her descendants on AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA and Gedmatch. So I know there is a connection between these North Carolina Roans, and my Lancaster, Pennsylvania Roan kin. The North Carolina Roans are also related to my Scots-Irish Virginia Roanes.

The trouble I’ve had, on AncestryDNA in particular, are the family trees of Amy’s descendants. Most of these trees cite Amy’s parents as Colonel William Roane and Sarah Upshaw (my 7th Great Grandparents). A handful cite Colonel William Upshaw Roane and Elizabeth “Betty” Judith Ball (my 6th great grandparents) as her parents. I understand the confusion. There is a proliferation of early 18th Century William Roan(e)s in colonial America.

However, the name Amy never appears in the two Wills associated with either of these Essex-Virginia based William Roanes. Amy was alive and well when both of these men passed.  Her name should appear in either of their Wills if either man was her father. The fact that it didn’t appear in either Will was a big, old, red flag for me.

Another red flag was there are no existing records that show that either Essex County, Virginia-based William Roane ever owned land in North Carolina. True, such records could have been destroyed in either the American Revolutionary War or the Civil War. However, once again, had either man owned land in North Carolina, such tracts would have definitely been part of their probate records and would have been mentioned in their respective Wills. While both men had huge land holdings, neither had land in North Carolina. To-date, no proof exists that they had any dealings or connections to North Carolina.

The last red flag was the implied wealth within the households of the Essex Country William Roanes and the very modest household of the William Roan from North Carolina. The Virginia Williams were very wealthy men. Amy’s father, judging by his Will, had a very modest estate when compared to the other two Williams.

In short, things just weren’t adding up.

The Will below is proof that neither of the above William’s were her father (click each image for a larger picture):

william-roan-will-1william-roan-will-2

william-roan-will-3

Source Citation: Halifax County, North Carolina, wills; Author: North Carolina. County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (Halifax County); Probate Place: Halifax, North Carolina
Source Information: Ancestry.com. North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: North Carolina County, District and Probate Courts.

This Will not only confirms the father of Amy, it also provides the names of her siblings. My father, sister and I also match a number of their descendants.

Of course, when it comes to genealogy, when one question is answered…more questions arise. So who is this William Roan, who owned land in both Halifax and Caswell Counties, North Carolina? I’m still working on that one. However, in the meantime, I believe the way he spelled his surname is a vital clue.

I’m going to take a quick, wee step back in time. The oldest known and proven Roane ancestor that I have is Archibald Gilbert Roan(e) of Grahsa, Antrim, northern Ireland (1680-1751).  Archibald had 5 children, all of whom emigrated to America:

  1. Col William Roane, Sr of Essex County, Virginia;
  2. James Roane of Essex County, Virginia;
  3. Andrew Roan of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania;
  4. Margaret Roan (married Captain John Barrett II) of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; and
  5. Reverend John Roan of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

While James and William adopted the Roane (with an ‘e’) spelling, their Pennsylvania-based siblings used the Roan (without an ‘e’) spelling. Roan, thus far, seems to be the consistent spelling variation used by the Pennsylvania branches of the family.  Which leads me to believe that Amy’s branch is linked to the Pennsylvania side of the family.

There is a William Roan within the Pennsylvania family who is the strongest, most likely candidate to be the same William Roan resident in North Carolina: one William Roan, born about 1736 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – the son of Andrew Roane (see #3 above) and Mary Margaret Walker (my 8x great uncle and aunt).

While the most likely answer, this remains speculative. As with many colonial-era American ancestors, I haven’t yet found records showing how William Roan went from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. Nor have I found any records that cite this William’s parents.

As for the William Roan who is known to be Andrew’s son? I haven’t found any records for him either other than a legacy left to him in Andrew Roan’s Will.

It’s my hope that now that I have identified who Amy’s father really is (and who he isn’t), that my North Carolina descended Roan cousins and I can focus on taking Amy’s father’s story further back in time.

I can’t stress enough how essential using Last Wills and Testaments are in genealogical research. The above example is the perfect example of why this is so.

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The Roanes of Virginia: 2 families with the same surname. Are they related or not?

What could possible be confusing about two immigrant families coming from the same region in Europe and landing in the US around the same time?  When it comes to pre-Revolutionary War Era Roane family…there’s plenty.

One group of early 18th Century Roanes were Scots-Irish in their origins, descendants of the northern Irish landowner of Scottish origins, Archibald Gilbert Roane.   The other Roane family hailed from England, descendants of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane.

Untangling A Right Genealogical Mess

As I’ve previously written, these two men were not directly related to one another. If I had the power to correct every single Roane family tree that shows Charles as being the father of Archibald, I would do it in a heartbeat :o)

Many years ago, like any newbie amateur genealogist, I figured countless online family trees had to be correct. I mean, they had been published for years – long before I began my own genealogy adventure. What wasn’t there to trust? The majority of these tress had merged both of these Roane family groups into one family. I took the information they contained as gospel. About a year later, I realized just how wrong these trees were.

It’s the only time I have ever had to delete an entire family from my tree and start again from scratch. However, it taught me a valuable lesson: never, ever take what’s in family trees as the gospel. The fact that most of the trees didn’t have citations or documentation should have been a clue. You live and you learn.

Part of the confusion, admittedly, was the realization that the American authors of these trees didn’t understand the distinction between England, Scotland and Ireland. They didn’t know the history of the UK and Ireland either.  A basic knowledge of a country or region’s history can guide your genealogical research. Historical knowledge can raise red flags. That’s what happened to me with the Roanes back in their respective countries of origin. The authors of these incorrect trees assumed that two people born around the same time with the same name were one in the same person, regardless of where they lived. So a Robert Roane, who clearly lived and died in Midlothian region  of Scotland, with a wealth of christening, marriage, death and property records to show that he was mainly domiciled in Midlothian, was presented as being one and the same as a Robert Roane who lived and died in Sussex County, England – and was sometimes a resident of London. The Scottish Roane was a wealthy Scottish merchant who was part of the sphere of influence for Queen Mary of Scotland. The other, a wealthy courtier and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I.

A myriad of official records and personal accounts clearly show these were two different men. Yet, there they are, on one online tree after another, where they are shown as being one in the same person. An extra layer of complexity.

Now there may or may not be a shared common ancestor between these two very different Roane families. Both claim descent from the ancient Norman/French noble house of de Rohan. And, of course, there is no proof of this. Until their direct male descendants do DNA testing, I can only take this as speculation that has yet to be proven.  For the time being, I’m treating them as two different families.

Two Families with The Same Name In Colonial Virginia

It gets even more confusing for these two families in the American colonies. The Scots-Irish Roane settled in two places when they first arrived in the American colonies: Pennsylvania and Virginia. The English Roanes went straight to Virginia. Virginia is where things gets interesting. Both Roane families were in the premier league of Virginia society. And, like any Division 1 family, they married into other Division 1 families. Which means these two Roane family groups became connected through marriages – marriages with families like Ball, Brockenbrough, Henry and Upshur/Upshaw. This, in turn, means that autosomal DNA from families like Ball, Henry, Brockenbrough and Upshur/Upshaw runs through both the English and the Scots-Irish Roane lines in the US. It makes it a challenge to know which Roane family group you’re a descendant of if you don’t know your direct line of Roane ancestors.

It’s especially difficult and confusing for African American descendants of either of these families (which I’ll get to directly).

Both Roane family groups were large slave-owning families. Generations of Roane men, from both family groups, fathered children with slaves. Pinpointing which male from either of these Roane families fathered your African American Roane family line is like looking for a needle in a haystack. And the shared DNA thing is just an added curveball, plain and simple.

There are a LOT of African American descendants from both these houses who are actively wanting to know which Roane family group they belong to in order to pinpoint their direct line and then uncover the identity of the man who fathered their line. I receive numerous emails from African American Roanes every week asking for advice, insight and my input into helping them along this path of discovery. Trying to untangle the knot of oral family history (which isn’t always correct), complicated family inter-connections, and interpreting DNA match results takes patience.

Working Through My Roane DNA Matches

I only made my breakthrough in identifying William Henry Harrison Roane as the progenitor of my Roane line through an exceedingly lucky break. Quite literally, through the luck of the Irish!

There were three Scots-Irish Roane brothers who arrived in the American colonies. Two headed for Virginia while one, the Reverend Andrew Roane, lived in Pennsylvania.  Luckier still, Andrew’s descendants largely remained in Pennsylvania. Which means this was as pure a Scots-Irish Roane line as anyone is likely to research in the US.  I say pure because this line never married into the same families as the Virginia Scots-Irish Roane lines before the outbreak of the American Civil War. In terms of DNA testing comparisons, this one Roane line is gold dust.

My DNA matches with Andrew’s descendants proved there was a genetic link between me and the Scots-Irish Roanes. After months of meticulous and laborious DNA results triangulation, I could eliminate a direct line of descent from the English Roanes (although I shared DNA with them through those pesky marriages to other prominent Virginia families). I could also whittle down my direct line of descent within the two Virginia-based Scots-Irish Roane lines until I finally hit my direct line.

I’ll give you an example. In terms of DNA matches, all of William Henry Harrison Roane’s living descendants who DNA tested with AncestryDNA were my closet matches (1st cousins ‘x’ times removed. They typically show as 4th cousins on DNA testing services).  William’s siblings’ descendants were the next closest series of DNA matches (2nd cousins ‘x’ times removed. They typically show as 5th cousins on DNA testing services). The descendants of William’s uncles and aunts were one more generation removed (3rd cousins ‘x’ times removed. They typically show as 6th cousins on DNA testing services).

My DNA matches with English Roanes has been consistently more removed than any I share with Scots-Irish Roanes. My English Roane DNA matches go from 8th cousins to ‘distant’. This suggest that we’re not linked by English descended Roane men. We’re linked by society ladies from the same family who married into both Roane families. And these unions had to have happened two to three generations prior to the birth of my 4x great-grandfather, William Henry Harrison Roane.  Which my Roane family tree actually shows. This makes sense. Families like Ball, Brockenbrough, Henry and Upshur/Upshaw had arrived in the colonies generations before either of the Roane family groups arrived.

A Little Bit About Triangulating DNA Matches

A note about triangulation. You have to compare your DNA matches with male descended lines and female descended lines. Which means you have to have a fully worked up family tree with both male and female lines to gather the surnames you’ll need to search on. For instance, it was a 50/50 shot whether it was William or his father who fathered my direct Roane line. It was comparing my DNA matches with his mother’s Henry family that clinched it. In order for me to have Roane and Henry DNA, I had to be descended from a child of a Roane-Henry union. That would be William – whose descendants were my closest DNA matches compared to any other line of Roane descendants.

Knowing the lineages of the women in your tree is every bit as important as the male lineages. And nowhere is this more important than DNA match triangulation.

Andrew Roane is my Roane family litmus test.

Some Roane Family DNA Matching Interpretation Tips & Tricks

So, if you’re an American Roane descendant reading this (and especially an African American Roane descendant), here are some suggestions:

  • See if you match with a living descendant of Andrew Roane with DNA results posted on the various DNA/family history sites.
  • If you do match a descendant of Andrew Roane, and that match is between the 3rd to 6th cousin level, then you are more than likely a descendant of the Scots-Irish Roanes.
  • If you don’t have a match with Andrew Roane’s descendants, then you are more than likely a descendant of the English Roane family group.
  • I don’t have any 7th cousin level matches, so can’t offer any interpretation for that result.
  • Once you’ve determined which Roane group you belong to, keep comparing your matches until you find a line that matches you more recently in time than any other. The chances are high that this is your direct line. There is a caveat:
    • Work back quite a few generations to ensure there are no linking families in your family line (two sisters marrying two brothers, or a pair of cousins from one family marrying siblings or cousins in another family). It happens more than you think. And this will skew your DNA cousin matching results. Think of these as potential false positives.
    • You will need to keep searching until you find family lines that aren’t connected by a linking family. This one is important. When I researched the ancestral lines of two people who married an aunt of uncle of William Roane, I discovered they were descendants of my Harling ancestors. Which made these two people my genetic cousins. Put simply, I had a set of Harling cousins marrying a set of Roane great aunts and uncles. This meant I had to completely ignore their Roane descendants in terms of making DNA comparisons. There simply is no way of saying ‘just look at the shared Roane DNA and ignore the Harling DNA’. I wish there were.
  • Trust me, the temptation is just to great to force your DNA match results to fit the information in your tree. Only refer back to your family tree for surnames to search for in your match results. However, forget about the specific individuals in your tree.
  • Don’t let your family history assumptions influence your match interpretations. Actually, forget everything your family oral histories have passed down. You have to triangulate like Dr Spock from Star Trek: dispassionately, focusing solely on the results.

Another consideration for African American Roanes is where your ancestors lived in Virginia. If you know where they were born, lived and died-  that, in and of itself, might give you some clues as to which Roane group you belong to if you’re getting Roane DNA matches.

The slave owning Scots-Irish Roanes are most strongly associated with King William and Henrico Counties in Virginia.

The slave-owning English Roanes are most strongly associated with King & Queen and Gloucester Counties.

Essex County & Richmond are tricky – both Roane family groups had land holdings and slaves both of these places. I’m still working on an overview of which family group was where in Essex County. For instance, which of the two families were in Indian Neck, Tappahannock, etc. This will also be a clue.

Ultimately, it will be a combination of finely-researched genealogy, DNA testing and patient and thorough triangulation that can unlock the mystery of which Roane family group you belong to.

With this is by no means definitive, also look at popular names in your family, especially names that keep recurring for family members born between 1800 and the 1880s. I’ve discovered that this was one way the formerly enslaved people of color indicated which white family line fathered them. Male names like Charles and Robert were popular for black and white descendants of the English Roane line. Henry was a popular first and middle name for black males who were descendants of William Henry Harrison Roane. Patrick, Spencer, Anthony and Wyatt were also popular male names associated with Scots-Irish Roanes.

This Research Has Inspired Something Even Bigger

The complications with Roane family genealogy fits quite nicely into one of my main goals in my genealogy adventure. And that is building one of the biggest online, public, slavery-era family trees for African Americans. One that is fully researched and trusted. It’s a project that I’m currently applying for grant funding to realize. I’m thankful that my current family tree is already a resource for African Americans researching families associated with Virginia and the Carolinas. However, I’d like to go bigger, deeper and further back in history. And that requires full-time research commitment for quite some time.

In the meantime, I continue to chip away. And always look forward to sharing whatever I find along the way.

The one where I give Sir Archibald Roane a demotion

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks diligently researching my Scots-Irish ancestor, Archibald Gilbert Roane. Put another way, I’ve been trying to sift fact from well intentioned fiction. With a myriad of uncited information about him online, that’s been a monumental task.

Archibald may or may not have been born in Argyllshire, Scotland around the year 1680. He may have been born in northern Ireland to Scottish parents. He may or may not have fought in the Battle of the Boyne. While he did live in northern Ireland, I’m not 100% certain where. All of the information online cite a place called Grenshaw or Greenshaw in County Antrim. As far as I can tell, no such place has existed. Grenshaw and Greenshaw might be a misspelling or Anglicization of Gransha, which is in County Down, in northern Ireland.

a map showing the location of Gransha, in County Down, northern Ireland

Gransha, in County Down, northern Ireland

His surname may have been Roan, Roane or Rowan. I’ve found Archibalds with all of these surnames born around 1680 in northern Ireland with Scottish origins. Each is from a distinctly different family. Pinpointing the correct gentleman as being my Archibald Roane has been a challenge that I’m still working on solving.

Which quite nicely brings me to the whole ‘Sir Archibald’ question. Online family lore states that Archibald was granted the honorific of Sir (which isn’t a title – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_titles_of_nobility) for some deed or service carried out for William III during the Battle of the Boyne. This is something that would definitely have left a paper trail. No such paper trail exists. I’ve searched the length and breadth of the UK’s National Archives (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ )…and there is nothing. There are Roans and Rowans mentioned, but no Archibald Gilbert Roan(e)/Rowan.

screen grab of the National Archive's home page

I’ve searched the honor roles for the Battle of the Boyne, including land grants made. Again, there are Roan(e) and Rowans to be found. There are none by the name of Archibald Gilbert Roane.

I dashed off an email to the Royal College of Arms (http://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk). The Royal College of Arms is responsible for the granting of new coats of arms. It also maintains registers of arms, pedigrees, genealogies, Royal Licences, etc. If anyone would know whether Archibald was a Sir or not, it would be the College.

screengrab of the Royal College of Arms homepage

I received a very nice, and equally informative, reply from one of the College’s Officers of Arms:

On Thu, Feb 12, 2015 at 8:48 AM, York Herald <[redacted for privacy]@college-of-arms.gov.uk> wrote:

12 February 2015

Dear Mr Sheffey,

Thank you for your e-mail of 10 February regarding Archibald Gilbert Roane.

The standard reference work for knights is Knights of England by William Shaw (London 1906), which lists Scottish and Irish knights as well as English. It is probably not complete but is as exhaustive as possible and the best guide available. It contains no reference to anyone with the surname Roane or Rowan being knighted. This does not necessarily mean that it did not happen, but we should certainly assume so until shown otherwise.

An examination of the Scottish and Irish heraldic records revealed no reference to the surname Roane or Rowan. The records of grants of Arms by the Kings of Arms at the College of Arms for this period, which covered England and Wales, and the overseas colonies and empire, revealed no indication that a grant of Arms was made to this person.

These preliminary results suggest that the individual in whom you are interested never established a right to Arms by grant or descent. It is quite possible that he assumed the Arms of another family of the same name, as quite often happened.

I hope that this is helpful.

Yours sincerely,

[name withheld for privacy]

York Herald

College of Arms
Queen Victoria Street
London EC4V 4BT

It’s not looking good for Archibald on the heraldic front; so much so that I’ve demoted him on my Ancestry.com Family tree. Sir Archibald Gilbert Roane is now Archibald Gilbert Roane.

image of Archibald Himlton-Rowan

Archibald Hamilton-Rowan

That’s not to say that his story is fully told. Is he related to the prominent, wealthy, land-owning Rowan family of County Antrim? By that, I mean is he related to the Reverend Andrew Roane or the Irish Libertarian, Archibald Hamilton-Rowan? If he wasn’t born to money he certainly acquired it. If he wasn’t born to it, how did he acquire his wealth? I do know this: where there’s money, there are records. So somewhere out there is more information about this mysterious ancestor.

At least two of his sons, William Roane (1701-1757) and James Roane (1707-1757) certainly arrived in Virginia with wealth which they used to buy large tracts of land and slaves. While he lived a more modest life than his older brothers, the Rev John Roane (1717-1775) lived a comfortable life in Derry, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. John too did not want for money. The origins of the family money remain a mystery.

With or without family heraldry, Archibald Gilbert Roane remains an interesting character. My writer’s instinct tells me that the truth of his story will be far more interesting than the fiction.

The one about finding George Henry Roane’s father

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the ladies in my family tree have provided some jaw dropping discoveries. One such lady unveiled my missing 4x Scots-Irish Roane grandfather. As if that wasn’t good enough, her family’s lineage has left me scarcely able to breathe.

So, I’ve written about how I’m descended from Sir Archibald Gilbert Roane (681 – 1751), born in Argyllshire, who was granted an estate in Grenshaw, Antrim Northern Ireland. He was the ancestor of my 3 x great grandfather, George Henry Roane. The question was, who connected these two men?

Using some lateral thinking and steely determination worthy of a CSI detective, I decided to revisit Archibald Gilbert Roane’s line in search of my dear old 4x great granddad. This would be the father of George Henry Roane. I decided to refine the technique I used that uncovered the identity of my missing 4x Sheffey great-grandfather…by looking at the family lines of the women who married into the family.

This is the blessing of autosomal DNA. This type of DNA is like a cocktail. It mixes and mashes DNA from your maternal and paternal lines. It does so generation after generation after generation. Autosomal DNA down the male Roane lines wouldn’t reveal anything other than I was indeed a descendant of Archibald Gilbert Roane. I would match all of his male descendants. I needed a match on a woman who married into the family – a woman whose autosomal DNA couldn’t be in any other Roane line of descent. And trying to find this match really is like looking for a needle in a haystack; especially for a family as large as the Roanes.

Sir Archibald Gilbert Roane, his wife Jennet, and their sons

Sir Archibald Gilbert Roane, his wife Jeannet, and their sons

I worked up preliminary lines of the women who married Archibald Gilbert’s sons. After careful research, and comparing my DNA results to these ladies’ ancestral trees, there was only one who provided a match: Sarah Upshaw, the wife of William Roane, Sr (1701-1757). The Upshaws weren’t the best autosomal match to have – there have been a few marriages between Upshaws and Roanes. This means more than one Roane line would have Upshaw autosomal DNA. What clinched it was Sarah’s maternal Gardener line. This is where the necessary unique DNA match confirmed and narrowed the Roane line I needed to investigate.

Next up was researching all the wives who married Sarah And William’s sons.

William Roane, Sr, his wife Sarah Upshaw and their children

William Roane, Sr, his wife Sarah Upshaw and their children

Discarding Upshaw marriages further back in the female lines, one by one, no DNA matches resulted. Except for one woman whose family provided a DNA match: Elizabeth Judith Ball 91740-1767), wife of Colonel William Roane (1740-1785). Elizabeth’s maternal Mottrom line and her father’s maternal Spencer line were two of her lines where I had a DNA match.

Now I was beginning to get excited. I started to ask myself, “Could I really do it? Could I actually, finally find the final piece of the puzzle that was frustrating the heck out of me?”

Colonel William Roane, his wife Elizabeth Judith Ball and their children

Colonel William Roane, his wife Elizabeth Judith Ball and their children

I rolled up my proverbial sleeves and got stuck into researching the women who married Sarah and William’s sons. Thankfully, with only two sons, the research at this level took a fraction of the time it had taken so far.

It soon became apparent that I only had a DNA match with one of the wives: Anne Henry (1767 – 1799), wife of Judge Spencer Ball Roane (1762-1822) – and daughter of the American Revolutionary hero, Patrick Henry. My DNA matched on her paternal Henry, Winston, Roberston and Pitcairn lines. I also matched on her maternal Sheldon line.

The Pitcairn name jumped out at me immediately. Let’s just say nearly 30 years living in the UK spent in the company of a number of friends from a certain sphere – you learn something about the really old English families. I noted the Pitcairn name, put a question mark against it, and proceeded to look at Anne and Spencer’s sons. Or, more accurately, I researched the families of the women they married.

Spencer Ball Roane, his wife Anne Henry and their children

Spencer Ball Roane, his wife Anne Henry and their children

William Henry Harrison RoaneAfter weeks tracing the descendants of Spencer Roane, there was only one line that produced matches on the maternal and paternal side that were closest to me in terms of generations than all the others: the descendants of William Henry Harrison Roane (1787-1822). I finally had him, my 4x great grandfather…the father of George Henry Roane.

I had a feeling about Spencer Roane years ago, when I first started this journey. My direct Roane line is the only line to make heavy use of the name ‘Henry’ as a middle name. I’d always felt this to be a clue. George Henry Roane also named his first born Patrick Henry Roane – allowable if the mulatto George was a family member. I couldn’t imagine the Roane family ever allowing a slave, not related to the family, to name a child after so venerated a Roane family member. And there it was in the DNA, the reason why he was allowed to do so. Patrick Henry was George Henry Roane’s great-grandfather.

Having searched for so long, I can’t even begin to describe the elation of finally having a name. And, with that name, I hope to find either personal or estate, deeds or personal papers from William Henry Harrison Roane that will reveal who George Henry Roane’s enslaved mother was. Discovering her story is going to be one of my top priorities.

It so happens that the Virginia Historical Society has quite a stash of personal papers and plantation records for Spencer Roane and William Henry Harrison Roane.

I basked in the afterglow of this discovery for about half the day. The name Pitcairn popped into my head while I sat sipping on a celebratory latte. I knew that name.

So I hit Burkes Peerage. In a matter of a few hours I had gone from the Pitcairn family to the Sinclair family and there I was in 8th Century Norway and Scotland, in the form of Thebotaw (Theobotan), Duke of Sleswick and Stermace. I was firmly in Viking territory. On that journey back into time, names such as Robert Bruce, Edward I Olaus, Charles the Fat, Thorfin “Skullcleaver” Hussakliffer, Brian Biorn and Kiaval appeared along the way. And then, with further work, there I was in the 7th Century Kingdom of the Franks. I couldn’t – and still can’t – quite wrap my head around it. Never, not once, did I suspect that Patrick Henry came from a line anything like this one.

When you add my Scottish Josey/Jowsie line, the autosomal map below, from AncestryDNA, begins to finally make sense:

autosomal dna countries

The European thumbprint if my autosomal DNA. The areas with purple circles (southern Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland & Western Russia) represent trace DNAmarkers between 3% – 5% – basically, Viking territory

I sent one of my oldest British friends (I’ll call him Lord B) an email outlining my discovery. He rang within 10 minutes, barely able to speak for laughing. Turns out we’re distant cousins – both descended from Robert Bruce. He confirmed what Burke’s and an old book about Scottish peerages already had …the research leading from Robert Bruce to Patrick Henry was indeed correct. Turns out, more than a few of my dear old British chums are my distant cousins. We’ve shared some chuckles over the weekend about that. This certainly explains quite a bit about my love of certain British country pursuits and my sense of ‘home’ when I lived there. And probably explains why certain British and Irish places resonated with me while many did not: The Highlands and the Scottish Isles; Mayo, Cork and Clare in Ireland; and the West Country, Yorkshire and Northumberland in England.

As I’ve shared with my own family, the irony of all of this is not lost on me. Not one iota of it. I am a descendant of Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death” Henry…through a slave. That is one tough nut to try and wrap your noggin around. I’m a descendant of a man who, in that speech, also said:

“For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country.

And:

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”

I am elated to finally have an answer to a fundamental familial question. Have no doubt about that. Although that answer is not without a twist.

 

 

 

 

In search of: The British Roane family

Most of the time I share a completed family history story. You know, it has all the wrapping, bows ribbons and finishing touches. This isn’t one of those posts. It’s a good thing, really. It’s the perfect illustration for what we all have to go through when researching our ancestors.

Some background to this tale…

Right. So, in previous posts I’ve explained how two different Roane families arrived in the American colonies around the same time in the early 1700s. One Roane family is English and is connected to Charles ‘The Immigrant’ Roane from Surrey, England. Dear old Charles settled in Virginia. This is the chap I thought I was directly descended from. A DNA test has proven otherwise.

The second Roane family is Scots-Irish. This Roane family is connected to Sir Archibald Gilbert Roane, who lived in Argyllsire, Scotland. He was granted an estate in County Antrim due to his service to William III of England. His sons settled in Lebanon County, PA and Essex County, VA. It is from him that I am descended.

Too many trees mis-represent that Archibald Roane is the son of Robert Roane (Charles’s father) and/or Charles ‘The Immigrant’ Roane. He is the son of neither.

A Coat of Arms answers one question

Interestingly, the Scot-Irish Roane family and the English Roane family share the same coat of arms. So there is a link between them somewhere in the mist of Medieval British history. Their common ancestor remains elusive.

Roane Coat of Arms

There is a variation with eagle’s head online, however, I haven’t actually seen that variant associated with the Roane family.  In crypts and in the houses associated with the British Roanes, I have only ever seen the Coat of Arms given above.

At this point, I’m going to quash the fabled link to the ancient Norman noble house of Ruan. The clue that there isn’t a connection between these two families is in their coat of arms. The main de Rouen coat of arms is below:

de-rouen

The coat of arms for la Maison de Rouen (senior branch)

Typically, a ‘cousin branch’ or junior/minor branch of a noble house will share at least one element with the senior branch. There are no such common or shared elements between the two coat of arms. For instance, there is no doubt of the relationship between the senior house of de Rouen and the junior branches of the family in France through the motifs used in the families’ crests.

While the Roanes more than likely did come from Normandy (as suggested by DNA test results), this is about all I can find that they share in common with the noble house of de Rouen.

Coats of Arms can answer important questions

Having a coat of arms opens up some interesting research opportunities. The fact that a Yeoman, or ‘gentleman’, was granted a coat of arms says something about his progress in English society (I’ll get to the Yeoman thing in a bit). When a coat of arms is granted, all manner of information is recorded with that grant. This information will be held at the College of Arms in England http://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk/ and perhaps the Heraldry Society of Sctland http://www.heraldry-scotland.co.uk/beginners.html

Please do not email either of these organization asking for information. You must make an appointment with them and visit in person. I can’t stress that enough. Really. It doesn’t matter that you don’t live in the UK or anywhere near their respective offices. You must, must make an appointment and visit them in person.

These organizations will have information about who the coat of arms was granted to, the date it was granted, where he was living – and perhaps why it was granted.

The Roanes of Northumberland and York – and being Yeomans

Now, as far as I can see, the oldest known British areas of residence for the Roanes are Northumberland and York. Which, given Norman English history, doesn’t come as a surprise. Land, probate and parish records show Roanes in these two counties as early as the mid-1300s. These Roanes, however, were of the Yeoman class. Yeomans were a kind of ancient prototype for the Middle Classes, without the power or prestige. Yeomans manoeuvred a kind of netherworld, they weren’t peasants owned by the local lord – but they weren’t knights or nobility either. They owned land and/or business and paid taxes which gave them a measure of respectability.

This isn’t to say that there wasn’t a minor noble in the family in the early Norman period of English history.  I just haven’t found one. What I’m finding may either be junior branches; descendants of a minor noble who became commoners. Or, Yeoman was all they ever were.

Tracking this family from Northumberland and Yorkshire, I can see where they branched out and came to reside in southern England, notably in Sussex and Surrey.

I haven’t found a trail that shows them going further north. That isn’t to say one doesn’t exist, I just haven’t found it. Scotland is, after all, really only a hop skip and a jump from both York and Northumberland. They are actually closer to Scotland than they are to London.

Roanes in Scotland

Now what is interesting are some factoids that I’ve found about the Scottish Roane family.

I came across the first snippet when I was searching the Scotland’s People website http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

Margaret Roane record on the Scotland’s People website

Margaret Roane record on the Scotland’s People website

So there was a definite Roane presence in Scotland as of 1583, approximately 2 generations previous to that of Archibald Gilbert Roane. Sadly, the Scotland’s Peoples website isn’t very generous with free previews, so I was unable to find out more about this Margaret Roane. Surprisingly, there are very few Roanes or Roans cited in its records. But this, at least, gave me something to go on.

The second snippet was this little gem I found on a site about Crogo and Holm of Dalquahairn in Scotland (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~alanmilliken/Research/ScottishRecords/Kirkcudbrightshire/CarsphairnParish/RecordsDocuments.html ):

[55] James Milligane in Nether Holm of Dalquhairn

April 14, 1698: Obligation by James and Roger McTurke in Upper Holm of Dalquhairn as principal and Robert Grierson, now in Glenshimmeroch, as cautioner, to pay to James Roane in Manquhill the sum of 300 merks and £50, with a terms annual rent, at Lammas 1698, with the ordinary annual rent and £50 of penalty. Dated at Glenshimmeroch and witnessed by James Milligane of Nether Holm of Dalquhairn and John McTurke in Little Auchrae, brother to the granters. Obligation registered Kirkcudbright August 16, 1698.

[Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds 1676-1700, no. 3132]

Naturally, I was curious about the correlation between Glencairn (for Margaret) and Moniaive (the closest place name Google Maps had for James Roane) – and generated the map below:

Scottish-Roanes

click for larger image

 As you can see, Margaret and James are within the same region of Scotland. So this, it would seem, is another area associated with the Roane family in Scotland. It gives me a specific casement area to do further research.

Now the other area of Scotland is Argyllshire for Archibald Roane. I plotted the distance from Moniaive to Argyll, and, as you’ll see below, there is a bit of distance between the two.

argyll

click for larger image

It gives a rather large search area to investigate.

I’ve begun concentrating on the Argyllshire area. Now whether it has to do with the scarcity of Roanes in the county, or from Archibald’s family’s status, I haven’t found anything about the family through the records for this county. Posterity was definitely the preserve of the Upper Classes.  However, I am surprised that I haven’t been able to find any mention of King William III’s warrant granting Archibald 1) the title of Sir (which is typically associated with a knighthood and garter of some sort) or 2) the landed estate King William III provided Archibald. It’s not unheard of – not finding a digitized record for either…but it is unusual. There’s no question that both of these things happened, I’ve seen it referenced in a Northern Irish account.  However, what I’m after is the holy grail – the actual records.

I feel tempted to apologize for the random snippets of information, But I’m not going to. It’s on honest reflection of an active family history research project. Sometimes all we have to go on are seemingly random threads which may or may not have anything to do with each other. It’s what I love about the process – the quiet little thrill of the chase…and the victory dance (yes, I do have one) when everything finally falls into place.

If you’re going to research this family…

My thoughts on research both the English and the Scots-Irish Roanes are this:

If you’re planning to research the Scots-Irish Roanes, there are a few places to physically go to for research:

  1. Glasgow’s Central Records Office. This should have records and documents pertaining to the family in the area.
  2. Visit Edinburgh: National Records of Scotland
  3. Visit Argyll:  with luck, this will have information about Archibald Gilbert Roane.
  4. Visit Belfast: The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland
  5. Visit Antrim, NI: The records office will definitely have information about Archibald Roane, his estate and, hopefully, his daughters and their descendants as well as any extended family members.
  6. Parish records in the towns and villages where they lived will have records of baptisms, marriages and deaths.

Truly, with the staggering amount of misinformation for this family, physically going through the original records is what’s required to stitch together the history of this family.

If you’re planning on researching the English Roanes:

My thoughts are along the same line as the Scots-Irish Roanes – physically going through the original records. .

  1. London: National records Office and the College of Arms
  2. Visit York: Central Records Office
  3. Visit Ashington, Northumberland: Northumberland Archives Office
  4. The above, in turn, will provide information about the towns and villages the Roanes of Northumberland and York lived in and/or owned property in. The local parish church will have records covering baptisms, marriages and deaths.

I’ve been thinking about using one of those online fundraising services to raise funds to spend a month ding all that I’ve outlined above. Having lived in England for nearly 30 years, I more than understand the British bureaucratic system. And it’s something I would love to do. Who knows!

With this family, I have the feeling that the truth will be far better, and more interesting, than the fiction.

George Henry Roane: Ancestry.com DNA test throws me a curve ball

While Ancestry.com’s DNA test answered a fundamental question about which second generation German-American Sheffey was the father of my Sheffey family line…it threw me one heck of a curve ball regarding the Roane side of the family tree.

The Usual Suspects: The English Descended Roanes in Virginia

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how my  enslaved 3 x paternal great-grandfather George Henry Roane was acknowledged as a member of the Virginian Roane’s ‘colored family’. Ah yes, that family bible that I’m still trying to contact the current owner about!  Well, I have had a few English-descended Roanes in the frame (I’ll call them the English Roanes). For various reasons too long to go into, I focused my attention on  the English-descended Roanes associated with King & Queen, Essex and Westmoreland Counties in Virginia.

This shortlist of paternal candidates was based on simple math: the men’s year of birth along with when he would have realistically produced children.

Building A Paternity Shortlist for George Henry Roane

George Henry Roane was born around 1800. I narrowed the list of potential Roane fathers down to a handful of English Roanes born between 1750 to 1780. The thinking behind this was George’s father’s age would have ranged from 50 at the top end of the viable paternity scale to around 20 years of age at the younger age range. It was – and I think it still is – a good, solid, ball-park estimate for an age range. Thankfully, it narrowed the list of possible candidates quite successfully. The English descended Roanes were a, how can I say it, prolific family. So I needed a means to whittle the candidates list down. I had a list of 8 men. I had researched their respective descendants and I was completely familiar with the surnames associated with each of their lines. There were some names each line shared in common. Thankfully, this was the exception rather than the rule.

The method above was how I learned the name of the Sheffey who sired my ancestral line. The name Susong was the breakthrough moment – a name that is associated with only one Sheffey line. I was hoping that one unusual name would pop out at me when looking at these Roane cousin DNA matches.

Ancestry’s DNA Test & Cousin Matches

Ancestry’s DNA test gave me two cousin match hits on the Roane name, specifically. The two individuals were ranked as 5th – 8th cousins. Yes, yes, I hear you shouting from the gallery like Staedler & Waldorf from the Muppets: What the heck does that mean?

A 5th cousin and I would share two 4x great grandparents. In other words, we would share George’s father in common.

A 6th cousin takes it back one generation. We would share a pair of 5 x great grandparents..and so on and so forth. Each level of cousin takes the identity of a shared ancestor back one further generation.

The Curveball

So I was pretty happy to see a likely match on a 5th cousin, give or take a generation or two. What I didn’t expect was the name of the Roane ancestor the match was returned for: The Honorable Archibald Roane. Yes, that one – the second Governor of Tennessee.  Archibald, the uncle of Arkansas governor, John Seldon Roane. The one who comes from a Scotts-Irish Roane family line.

To be clear, I’m not saying that Archibald Roane was George’s father. All I can say, at this point, is that I share a DNA connection with Archibald and his descendants. One of Archibald’s cousins could also easily be the father of George.

Now dear old Archibald’s side of the Roane family presents some formidable challenges. I have never researched their lineage – either their ancestors or their descendants. All of my efforts in researching the Roane family has been focused on the English Roane lineage. Family anecdotes strongly suggested it was the English Roanes who held the answers to our Roane paternity. That’s the sole Roane line I’ve ever focused on. In doing so, I completely ignored the Scotts-Irish Roanes.

I’ve previously written about what a mess most of the English Roane family trees  are…and my herculean efforts to get my own English Roane family tree absolutely correct and accurate.

I’m faced once again with the same herculean task. The family trees for Archibald’s Roane ancestry are just as incorrect as those for Charles Roane.

Getting Things Straight With These Two Different Roane Lineages

To kick things off, most Roane family researchers – and their family trees illustrate this – insist that Archibald Roane is a descendant of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane. He is not. Archibald descends from a Scottish-Irish family of Roanes, who may or may not be related to the English Roane family.

Let me start with the basics. Have a look at the basic family lines I’ve given in the image below:

image of An outline of the English Roane and Scotts-Irish Roane family lines between 1611 and 1811

An outline of the English Roane and Scotts-Irish Roane family lines between 1611 and 1811

 So time to debunk some myths:

  • There is a myth that Robert Roane (Charles Roane’s father) was the father of Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr. Robert was dead for a few years before Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr was born.
  • Archibald Roane, Jr was not the son of Charles Roane. Charles had been dead for decades before Archibald, Jr was born.
  • Neither Andrew Roane (Archibald, Jr’s father) nor Andrew’s brother William (the father of Spencer Roane), were the sons of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane. The marriage records for both William and Andrew clearly indicate that their parents were Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr and his wife, Jeannet.

All I can say about Charles Roane and Archibald Gilbert Roane, with any certainty, is:

  • Both men bore the same surname;
  • Both men used a similar Roane family crest;
  • Both men were alive at the same time for a period of almost two decades; and
  • They were both resident in the UK before arriving in the American colonies – although they resided in two completely different parts of the United Kingdom before they did so.

Now the Scots-Irish Roanes and the English Roanes very well may have a shared ancestor somewhere in the mist of medieval English history. The English Roane’s ancestral heartlands appear to be Yorkshire and Northumberland – two quite northerly parts of England. In other words, spitting distance from the Scottish borderlands. It’s not unfathomable that one branch of the family went south (to London and Surrey) while another went north to Scotland, and then on to Ireland.

So The Research on Archibald Roane Begins…

So the joys of researching Archibald Roane’s line has now begun. This means researching every single descendant line stemming from Archibald Gilbert Roane. It’s the only way I can discover the unique surname matches within one specific descendant line that will indicate who, exactly, the shared common ancestor is between me and the Scots-Irish side of the family. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack – but the payoff is always worth it. I like to think of it as CSI Genealogy. It just takes a lot of diligence, time and patience.

I am ignoring all family trees in the process. I’ve learned from painful experience when it comes to researching the Roanes. This time, I’m tracing the family lines solely through the official records.

While I’m on the topic of his descendants, it’s worth noting that the celebrated Virginian judge, Spencer Roane, belongs to the Scots-Irish Roane family…and not the English descended Roane family. Spencer and Archibald were first cousins.

I get the confusion between the English Roanes and the Scots-Irish Roanes. It doesn’t help that some of the Scots-Irish Roanes not only settled in Virginia – they settled in the same counties as the English Roanes. Essex County is a primary example.

So…while I don’t have a definitive name for the man who fathered my 3x great-grandfather George Henry Roane – I at least know I’m now looking within the right Roane lineage. I’m on the right path. Time, as they say, will indeed tell.

Yet again, I’m glad to say that a simple DNA test was worth every single penny.