Tag Archives: Genealogy

Peter Nance and Mary Pryor Query from 1906

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It’s interesting to look at the old genealogy columns published in newspapers at the turn of the century. I thought this one was a great example of lots of names but not documentation. It was published on July 15, 1906 in The Times Dispatch, Richmond, VA.

I’m curious. What records were available to researchers 110 years ago? I suspect all research was done in the county record office or a researcher was hired to do it for you. In this newspaper column the reference to Edward and Nicholas Pryor in Henrico county sites the years and not the reference material. From what we know today, it’s likely they were citing the dates of Vestry Records.

And of course Roger A Pryor was still alive in 1906 and his involvement in US and Virginia politics, service as a Confederate General during the Civil War and appointments as a New York Judge were all well known and documented in newspapers.

I think there’s an interesting aspect to the query. In 1906 the writer was aware of who their ancestors were. Peter Nance was recorded with his wife Mary Pryor on the 1850 Census in Knox County. By 1860, when he was 86 years old, Peter Nance was living in Blount County, TN. So somewhere in the 40 or less years since his death, where in VA they originated from and who were their parents has disappeared from the family story.

This news clipping should be a reminder of why research continues and supporting documentation is needed for our findings. The writer never made a connection between the Pryors mentioned– they simply were dishing out names.

Simpson Line Shines Light on Finding Source Information

ResearcherI came across a piece of information on one of my genealogy explorations. It’s not a Pryor, but it is an interesting example of how information is manipulated, or changed over time.

There’s an 1811 will for James Simpson in Caswell County, NC. It names his wife Sarah (aka Sally), their children, and their 3 minor sons Levi, James, and William. Sally and the children left NC after James’s death, showing up in Logan County, KY and finally moving to Johnson County, MO.

I found a long article on the Simpson’s in a history book, but I was more intrigued with the story of William’s death:

Wm. Simpson a brother, was a negro slave dealer and was murdered for his money by a man named Hoe in Kentucky.
The History of Johnson County, Missouri: Including a Reliable History of the … , edited by F. A. North, Brookhaven Press, 1881

I was wondering when this happened, where it happened and if I could find other accounts of this event.

The internet isn’t the end-all of research, but it certainly helps. There’s an account in a book published in 1825 on Google Books.

GAMBLING. The Alexandria Herald contains a long account of the confessions and execution of a young man of respectable connextions by the name of Hoe, for the murder of a Mr. Simpson. Hoe murdered Simpson and robbed him to pay a debt of honor, contracted at cards. We thus see the result of false principles, when gambling debts should erroneously and ridiculously be considered more honorable than a bona fide debt contracted for value received. A few such debts payed under the gallows will soon wipe away their honorable standing.
Masonic Mirror, and Mechanic’s Intelligencer, Volume 2, published by Moore & Prowse, 1825

While this didn’t add much in the way of facts, it points to the Alexandria Herald as another source. There’s no mention of Mr. Simpson’s occupation. The University of Richmond has a short synopsis of the murder on their website:

William Simpson, a prominent slave trader who resided in Fairfax County, was murdered in Centreville, Virginia. He was brutally shot in the head with a pistol and stabbed. He was also robbed of a reported 1600. The notes were from the Bank of Virginia. His body was found dumped near a road. According to witnesses, Simpson and the man later revealed as his murderer, William F. Hoose, spent two days together in the same tavern. They did not know each other before this encounter. Simpson was in the area to conduct business. They had lunch together because Simpson took a liking to the young Hoose. After lunch, the witness reported that Simpson and Hoose left the tavern together. Soon after that, Hoose returned back to the tavern by himself and kept pacing back and forth. He asked the landlord about buying a horse from him and the price. He went to Leesburg, where he was arrested for the murder of William Simpson. He was thrown in the Leesburg Jail and held there until his execution. He stole the money for gambling purposes.
https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/2675

This account is taken from 2 contemporary newspapers: Boston Commercial Gazette, March 25, 1825. Rhode Island American, March 22, 1825. Again more sources to look at.

I’d love to know the source of this story that was already almost 60 years old when it was used in the 1881 book. The book (and records) says there were no Simpsons left in Johnson County in 1881.

It’s not just the Pryors that raise more questions for every fact that turns up!

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Internet Genealogy: Finding Family Tree Clues in a House Clearing

It can be sad and stressful clearing out an elderly relative’s belongings.  It can even be double the work when that relative found it too overwhelming to dispose of their elder relatives possessions. You may find that you’re cleaning out not one person’s decades of memories, but the paperwork and nick-knacks of several people!  

Too often in a cloud of grief or in a rush to empty a house or a rented space, well-intentioned  family members or nursing home staff dispose of family history information, erasing valuable family tree clues. Even when someone has no children, there are cousins and their children who would love to see old photos and find data in old documents that would complete empty lines of their family tree. What may have been embarrassing during life and not discussed even with close family members, like divorces and adoptions, can surface in a house clearing.  

Follow these 3 steps to preserve family history when facing a house clearing.

Spotting the Family Tree Clues. When one of my relatives passed away, I was confronted with a house and garage brimming with a lifetime of accumulation. A big task was made easier by having a plan in place not only for disposal, but for when to slow down and take a second look at items.  The things that deserve closer scrutiny are jewelry inscriptions, family Bibles and book inscriptions, old bills and receipts, letters, and copies of public records. Family tree researchers are interested in locations where people lived and the dates they lived there, family names, birth dates, death dates. Have a small box on hand to separate papers with important dates and family information from what will be shredded or recycled.

Preserving the Information.  Whether you’re clearing out property in your hometown or in a distant city, there are often scanning services available; check with companies like FedEx Office and Staples.  A digital camera or smart phone is also handy for photographing jewelry and book inscriptions. Scanned documents and digital photos can be saved to a disc or emailed to interested family historians.

Sharing the What You Find. Once documents and photos are stored as digital files they can be passed on to interested family members. If you, or someone you know, are members at Ancestry.com you can upload the documents to that site. If you don’t know any interested family members, it’s easy to locate groups of people tracing a last name or interested in the history of specific location. It doesn’t cost anything to post a query on a message board, like Genealogy.com. A simple online search, like on Google, may turn up a website dedicated to a surname and location. If you email the webmaster of any surname site you are on your way to connecting with someone who would be grateful to have photos and other documents.

It doesn’t take a lot of work and the goal of cleaning out a space will be accomplished, however by preserving family documents you are preserving history.

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Lost Ancestors II – Solving Genealogy Mysteries by Finding Americans in Unexpected Places

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When we think of American migration in the mid-1800’s, the imagination often wanders to images of wagon trains and pioneer families trudging westward across the plains.  “Westward, Ho” was a reality, a great migration spurred by the opening of new territories and the California Gold Rush. Our “one-way” vision of migration toward only the west has been perpetuated by Hollywood movies.  The reality was not so tidy.

Our ancestors actually the ability to travel in all directions! The first steamboat on the Mississippi, the major North-South waterway, was launched in 1811. The first transcontinental -railroad was completed in 1869 and connected the east to the west.  From the 16th century onward ships crossed the Atlantic bringing new immigrants to the US and American visitors to the Old World.  Sure people migrated to isolated homesteads on the Great Plains, however others flocked to the small towns that grew on rivers and rail lines. With various modes of transport in place, our ancestors were more mobile than their film stereotypes.

For almost ten years I’ve been engaged in a surname research project (Tennessee Pryors). I continue to be amazed at how far people traveled and where they went causing them to disappear from the census and other public records for years at a time.  When you can’t find an ancestor in an expected location, then, try searching records for the unexpected places I’ve discovered.

Eastward, Ho! For some pioneers life in the frontier was just too unforgiving. When crops failed and homesickness set in, some of our ancestors went back to their eastern homes. Some cautious folks when faced with the uncertainty of what was in store for them in the Wild West, never sold their eastern land. So, just because an ancestor was found in the west and then disappears from records, don’t discount their possible return to their original community or nearby areas.  Pay attention to birthplaces on the census: while investigating a family in Virginia I found one of their children was born in Missouri. That opened the door to finding them on Missouri census records.

Washington, DC. When you know a family was educated and held social prominence you may find them in Washington, DC or surrounding areas. Like today, successful families gave back to their community by running for political office.  If in doubt, Wikipedia has numerous lists of political offices and who has held them.

France, Mexico, and Indian Territory: Before Louis and Clark, St. Louis was a pioneer town in the part of France (and for a time Spain) that would become the State of Missouri. More than 20 years before the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas, Stephen Austin took a group of American pioneers into an area of Mexico that wouldn’t become Texas until after the fall of the Alamo. Other pioneers headed into Indian Territory to establish homesteads or trading posts.  Sites like the Missouri Secretary of State Digital Heritage have some territorial records.  Often records are in the form of letters to territorial governors or land grants that have yet to be translated from Spanish or French, nor have they been transcribed into digital documents, so a meticulous search is needed to find reference to these pioneer families.

Travel Abroad: One family I research appeared to be lost from the census records. They were in the South up to the 1860 census and then they were gone. It wasn’t until I playfully searched the UK Census that I found them. Business had caused the family to move abroad. The UK Census provided the clue and subsequent searches of ships’ manifests and passenger lists gave the details of their return to the US—landing and setting in the North after the Civil War. The Canadian Border Crossing records on Ancestry are also helpful to the researcher.

Lost ancestors? All are not lost! With some diligent detective work in the unexpected places, you may find ancestors who you thought were missing.