Genetic genealogy, DNA triangulation, and the search for my missing Futrell ancestor

When it comes to my genealogy adventures, more often than not, I feel like Sherlock Holmes or Poirot when it comes to uncovering the identity of missing ancestors who lived in the 17th, 18th and early 19th Century. Paper trails invariably run out, especially when it comes to my ancestors who were either working class whites, blacks, mulattos, Native American, or free people of colour. There are various reasons for this. Either records were lost, destroyed during times of upheaval (i.e. Revolutionary War, Civil War, Bacon’s Rebellion, etc) or were lost due to things like courthouses burning down. Given the remote areas some of ancestors lived, records may have never been produced at all. Or, if enslaved, full names weren’t provided. Or, due to ethnicity, they weren’t seen as people.

DNA testing is one key to uncovering the identities for ancestors where paper documents never existed, or no longer exist…or have yet to be digitized.  The process of DNA triangulation is key to this process:

Triangulation for autosomal DNA is kind of a chicken and egg thing.  The goal is to associate and identify specific DNA segments to specific ancestors.  The easiest way to do this, or to begin the process, is with known relatives.  This gets you started identifying “family segments.”  From that point, you can use the known family segments, along with some common sense tools, to identify other people that are related through those common ancestors.  Through those matches with other people, you can continue to break down your DNA into more and more granular family lines. (DNAeXplained, “Triangulation for Autosomal DNA” via https://dna-explained.com/2013/06/21/triangulation-for-autosomal-dna)

Regular readers will know I’ve developed a talent for triangulation over the years. In truth, much credit goes to my team of genetic genealogists who spent long and patient hours explaining how genetic genealogy and triangulation work; and mentoring me through my first forays into triangulating with my own DNA.

I’ve saved one of the most challenging triangulation tasks for last: discovering the father of my 2x great grandmother, Selinda Futrell, born about 1842 in Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina. This falls on my mother’s side of the family tree.

matilda

There are a couple of phases when it comes to organizing how I approach working with DNA and vital documents identifying a parent, or parents, for an ancestor. I’m still very much in the early phases with Selinda.

A preliminary to Phase I

Let’s start with her mother, Melinda, whose name appears as Melinda Futrell in official documents. Melinda was born around 1824 in Northampton County, North Carolina.  The first question I had to tackle was whether or not Melinda was a Futrell by birth, or was it a name she assumed after Emancipation.  In short, what was her connection to the Futrell name?

The three documents I have for Melinda, including the 1870 Census, cite that she is black.  All three documents are consist in this fact. There is nothing to-date to indicate that she was of mixed race. Now this could be for one of two reasons: either she was born of mixed parentage and simply didn’t appear to be.  Or, as I strongly suspect, she wasn’t born of mixed parentage. I am satisfied on the score that she was not a Futrell by birth.

Melinda’s children, on the other hand, are consistently cited as being mulattos. All of them. Which indicates that, unlike Melinda, her children had a white father. Given some 20+ DNA matches with white Futrells and Futrell descendants with roots in Northampton County, North Carolina, the team and I are very confident that man was a Futrell. This would explain Melinda’s adoption of the Futrell name, which she passed on to her children.

This is a prelim into Phase I.

Phase I: The Futrell family tree

So, the preliminary to Phase I was all about determining if Selinda Futrell was indeed a blood relation to the Quaker-descended Futrells in Northampton, NC.

Phase I, which is still ongoing, requires me to do a full and thorough work-up on the Quaker-descended Futrell family tree. This is easier said than done.  I’m not going the lie. The Futrells are a nightmare to research.

Let’s just start with the surname. When it comes to misspellings and variants of the name, it’s in a league of its own: Fewtrell (the old English spelling of the name), Futral, Futrill, Fetral, Tutrill, Titrill, Futrelle…the list goes on and on.

Then there are the beloved family names that were commonly used among numerous branches: Shadrach, William, Charity, Daniel, John, Nathaniel, and Mary, just to cite a few. Online family trees are aren’t an option – too many have confused or merged individuals who borne the same first name and were born within a few years of each other.

The one book I hoped to get a hold of, 12 Northampton County, North Carolina Families
Bridgers, Daughtry, Futrell, Jenkins, Joyner, Lassiter, Martin, Odom, Parker, Stephenson, Sumner, and Woodard by Rebecca L. Dozier is no longer in print.

But then, as luck or providence would have it, I discovered a second book: The Futrell Family Revised by Roger H. Futrell (available to read and/or download via: https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE99258)  This book has been an absolute godsend. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we couldn’t have done an accurate family tree without it.

The book allowed us to ramp up Phase I, and begin Phase II.

Phase IIa: Eliminating and shortlisting paternity candidates

The 18th and early 19th Century Futrell family is huge. The family was not only prolific, it produced an unusual number of male children generation after generation.

At the moment, we’re just shy of 60 Futrell men born between 1650 and 1820. In order to have the fullest list of possible paternity candidates, we’re required to try and trace as many descendant lines for Thomas “The Immigrant” Futrell (born 1659 in Shropshire, England, lied for a period in Surry County, Virginia –  and died in 1693 in Bertie County, North Carolina). Once this has been done, we can begin to specifically look at Futrell men who were old enough, and resident in Northampton County, NC prior to Selinda Futrell’s birth in 1842.

I don’t know if ‘luck’ is the right word, but I’m going to use it anyway.  As luck would have it, around two-thirds of the Futrells who were in North Carolina had moved to Trigg and Christian Counties in Kentucky by 1814. Why is this lucky?  These Futrell men are automatically eliminated as possible descendant lines who could have fathered Selinda and her siblings. These Futrells didn’t moved back and forth between Kentucky and North Carolina.  Once they arrived in Kentucky, that was it.

We next looked into the proximity of Futrell men to Melinda and her family in Rich Square.  There were a dozen or so men of the right age either living in Rich Square. Another 8 Futrell men lived within a day’s horse ride away from Rich Square. Then there was the extended family group of Futrells who lived in Onslow County, NC.

Next we looked at which Futrells owned slaves.  This ruled the Onslow County group of Futrells out almost immediately. None of them had enslaved people.

This, again, helps us narrow the field of identifying the best, most likely paternity candidates on paper before we begin using DNA to triangulate.

After eliminating so many Futrells from consideration, we are left with a few family lines to investigate more closely:

  1. Male Futrell descendants of John W Futrell (1715-1788) and Martha “Polly” Daughtry;
  2. Male Futrell descendants of Benjamin Futrell (1720-1790) and Mourning Smith; and
  3. Male Futrell descendants of Thomas Futrell III (1713-1770) and Elizabeth Dickinson.

Work continues in investigating these three family groups.

Phase IIb: Wills and probate…and more Wills and probate

Wills and probate records are a vital – and rich – source of ancestral information. On the one hand, they provide the names of surviving family members, including grandchildren (e.g. I bequeath to my grand-daughter Hezekiah Heathcock, the daughter of Anne,…)

Next, Wills and probate are important for my Futrell ancestry for another reason. Wills and probate tells me who held enslaved people and who did not. This isn’t always a hard and fast rule.  My formerly missing German-American Sheffey 4x grandfather, John Adam Sheffey, was the only 18th Century Sheffey to not own slaves.  However, his brothers did. Yet, as far as DNA is showing, only John Adam Sheffey seems to have fathered children with Jemimah, an enslaved woman in the household of his brother Maj Henry Lawrence Sheffey. Slave ownership isn’t always a reliable factor when it comes to determining paternity.

For the Futrells who held enslaved people, the names of the enslaved are cited in their Wills.  It is actually possible to follow the trail of the enslaved from generation to generation through subsequent Futrell family Wills.

Using an example, let’s say Futrell #1 had an enslaved woman by the name of Amey. She goes from him to his son, Futrell #2.  Next, we might see in Futrell #2’s Will that Amey and her children, Patsy and Shadrach, pass to his son, Futrell #3.  Not only can I track Amey, I can now see that she has two children. Further Wills will provide further clues and information about Patsy and Shadrach.

The above is an illustrative example.  The Will of Elliot Futrell below, is a real-world working example:

elliott-futrell-1elliott-futrell-2

I’ll go ahead and say.  Creating family trees from Wills is a strange and unsettling business. I don’t think I’ll ever reconcile myself to it. With that said, it is a critical skillset to acquire when it comes to genealogy.

As part of my genealogy practice, I add this information my Ancestry.com family tree for the respective individuals who held and inherited enslaved people.  I do this in the hopes that it helps other African Americans  researching their own family trees. I include the names of the enslaved and how that individual came by them (i.e. inheritance or purchase) with links back to the original course. The two images below show my working practice using the Will above:

mitchell-futrell

The image above shows notes I add to respective Ancestry.com pages to track the movement of enslaved ancestors from generation to generation.

Now, in the instance above, I don’t know if any of the enslaved people cited are part of my Futrell family’s story. However, they will be part of someone’s family story. So many have helped me along my way in my adventure, it would be churlish for me to not pay it forward.

Phase IIc: Identifying Futrell DNA segements

While I grapple with the traditional genealogy required in Phases IIa and IIb, the team is working on identifying my Futrell DNA segments and the Chromosome(s) associated with this segment or segments. While I’ve become adept at this part of the process, it is time consuming. And, in this instance, exceedingly tricky due to endogamy (cousin marriages, in short). I’m going to say it: the professionals are far quicker at this than I am!

This article from DNAeXplained gives you a glimpse into what’s involved: Concepts: Match Groups and Triangulation https://dna-explained.com/category/triangulation.

Phase III: Working with online DNA cousin matches

This final phase will do one of two things.  It will either identify the father of Selinda Futrell and her siblings. Or, it will narrow the search down to a single family group, a father and his sons, in other words. Most of the time, we get a solid hit and there’s no doubt about it.  Other times – and this is largely due to endogamy – we can only narrow it down to a father and/or his sons.

For example, it’s not unusual in my family tree for two brothers from one family to marry sisters from another family – and both sets of couples were cousins. Add the fact that the parents of the 2 brothers and 2 sisters were 2nd or 3rd cousins. Nothing skews DNA triangulating quite like this. It’s a bit of a nightmare. Less frequent is a father and a son marrying a mother and a daughter from another family, who may or may not be related to them.

Part of Phase III includes me relaying any possible DNA overlaps back to the genetic genealogists. For instance, the Quaker descended Futrells married Outlands, Exums, Vinsons and Lassiters quite often In Northampton, NC. I know already that I have Lassiters and Exums in Virginia on my father’s side of the family. I also have Outlands from Pennsylvania and Virginia on both my parents’ ancestral lines. Regardless of which colonial territory or State they lived in, these Outlands, Lassiters and Exums are part of the same family. Add in the Quaker White family, which links all of these families and more…and you have some tricky triangulation to do.

This information is crucial for the genetic genealogy team to reduce the risk of them arriving at a false positive. They need to find ‘pure’ lines – lines that don’t share common DNA with any other, in order to successfully identify Selinda Futrell’s father.  We use this as a benchmark against which we compare every other line.

Each Futrell line will be examined individually to see which one matches me closer, in terms of generation, than any other. For instance, if all of my DNA matches are at the 5th, 6th and 7th cousin level, save one that matches me at the 4th generational level or less – the most recent shared match is the one we need to investigate more closely. The identity of her father rests on Futrells who match me more closely in terms of generational distance than any other Futrell descendant line.

Normally, we’d also rely on the length of DNA segments shared, and the number of segments shared, between me and my Futrell DNA matches.  However, because of cousin marriages, I already know we’ll share more DNA in common than is typical for 4th to 8th cousins.  As an example, I have a Quaker cousin in Pennsylvania who Ancestry.com suggests is a 3rd cousin. We know a number of the ways we’re related, which makes us 5th, 6th, and 7th cousins respectively (due to endogamy within the colonial Quaker communities, we share at least 6 sets of common ancestors). We share a crazy amount of DNA segments for two people whose common ancestors lived between 1660 and 1770. It’s not Ancestry.com’s fault, it can only go by what the genetic numbers are telling it.

Yep, I know, it sounds like a whole lot of work to identify one ancestor. It’s what you do when the paper trail runs out.

And why spend so much time and effort to identify a father-owner ancestor?  I’ll touch on that in the next article.

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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.

Navigating Wills & Probate Records on Ancestry.com

These records are a goldmine of information. On the one hand, they can prove family relationships. For African Americans with enslaved ancestors, they can show who owned your ancestors from generation to generation – as well as indicate who may have fathered your enslaved mixed-race ancestors.

All I can say is that I have made some genuinely amazing family history discoveries using probate records and wills on a number of online digital record services.

My working practice for my African American genealogy research

This post is a glimpse into my working practices when it comes to researching black ancestors who were enslaved. On the one hand, it will probably look like Olympic standard mental gymnastics. On the other, I hope it gives a good framework for other African Americans researching their own enslaved ancestors.

In this post, I’m going to concentrate solely on my Sheffey ancestors in Wythe County, Virginia.

A tale of a very tight knit family

Part and parcel of researching ancestors who were enslaved is acquiring knowledge about the family who owned them. Any chance of discovering such ancestors can only be accomplished through the records kept by slave owners. Our enslaved ancestors’ lives were inextricably linked to their owner’s family. Obvious, I know. Still, I’m stating this for a specific purpose. My enslaved Sheffey ancestors were kept together within the extended Sheffey family. I have no overall understanding of how usual or unusual a practice this was. The fact that the black and white sides of the Sheffey family were related may have had a part to play in this. With an increasing knowledge of the beliefs and quirks of the slave owning Sheffeys, I wouldn’t be surprised if this kinship was behind keeping my black Sheffey ancestors and relations together.

Not only was the family structure of my enslaved Sheffey ancestors and relations kept intact, it definitely seems as though the extended black Sheffeys were in regular contact with one other. It makes sense. My white Sheffey ancestors and kin were a close knit and very sociable bunch of people. Going from family home to family home, with slaves in tow, seems the most obvious way my black Sheffey cousins kept in regular contact with one another and maintained their closeness.

How do I know the black Sheffeys were every bit as tight knit as their white counterparts? The 1870 Census. Whether it’s Wythe County towns like Wytheville, Cripple Creek, Ivanhoe or Black Lick (and Marion in neighbouring Smyth County) – there they all are, my black ancestors, all living near to one another. And through numerous marriage records showing second and third cousins from the different Wythe County towns (and Marion) marrying one another.

In other words, it wasn’t the habit of Sheffey slave owners to split the families of their black relations apart. Which has made researching my black ancestors an easier task than if they had been sold all over the southern states. Research is showing that my black Sheffey ancestors and kin were passed, intact, by my white  Sheffey kin to other Sheffey family members in their Wills.

An example of how I identify which Wills and probate records I'll need for my research. Click for larger image.

An example of how I identify which Wills and probate records I’ll need for my research. Click for larger image.

Now all I need is to find the Wills to actually prove this. Which segues quite nicely back to my opening sentences.

Enter genealogy: Focusing on the oldest known generation of back & mulatto Sheffeys

Let’s take a look at the oldest known members of my earliest known black Sheffey ancestors.

Snapshot putting my oldest known black Sheffey ancestors into context. Click for larger image.

Snapshot putting my oldest known black Sheffey ancestors into context. Click for larger image.

I’m going to focus on three people: Jemimah, her son Jacob Sheffey and his wife, Elsey George.

Once you’ve identified an owner for an enslaved ancestor, it’s a good idea to do a rough work-up of that owner’s family tree. Slaves were usually passed from generation to generation. Doing a genealogical work-up of a slave owner and his family can provide clues about your enslaved ancestor’s genealogy – identifying siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins to additional children they may have had.

Once you have done an outline of a slave owner’s family tree, the next step is to find any Wills, estate records, estate inventories (usually done as part of the probate period), tax records, letters and journals – anything that might make reference to slaves by name.  I have uncovered previously unknown family lines through this practice.

If an enslaved ancestor lived to an advanced age (say, seventy or older), and appears on the 1870 Census, you stand a good chance of tracing who owned them when they were born and then all the subsequent family members who owned them and their family. The caveat is this works so long as they were kept within the same family.

I find that it helps my research if I draw some outlines of inter-connections and relationships between enslaved ancestors and how they connect to various owners. Visual aides always help my research. Like the working example below:

Outline of black and white family connections. Includes avenues to investigate to identify Godfrey Taylor Sheffey's parents. Click for larger image.

Outline of black and white family connections. Includes questions to answer and avenues to investigate to identify Godfrey Taylor Sheffey’s parents. Click for larger image.

The image above is a working outline I’ve shared with some Sheffey DNA cousins trying to place their ancestor, Godfrey Taylor Sheffey, into my overall Sheffey family tree. We know there is a connection. The men in their line bear an uncanny resemblance to me and many of the men who are descendants of Jacob Sheffey and Elsey George. Seriously! It’s like the men in Jacob’s line were cloned!

Through plotting the image above, it’s my hunch that Godfrey Sheffey’s parents were Jacob Sheffey and Elsey George. Laying out all the known, pertinent facts – as they have been in the image above – just makes that hunch even stronger.

However, the image above serves a few purposes. There is more within it than meets the eye at first.

Jemimah’s origins remain a mystery. By that I mean I have no clue who owned her when she was born in 1770. This void means I have no clue about who her parents were, or the identity of any siblings – or what family name her family would have used. Her early life requires a lot more work. She was born before the second generation German-American Sheffey’s (e.g. Daniel Sheffey and his brother Henry Sheffey) arrived in Virginia and became save owners. Daniel and Henry were still children themselves in Frederick County, Maryland. So she couldn’t have originally been owned by them. I’m hoping a trail of Virginia Slave Deeds of Sales will lead me back to her first owner.

Some Deductive Reasoning and Critical Thinking

Now the next bit requires deductive reasoning and critical thinking. These are not ideal tools of the genealogist. However, my previous critical thinking and deductive reasoning has led to some remarkable genealogy breakthroughs.

Our enslaved ancestors’ stories are inextricably linked to the story of the families who owned them. This includes their Properties and Places of residence – I refer to this as P&P.

Here’s a working example:  In order for Jacob and Elsey to have a ‘union’ and produce children, they were more than likely resident within the same Sheffey household. So which one? My thinking is that Jacob and Elsey were owned by Henry Sheffey. And here’s how I came to that deductive conclusion:

  • Elsey’s first child was by James Lowry White, Henry Sheffey’s brother-in-law. Elsey and James were both teenagers when that child was born. So it makes sense that she was owned by James’s father, William White, and not by James. Carrying this deductive reasoning further, it seems highly probable that Elsey was born into William White’s household. William White more than likely also owned her parents and siblings – I’ll come back to this in a bit**.
  • Elsey more than likely became a part of Henry Sheffey’s household through his wife, Margaret White. I’m guessing that Elsey was part of an inheritance. And she came with her first born, the son she had with James White. In order for Elsey to meet and be courted by Jacob, I can only see this if he was already established in Henry Sheffey’s household.
  • If Jacob was already part of Henry Sheffey’s household, there is a strong likelihood that Jemimah, his mother, was also part of this household.

Now deductive reasoning requires a paper trail in order to convert reasoning and deduction into fact. Henry Sheffey has stymied me in this. He died fairly young. Some of his sons were raised by his brother, Daniel Sheffey, while others were raised by his brother-in-law, James White. If Henry left a Will, I haven’t been able to find a copy of it. Nor have I been able to find any reference to a Will. Nor have I been able to find any probate or estate inventory papers. This means I have no idea what happened to my ancestors when he died. Did his sons inherit them? Were they held in trust by the boys’ guardians? I don’t know. In short, there is no paper trail to follow…yet.

Jacob and Elsey had their first child while Henry was still alive (this was my 2nd Great Grandfather, Daniel Henry Sheffey, Sr). Jacob and Elsey’s remaining 5 children were born after Henry Sheffey’s death. Jacob and Elsey were clearly together. But where? In whose household? That remains a mystery.

What I do know is the trail picks up in the Wythe and Smyth Cohabitation Records that were compiled in February of 1866. The Cohabitation Records cite the last slave owner for each formerly enslaved person cited within it. And many of my Sheffey ancestors and relations are listed within these documents. By and large, all were owned by members of the extended Sheffey family.

In this image, I'm focussing on the central figures in this specific research exercise. The diagram shows inter-relationships between the black and white sides of the family, with contextual notes and questions. Click for larger image.

In this image, I’m focussing on the central figures in this specific research exercise. The diagram shows inter-relationships between the black and white sides of the family, with contextual notes and questions. Click for larger image.

Intricately Connected Lives

Last Wills and Testaments would answer so many of the questions that I have. And these are proving stubbornly elusive. Wills for Henry and his brother Daniel would answer quite a few. Their children’s Wills won’t provide any answers.  They all died after the end of the Civil War. There were simply no slaves for them to bequeath. Added to this, not all of their children, notably the Reverend Robert Sayers Sheffey, owned slaves.

The two Wills I have mentioned, however, would shed some light on:

  • Which of Henry and Daniel’s children inherited family slaves before the onset of the Civil War
  • How my family members came to be with extended family members like the Morrisons, Spillers, Robertsons, Sanders and Porters.

Knowing this would better enable me to understand how formerly enslaved Sheffeys came to reside where they did within Wythe and Smyth Counties. In other words, this knowledge adds missing context to their lives and their histories.

**Now, back to Elsey George, her family, and how their lives were so closely entwined with that of the White family (let’s not forget I’m related to this family too through my mother’s Harlan lineage!).

William White owned extensive land holdings and enterprises throughout Virginia as well as Kentucky (Harlan County) and Alabama (Hunstville, Madison County). His son, James White, expanded upon his father’s business and became one of the wealthiest men in the southern states. William and James moved slaves throughout their various estate holdings in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. And in all the places they owned property, I find members of the George family.

Every. Single. Place.

It’s going to be quite the adventure to stitch the George family story back together. I have yet to find a copy of William White’s Will. James White died intestate. However, his billion dollar estate (in today’s money) resulted in a long and protracted lawsuit between his heirs. His estate holdings, if reports are accurate, were well documented as part of this lawsuit. And I’ve found where all of his estate and personal papers are kept: The University of Virginia Library http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?docId=uva-sc/viu00730.xml This collection will be a goldmine of information when it comes to piecing together the George family tree. I’m also hoping it will shed some light on Henry Sheffey’s estate, including which family members inherited Henry Sheffey’s slaves.

 So, let’s recap.

There’s no getting around it. You have to do some genealogy work on the family or families that owned your enslaved ancestors. Yes, it’s extra work. Rather a lot of extra work, if the truth be told. In my case, it was part and parcel of my family genealogy research because the people who owned my enslaved Sheffey ancestors are blood relations.

Once you’ve done a genealogical outline of the family who owned your ancestors, the next thing on your list is to track down any existing Wills or probate estate inventories that will cite and list the slaves. Provided your enslaved ancestors were kept within the same family for generation after generation, you can trace them from place to place, and by    generation after generation.

 

So you think you’ve seen bad handwriting? Here’s Secretary Hand…

I’ll readily admit I don’t always have the most legible handwriting. I also know I’ve seen some downright undecipherable handwriting over the years. And then I came across Secretary Hand.  “What’s that?” I can hear you asking.  I don’t blame you. I had no idea what this was myself until I bought and downloaded digital copies of some Last Wills and Testaments for some 17th Century English Roane from the UK’s National Archives (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/wills.htm).

Secretary Hand was a style of writing predominantly used throughout Europe from the 15th Century to the 17th Century. This style of writing was invented to create a more legible form of writing – and writing that would be recognizable throughout Europe.  This may have been a truly legible form of writing in the time it was used…the irony is not lost on me in the modern era. As the name would suggest, it was largely used by clerical secretaries and scriveners (a scribe by any other definition).

In short, Secretary Hand was used for official documents.

Considering the amount of research I was able to achieve with Thomas (https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/researching-archaic-royal-english-appointments-thomas-roane-jr-sergeant-of-the-poultry-to-charles-ii/) , I hoped accessing his will would fill in some remaining gaps. I have a list of contemporary 17th Century English Roane family members that I can’t place on the family tree. Two of them are mentioned in this will. However, as my luck would have it, I can’t quite decipher the sentences in which their names appear.

These documents didn’t come with any transcriptions. What I have are digital copies of the originals. To me, that makes these documents even more precious. Each and every annotation, ink scratch and blot and all of the imperfections puts me in touch with a precise moments in time; the times when these documents were written, and then read.

Thomas Roane, Sergeant of the Poultry’s Last Will and Testament is a perfect example:

The last Will and Testament of Thomas Roane, Sr, Sergeant of the Scullery

The last Will and Testament of Thomas Roane, Sr, Sergeant of the Scullery – click for larger image

Thankfully, there are some pretty good online resources to help decipher Secretary Hand.

FamilySearch has a handy interactive online video tutorial that I highly recommend: https://familysearch.org/learningcenter/lesson/reading-english-handwritten-records-lesson-1-english-secretary-hand-letters/207

FamilySearch also has a handy Secretary Hand alphabet printout: http://broadcast.lds.org/elearning/FHD/Community/en/FamilySearch/Handwriting/English/Lesson_1/English_Secretary_Hand_Alphabet_Examples.pdf

In and amongst the handful of English Roane wills I bought, there was one for a Bartholomew Roane. Bartholomew Roane is a name I have seen time and time again. He is associated with the Roane heartland of Northampton as well as London. Yet, I have come no closer to establishing how he’s related to the lines of English Roanes I’ve traced so far. All I can say with any certainty is that he belongs to an even earlier generation of the family. His Last Will and Testament threw up an extra surprise in addition to Secretary Hand:

Last Will and Testament of Bartholomew Roane

Last Will and Testament of Bartholomew Roane – click for larger image

Yes, that’s right, it’s in Latin…a language I haven’t seen, much less read, since I was in Year 10! It’s not surprising given that his will was written in either 1572 or 1573. I really ought to have expected it.

So while I make slow progress transcribing Thomas’s will, and the other wills written in English… Bartholomew’s will have to wait.

So bear this mind: if you’re seeking to add to your late medieval European ancestral knowledge by accessing their wills, expect to grapple with Secretary Hand 🙂

For me, it’s worth the struggle. These documents truly are unique windows into a past age. These aren’t wills as we know them today. They are in as much as they deal with the disposition of property and inheritance. But they also contain so much more – things our modern wills don’t.

Once I’ve successfully and fully finished transcribing the wills I have, I’ll start to post them.

In the meantime, I won’t complain about other people’s indecipherable handwriting again!