Irish Ancestors and Immigrants!

Since we are upon St. Patrick’s Day, it is more than fitting to pay a tribute to some of our newly discovered Irish ancestors!   I will explore what I have found about two Irish ancestors who immigrated to America, James Robert Porter and Andrew Porter.  James was my 8th great-grandfather and Andrew, his son, was my 7th great-grandfather.

pic of donegal, ireland 001 (2)
Ulster, Ireland

James Robert Porter was born in 1699 in Coleraine or Londonderry County, Province of Ulster, Ireland and was the son of Josia Porter and Margaret Ewing, who both were born and died in Ireland.   It is believed that James immigrated to Maryland, the British American Colony in 1727 with his uncle, Alexander Ewing ahead of his wife, Eleanor Gillespie Porter and the older children.  The Porters, Ewings, and Gillespie’s were close neighbors in Ireland and in Maryland and intermarried.  Eleanor, wife of James, and their older children including Andrew,  are thought to have immigrated with her parents from Ireland.  The very earlier Ewing clan was banned, as protestants, in a religious war and were forced to immigrate from Scotland to Ireland after being defeated in battle.  Many of the Ewings ended up going to the colony of Maryland and residing in Cecil County.

James Porter did fairly well upon settling in his new land as witnessed by his will.  His will was recorded around 1778 so he died prior to that year.  Unusual as it seems, his will was recorded in the Cecil County, Maryland will books and also recorded in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania will books.  Perhaps because the two locations abutted each other and he owned land in both Maryland and Pennsylvania.  From his will, I was able to verify his wife was indeed named Eleanor (spelled Elianor in the will) and that he did have a son named Andrew among other children.  The will describes his land near the Ewings so evidentially they were indeed neighbors.  He left his wife the land they lived on, of course, but with the stipulation that  she was prohibited from “committing any waste or cutting any Wood save what may be necessary for Rails and firewood.”   This was an interesting addition to a will I had not seen before!

He left his sons William and Andrew land, houses and buildings in the “Peach Bottom” that were in Maryland and Pennsylvania that included the saw mill dam, races, and ferry.  James also left his silver watch to son William.  James’ wife also got 100 pounds of Pennsylvania Currency and her choice of one cow, horse or mare out of his stock.  Other children mentioned in the will included sons Stephen, James, Samuel, George who all received lands and daughters Elianor, Mary, and Elizabeth who were provided with sums of money.   From the will, we see he had at least 9 children, 6 sons and 3 daughters.  One source also mentions another daughter named Jane Porter who married Patrick Ewing and Jane died in 1784.  However, this is not yet verified and, if she was James’ daughter, she may have died sooner as she was not noted in the will.

donegal, Ulster, Ireland 001 (2)
Ulster Province is in dark green.

James and Eleanor Porter’s son, Andrew Porter, my 7th great-grandfather, was born in 1720 in the county of Donegal, Ulster Province, Ireland.  His parents were James Robert Porter and Eleanor Gillespie.  Andrew Porter, our immigrant from Ireland, married Eleanor Ewing who was born in 1721 in the province of Ulster, Ireland and also immigrated to Maryland Colony.  Her parents were Alexander Ewing and Rebeckah.  Alexander and Rebeckah also immigrated to Maryland and Alexander’s will named Andrew Porter as a son-in-law.   Eleanor Ewing and Andrew Porter were married about 1738, I believe in Cecil County of the British Colony of Maryland as Eleanor died before 1740 in Maryland.  It is possible that she died in child birth or a short time after their son Robert Porter was born.  This Robert Porter, born about 1738-39,  became my 6th great-grandfather and fought in the Revolutionary War.   

After his first wife’s death, Andrew then married Margaret Leiper and, by examination of his will, it is found that Andrew and Margaret had a son named James Leiper Porter and 5 daughters named Mary, Margaret, Elizabeth, Elinor and Catherine.  In his will, he also left money to his grandson, Andrew Porter (my 5th great-grandfather), son of his deceased son Robert from his first marriage.

There is an interesting fact about Andrew Porter, the immigrant.   I have a copy of a document granting him land in the county of Wythe, Virginia that was signed by James Monroe in 1798, then Governor of Virginia, and later the fifth President of United States!  The document is difficult to read but Andrew’s name is on it and it is signed by James Monroe!

Porter, Andrew, land, 1789, Wythe VA, James Monroe 001 (2)

  This land in Wythe County was later owned by Andrew Porter’s grandson, also named Andrew Porter, who was born 1773 and was my 5th great-grandfather.   Whether this land grant was a bounty for serving in the Revolutionary War is uncertain although Andrew could have served even if he was in his mid-fifties.  Clearly more research is needed to establish if he served.   His son, Robert S. Porter did serve in the Revolutionary War and is a DAR ancestor.  His story is coming in future blogs!    

Andrew Porter died in 1789 in Cecil, Maryland.

Porter, Andrew, grave, 1789, Cecil MD 001 (2)


Wikipeia, County Donegal, Ulster, Ireland.

Will of James Porter, recorded in Cecil county, Maryland: Will Book 3, 1777-1780; pages: 63-68, 78-79.

Will of James Porter, recorded in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: Will Book E; Pages: 299-301.

Irish Immigrant Families: Porter, Ewing, Gilliespie; Posted by William Gammon:

Will of Andrew Porter, recorded in Cecil County, Maryland; Will Book 5; Pages: 207-210.


German Baker Ashlin/ A GREAT-Uncle!

Ashlin, German B, grave, 1915, Sugar Grove, Smyth VA 001

This week’s prompt for #52Ancestors is “Bachelor Uncle” and as I was searching my records, I remembered a male ancestor that never married.  I remembered him because it seems just about everyone I research did marry.  Some, of course, married more than once.  Because German Baker Ashlin never did marry and was a wounded Confederate soldier is why I became interested in his story.  I don’t know where his first name “German” came from but I figured out his middle name “Baker” was the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, Lucy Baker who married Christopher Ashlin.

German Baker Ashlin was born on 11 October of 1839, the seventh and last child of Chesley Harrison Ashlin and Phoebe Byrd James Ashlin, my third great-grandparents.  German became my third great-uncle.  I found the first record of him on the 1850 census for Smyth County, Virginia where he is 10 years old.  He was nine years younger that his big brother, Columbus Perry Ashlin, my second great-grandfather.   By 1860, German was 20 years old, a farmer and had a personal estate value of $125 (About $3800 today).  He was still living with his parents but the Civil War was about to begin and life would change drastically for German.

German enlisted in the 8th Regiment, Company A, Virginia Cavalry for the Confederacy.  Records show this Cavalry unit was formed 1 Jan of 1862 and mustered out 9 Apr 1865.  German entered the service as a Private and attained the rank of Sergeant.   On researching the history of battles of this unit, I found they fought mostly in West Virginia and Virginia with some battles in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.  Some of the more familiar battle places of the very, very many listed included Tazewell County, VA; Mercer County, WV; Pulaski County, VA; Amelia Courthouse; Cumberland Gap, KY; Knoxville, TN; Harper’s Ferry; Lynchburg, VA; Gettysburg, PA on 4 July 1863; Chambersburg, PA; and, Woodstock, VA.  There were so many battles and skirmishes that this cavalry unit were involved in that it was almost mind-boggling!

Beside risking his life for the Confederate cause, he also helped out in another way.  He sold to the cavalry, to which he was attached, corn and hay for the horses.  A copy of the transaction states on January 10, 1864, the Confederate States paid him $86.33 for 21 and 6/7 bushels of corn at $3.95 a bushel and paid $38.55 for 1428 pounds of hay at $2.70 per 100 pounds as forage for 34 horses for three days on picket.  The total bill was $124.88.  Another interesting thing is that the document has German’s signature on it.  He was no doubt paid in Confederate money.

Ashlin, German B, Military, 1864, Jonesville, VA 001

Information from a copy of his original pension application made on June 19, 1899 gives details of German’s service and war injuries.  About the 8th day of October, 1864, he was wounded in a charge on Sheridan’s Cavalry 3 miles east of Woodstock, Virginia.  Considering how many engagements he was in, it is surprising he wasn’t wounded sooner!  He was disabled by a bullet entering his right arm immediately before the shoulder joint and passing out near to his spine on the right side of the spinal column.  It impaired the use of his arm to the extent that he was unable to grasp and use any implements to be used on the farm and he was unable to do but very little manual labor.  In addition, his lungs were damaged to the extent that he could not exercise freely as breathing was labored.  (German did get his pension but he was already 60 years old by that time!)

So what happened after the war?  In 1870, German was only 30 years old and now  disabled but was able to find some work as a farm laborer – farming was in his blood, I guess.  He returned to the area of Smyth County, Virginia where he grew up.  I was happy to see that he did own a farm in the 1880 Agricultural Census and it was a nice sized farm.  The census listed 197 acres tilled, 127 acres laid fallow and 100 acres of woodland and forest.  The farm was valued at $1280 (About $31,500 today).   Something happened to his farm though between then and 1900 as I found him living with his sister, Catherine Ashlin Williams and her husband and family in 1900.  Catherine had married Robert Crow Williams in  1880.  Without a 1890 census, it is hard to know how long German was able to keep his farm.  Did he lose the farm because of his disability or worsening health?

The 1910 Census finds that he still lived with his sister Catherine Williams, who is now a widow as Robert died in 1907.  Catherine’s daughter, Minnie Williams, age 38, lives with them and is listed on the census as “blind” and “deaf and dumb.”  Catherine owns the farm free of mortgage and German, now 70 years old, is listed as a Survivor of the Confederate Army.

German Baker Ashlin never did marry and perhaps his disability caused by war wounds had something to do with it.  One can only speculate on this.  He died on 26 March of 1915 at the age of 75.   The Death Certificate stated that he “Died suddenly, Cause not known” at 5 a.m.   Interesting that the death certificate has his brother Columbus Ashlin and sister-in-law listed as his parents!  It is not known if the informant, H. C. Carson, was a relative or friend but obviously gave the wrong information!.

Ashlin, German B, Death cert, 1915, St Clair, Smyth VA 001

German was buried in the Ashlin-Wilkinson Family Cemetery in Sugar Grove, Smyth County VA.   A veteran’s plaque and gravestone mark the site.  The more recent picture of the grave stone shows it is now off the pedestal.  The inscription on his grave stone reads “In my father’s house are many mansions.”  Rest in peace, Great-uncle, you earned your mansion!

Ashlin, German B, grave 2, 1915, Smyth VA 001


United States Federal Census; Year: 1850; Census Place: District 60, Smyth, Virginia; Roll: M432_976; Page: 228A; Image: 457.

United States Federal Census; Year: 1860; Census Place: Smyth, Virginia; Roll: M653_1377; Page: 1050; FHL film: 805377.

National Park Service, U. S. Civil War Soldiers: 1861-1865 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2007.

Historical Data Systems, comp. U. S., American Civil War Regiments, 1861-1866 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 1999. (Bill of Sale from The Confederate States to Germain Ashland)

United States Federal Census; Year: 1870; Census Place: St Clair, Smyth, Virginia; Roll: M593_1679; Page: 97A; FHL Film: 553178.

United States Federal Census; Year: 1880; Census Place: St Clair, Smyth, Virginia; Archive Collection Number: T1132; Roll: 29; Page: 693, Line: 3; Schedule Type: Agricultural.

United States Federal Census: Year: 1900; Census Place: Williams, Smyth, Virginia; Page: 3; Enumeration District: 0087; FHL film: 1241728.

United States Federal Census; Year: 1910; Census Place: St Clair, Smyth, Virginia; Roll T624_1649; Page: 9A; Enumeration District: 0093; FHL film: 1375662.

Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.

Find A Grave Memorial 110838764,

At the Courthouse: Surprising Finds!

Smyth County Courthouse, 1834, file under Thomas 001

This is the first Courthouse in Smyth County, Virginia and, to my surprise, some of my ancestors had a hand in its creation!  I found a lot of the information on this from searching historical societies after I listened to a podcast by genealogist Amy Johnson Crow.  Amy’s podcast gave me the idea to search historical societies and libraries in the areas where I knew my ancestors lived.  It turned out to be a useful tool in my research!

To learn the story of this courthouse, I had to go back to the formation of Smyth County, Virginia in 1832.  The citizens of Wythe and Washington counties petitioned the Virginia legislature in July of 1831 for a new county as they had to travel great distances to court which entailed great hardships for them.  So about one third of Washington County and a portion of Wythe County were finally surveyed and formed into a new county on February 23, 1832 named after General Alexander Smyth, a famed general of the War of 1812.

A Commission of five citizens was appointed to select a proper site for the county seat.  According to the “Smyth County History” (p. 78), ”  This Commission spent a night with Mr. Thomas Thomas  (1766-1838), my 5th great-grandfather, on the South Fork, where a discussion arose concerning a name for the new county seat.  Mrs. Freelove Cole Thomas, their hostess, opined that it would be fitting to name it in honor of Gen. Francis Marion, which was done.”  So my 5th great-grandmother named the town to become the county seat and site of the new courthouse!

George T Lansdown was one of four men appointed by the governor to see about building a courthouse and jail.  They took reported bids and plans for the construction.  George T Lansdown was married to my 5th great-aunt, Virginia Anna Thomas.  She was one of the daughters of Thomas Thomas and Freelove Cole.

Governor John Floyd commissioned fifteen justices of the peace to make up the county court.  However, the courthouse was not a reality yet so it was decided that the county court would be assembled at the house of John Thomas (1798-1837) at Royal Oak.  This John Thomas was the son of Thomas Thomas and Freelove Cole and my 5th great-uncle.  So the court was organized and set in motion.  The first circuit and superior courts of law and chancery were held at John Thomas’s house for two years until the courthouse was finally built and finished in 1834.

When I read the list of justices in the first court for Smyth County, I was surprised to find one of them was William Porter (1798-1867), my fourth great-grandfather!  William Porter married Mary Polly Thomas, daughter of Thomas Thomas and Freelove Cole.   Another interesting anecdote I found is that the elected Clerk of Courts, Robert Beattie, had a tavern in which he at times entertained President Andrew Jackson!  It is not unlikely that my ancestors may have been acquainted with Andrew Jackson!  William Porter was also one of the justices of the first grand jury and as the first act, they presented indictments against seven individuals, all for assaults!

“From this record and many others it appears that fighting was a favorite pastime in the early years of Smyth.  In fact, the great majority of indictments brought into court were for assaults, gaming and violation of liquor laws.” (Smyth County History, p. 85)

More than court procedures had to be decided in the new Smyth County.  The care of the poor had to be considered and the county was divided into 2 districts for this purpose.  The first election in Smyth County was to choose three overseers of the poor in each district.  William Porter, my ancestor, was among those elected.  The sheriff collected eighteen and three-fourths cents off every tithable in the county as the poor rate fixed by the overseers of the poor. ( How do you get three-fourths of a cent?)  Eighty-two acres were purchased for the poor farm in 1836.  Two other collateral ancestors were also active in the formation of the poor farm, James Cole and Joseph Atkins.

I learned a lot by exploring historical societies and library sites for Smyth County and Virginia as well as other resources.  To find out that some of my ancestors were involved in forming Smyth County, its courts and the poor farm gave me a new perspective of them.  They were willing to contribute to and become involved in the community where they lived and were leaders in the community.   This was the first time I came across the existence of a poor farm in this time period.  It is reassuring to know that people took care of others less fortunate all through history!  I am glad my ancestors were involved in helping others and, so far as I have found, none of them were brought to court for assault or other violations!

Cemetery, St Clair Baptist, Chilhowie, Smyth VA, Thomas 001
St Clair Bottom Primitive Baptist Cemetery where many of the mentioned ancestors are buried!

Smyth County Courthouse - present - Thomas 001


Wilson, Goodridge, Smyth County, history and traditions.  Kinsgport, Tenn.: Kinsport Press, 1932.

Library of Virginia:

Smyth County Historical and Museum Society in Marion, Virginia.


Abijah Thomas and His Octagon House


Thomas, Abijah, picture, standing 001
Abijah Thomas 1814-1876

This week on #52 Ancestors, the prompt is Family Photo.  Last week I wrote about Thomas Thomas and Freelove Cole, my 4th great-grandparents, and Abijah Thomas is their youngest son.  That would make him my great-uncle, four times removed   I cannot find a picture of Thomas Thomas, my great-grandfather, but finding a picture of one of his sons was pretty special.  Perhaps Abijah looked a bit like his father Thomas.   I found Abijah’s story to be quite interesting and touching as he started with little and became a wealthy antebellum entrepreneur  who eventually went bankrupt and died penniless because of the Civil War.   It is a sort of “rags to riches and back to rags” story.  One of the interesting things about him was the famous Octagon House he built that still stands today!   But first let me get into Abijah’s story!

Abijah was born on May 21, 1914 on the South Fork of the Holston River, Smyth County, Virginia and was named after his father’s brother, Abijah.  He married Priscilla Cavinette Scott on June 2, 1836 and they had twelve children together.  He acquired a plantation of 400 acres and slowly began to accumulate numerous other land holdings in the thousands of acres.   He was a slave holder also as was the norm for huge plantation owners of the south.

Thomas, Abijah, portrait 001
Portrait of Abijah Thomas

Abijah is written up in Smyth County History (p. 180)  as ” a man of rare vision and enterprise, (he) was the foremost industrialist of Smyth County before the Civil War.  His developments of the iron industry in mines, furnaces, and foundries along the South Fork and on Staley’s Creek, made him a wealthy man for his day, and if the Civil War had not destroyed these properties and involved him heavily he would in all probability have amassed one of the great fortunes of the state, and have set his county fifty years ahead in industrial development.”

Abijah established the Holston Woolen Mills on the Holston River that was all water powered.  A town of Holston Mills grew up around it with saw mills, a shirt factory, stores, boarding houses, post office, schools and many homes.

Thomas, Abijah, Holston Mills, picture 001

Other industries that Abijah established included  a pig iron furnace, a tannery and a cotton mill.  All four industries spurred the growth of the county and state of  Virginia.

Abijah wanted a unique home – something representative of his progressive ideas, wealth and his social status.  He met Mr. Orson Fowler who wrote a book “The Octagon House: A Home for All” in 1848.  Mr. Fowler claimed an Octagon House would be inexpensive, give excellent views from all sides and allowed for good ventilation.  Abijah was sold and had a beautiful Octagon House built of 17 rooms, 10 closets and a storage room.  The exterior walls were made of brick which were made by the slaves on the property.   The interior featured rare painted ashlar upon plaster wall, marbleizing and  stenciling.

Thomas, Abijah, Octagon house, earlier days 001

The house was completed in 1857 for Abijah on his property of 400 acres and was assessed at being worth $5,000 in 1857.  Here are pictures of the original floor plans.

Thomas, Abijah, Octagon House, 1st floor plan 001                     Thomas, Abijah, Octagon house, 2nd floor plan 001

Unfortunately, this is what the grand old house looks like today.  The Thomas Family lost its fortune during the Civil War and the mansion was sold.  The last time it was lived in was the 1940’s and it has been neglected and has badly deteriorated over the years.

Thomas, Abijah, Octagon House, today 001

Here’s the good news – Abijah’s Octagon House, which is on Thomas Bridge Road, Marion, Smyth County, Virginia, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and the Virginia Landmarks Register.  The Octagon House Foundation, which has a Facebook page in case you wish to learn more or donate, plans to restore the historic home of Abijah.  Their vision of a completed restoration is as below.

Thomas, Abijah, Octagon house, restoration plan 001

In coming years, the Octagon House will be restored to its former grandeur and give visitors insight into the life of the Thomas family with tours and presentations.Thomas, Abijah, with grandson, picture, 1869 001

Thomas, Abijah, Octagonal House, book 001Mack Howard Sturgill wrote a book “Abijah Thomas and his Octagonal House, which tells the story of the Thomas Family including John Thomas, Thomas Thomas, Freelove Cole and, of course, Abijah Thomas.  Copies of the book are rare and may be found in Historical Societies.  I am still trying to borrow a copy.


Abijah Thomas  and Priscilla’s children were: Charles Benton Thomas, born 1837; Virginia Ann Thomas (1839-1917); Eliza Hamilton Thomas (1841-1865); Thomas Jefferson Thomas (1843-1906); Missouri Freelove Thomas born 1846; Asenath Wilder Thomas born 1848; Mitchell Wood Thomas born 1850; Martha Elizabeth Thomas born 1852; Mary Ellen Thomas (1854-1891); Abijah Preston Thomas born 1857; Montgomery Thomas (1860-1862); Priscilla Cavinette Thomas born 1864.

Abijah Thomas died December 1, 1876 and Priscilla, his wife, died in December of 1885. They were buried on a hill above their beloved Octagon House and elaborate tombstones were erected to mark their graves.   Rest in Peace Abijah and Priscilla!

Thomas, Abijah, grave, 1876, St Clair's Bottom, Smyth VA 001

Sources: Smyth County, history and traditions [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2005. (pages: 180,321-322)  Original Data: Wilson, Goodridge, Kingsport, TN: Kingsport Press, 1932.

Washington County, Virginia Probate Record Book, 10.  Pages 37 to 39.

Google Images related to Abijah Thomas and the Octagon House.

Southwest Virginia Today:

Sturgill, Mack Howard (1990); Abijah Thomas & His Octagonal House, Published by M. H. Sturgill.

Wikipedia: Abijah Thomas House.






Searching for “FREELOVE”

This week on #52Ancestors celebrates Valentine’s day!  Hmm – Searching for Freelove sounds like something from the 60’s and the Hippie movement!  However, this week, I actually found an ancestor whose name is Freelove Cole – Freelove Mason Cole Thomas to be exact!  52ancestors-sidebar-1

Freelove was my fifth Great-grandmother!  Freelove Mason  Cole was born on Christmas Eve, December 24 of 1773 in Ulster, Ulster, New York – then the Colony of New York in British Colonial America.  This was before the American Revolutionary War.  As a matter of fact, Freelove was the daughter of Captain Joseph Cole, III, who fought in the Battle of King’s Mountain in the Revolutionary War.  He was born in 1750 and died in 1826 so we know he survived the war.

Capt. Joseph Cole III married Remember Cole – another unusual name – “Remember” – not easy to forget that name (sorry for the pun!).   Remember’s maiden name was also Cole as she was the daughter of Israel Cole and Remember Burgess ( so that is where the name “Remember” came from!).  Capt. Joseph Cole III was the son of Joseph Cole Jr and Freelove Mason.  Now we know where the name “Freelove” came from also!   More on these ancestors from the Massachusetts Colony later.

Back to Freelove Mason Cole, my fifth great-grandmother, who was born in Ulster County, New York Colony.  Her mother, Remember Cole was born in 1751 but died in 1776 at about age 25.  Her father remarried twice after Remember’s death and he lived to 1826.  Freelove  married Thomas Thomas – his actual name was Thomas Jefferson Thomas– on 5 April of 1791 in Washington County, Virginia (I love all these names!).  At the time of marriage, Freelove was 17 and Thomas was 24.   Thomas Thomas was born December 6, 1766 in Southampton County, Virginia  and was the son of John Thomas and Mary Robinette.  

John Thomas left a will leaving land on the south fork of the Holston River in Virginia to his sons Thomas and Abijah.  At this time, the land was in Washington County but part of this county and Wythe County became Smyth County in 1832. Also, in 1821, John Thomas granted a “bargain Sale” of land for one dollar to Thomas Thomas  that was a second parcel of land on the south and north sides of the Holston River containing 315 acres.  This was land that John Thomas received as bounty land from the Commonwealth of Virginia and he sold it cheaply to his son ” in consideration of the natural love & affection” which he had for Thomas.

Freelove’s father, Joseph Cole, was a pioneer settler on Sinclair’s Bottom in Washington (now Smyth) County.  There is a deed from Joseph Cole (Freelove’s father) to Thomas Thomas, dated January 16, 1782, and recorded in the Clerk’s Office of Washington County for 150 pounds of current money, conveyed a tract of land described as follows: ” One certain tract or parcel of land containing 400 acres, be the same more or less, being the same that the said Joseph Cole purchased of Henry Bowen, being and lying in Washington County on the waters of the South Fork of Holston River.”  This part of Washington County became Smyth County in 1832.   This accumulation of so much land seems to be why the Thomas Thomas family came  to settle in Smyth County of southwest Virginia coming from Southampton County in southeast Virginia.

The Thomas family was closely associated with the founding of the town of Marion in Smyth County (Presently the city of Marion).  When Smyth County was being formed, there was a controversy over choosing a county seat.  According to Smyth County History ( p. 78), “This commission spent a night with Mr. Thomas Thomas, on the South Fork (of the Holston River), where a discussion arose concerning a name for the new county seat.  Mrs. Freelove Cole Thomas, their hostess, opined that it would be fitting to name it in honor of Gen. Francis Marion, which was done.”  Now that is interesting that one of my ancestors actually named a town that became the county seat of Smyth County, Virginia!  General Francis Marion served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and in the French and Indian Wars.  He was known as the “Swamp Fox” because of his style of warfare.

Freelove and Thomas Thomas had 10 known children and their daughter, Mary Polly Thomas, married William Porter in 1819.  Mary Polly Thomas Porter, known as Aunt Polly, lived to be 97 years of age.  She and William Porter are my fourth great-grandparents.   Other children of Thomas and Freelove included Remember Ann , Martha , Joseph , John, James, Anna, David, Sarah and Abijah.  William Porter and Mary Polly Thomas had four known children, one of whom was Susannah J Porter, my third great-grandmother.  Susannah married Thompson B James and they were parents of my second great-grandmother, Mary Ann James Ashlin. (See blog March 2018-“Portrait of a Strong Woman” for Susannah’s story)

One of the sons of Thomas Thomas and Freelove Cole was Abijah Thomas, named after Thomas’ brother, who was quite interesting and was named as a “man of rare vision and enterprise” in the Smyth County History.   See next week’s blog for his story and pictures!  Abijah was the youngest son and was born on the South Fork in the same house in which Mrs. Freelove Cole Thomas gave Marion its name.  Abijah built a large octagonal house that still stands on a beautiful location near Thomas’ Bridge and he died there on December 1, 1876.

Thomas Jefferson Thomas died on 22 May of 1838 in Adwolfe, Smyth County, Virginia at the age of 71.  According to the 1840 census, Thomas owned about 14 slaves at that time.  His wife, Freelove Cole Thomas died ten years late on 22 March 1848.  They were buried side by side in the Thomas Cemetery in Marion, Smyth County.

Thomas, Thomas, grave, 1838, Marion,Smyth VA (Freelove Cole) 001

Sources: Smyth County, history and traditions [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Ancestry,com Operations Inc, 2005; pages; 78, 181, 320-322.   Original data: Wilson, Goodridge, Smyth County, history and traditions. Kingsport, Tenn: Kingsport Press, 1932.

Washington County, Virginia, Deed Book No. 1, page 239.

Find A Grave;; Memorials 59080417, Thomas Thomas and 59080548,

Freelove Cole Thomas.Thomas, Freelove, Dest. March 22, 1848; listed in A New List of the Surviving Members of the St. Clair’s Bottom Church, April 9, 1831.

Relationship Document of Thomas Thomas to his father, South Fork of the Holstonn River by John Thomas, Washington County, Virginia, Deed Book No. 7, Pages 157-158.

United States Federal Census; Year: 1830; Census Place: Washington County, Virginia; Series: M19; Roll: 200; Page: 292; FHL Film: 0029679.

United States Federal Census; Year: 1840; Census Place: Smyth, Virginia; Page: 408; FHL Film: 0029692.

AGBI; Genealogy of the Sampson Mason fam. Part 1; by Alverdo Hayward Mason; East Braintree, MS, 1902 (V. 1): 47,94.

Yates Publishing; U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA; Operations Inc., 2004

Annals of Southwest Virginia; 1769-1800 for Thomas;



A Surprising Resource I wish I had Found Earlier!

This week’s prompt or #52 Ancestors is “Surprise.”  I was researching in a new site that I found this week.  Last week’s prompt was about libraries and I did some searching and found a new library resource that could be very helpful!  It was the Jones Memorial Library in Lynchburg, Virginia.  This library specializes in genealogy and local history of Virginia – mostly central Virginia.  Since my father and his mother were both born in Lynchburg and many of my ancestors lived in the city and surrounding area of Lynchburg, I knew this would really be worth checking out!  Some of the collections the Jones Memorial Library has includes, county histories and court records, family histories and genealogies, land and property tax records and census records.  If your ancestry searches take you to Virginia, this is really worth checking out!

Jones memor library 001
You can find the Jones Memorial Library on-line!  Here’s some of their offerings!

I found some surprising discoveries on this site and will write about a few.

My great- grandparents, William Domman Swanson and Cora Virginia Phillips Swanson, lived in Lynchburg City, Virginia as well as many other relatives.

William D Swanson 001
William D Swanson in fireman’s uniform about 1910.

My great-grandfather, William Swanson was a fireman employed by the City of Lynchburg from 1909 to 1926.  (See blog “A Fireman’s Story: My great-grandfather”, posted January 2018, for his story).  I knew that he was killed in the line of duty on September 28, 1926.  He lived about a block from the fire station and had a gong in his home that would go off when ever a fire alarm came in to the station.  On this site, I actually found an article about how all the firemen had gongs in their homes when working for the City of Lynchburg in the early 1900s.  William just had to jump into his gear and wait outside to catch the fire wagon as it passed his house.

On the night of the 28th of September, the gong sounded at supper time and William got on his gear and ran outside to await the fire truck.  However, it was dark, rainy and the vehicle lights were blinding.  He went into the street to wave down one of the fire trucks but, unusually,  the fire chief’s car sped ahead of the fire wagon and didn’t see William and struck him.  The force of the impact was evidenced by the fact that the radiator of the car was crushed in and one of the head lights knocked off.  William was rushed to the Lynchburg Hospital in critical condition with a broken leg, broken ribs and internal injuries.  He passed away about 5 hours later.  This was a tragic story!

I found a map of Lynchburg in the 1920’s on the Jones Memorial Library site that shows the corner of Pearl Street and Main Street where my great-grandfather was hit.  I also know he lived on 408 Pearl Street.

Swanson, Wm D, death, Lynchburg, VA, map, 001 (2)

I also found a picture of the Lynchburg Firefighter’s Memorial Statue and Fountain that was dedicated to fallen firefighters.  One of the names on the plaque is my great-grandfather, William D Swanson.   This is definitely on my “want to visit” list!

Swanson, Wm D, Firemans Memorial, Lynchburg VA 1

This was an exciting find and more was to come.  When researching surnames, I entered “Phillips” and it came up with a picture of a home in Lynchburg on Federal Street in the 1930s that belonged to O. S. Phillips.  I knew right away that was the home of Oscar Stephen Phillips who married, Pearl Mae Swanson, the daughter of William D Swanson and Cora Virginia Phillips Swanson, my great-grandparents.  Sure enough, after checking census records, I saw that Oscar and Pearl did indeed live at 56 Federal Street in Lynchburg at that time!

Cora Phillips Swanson 001
Cora V. Phillips Swanson

Actually, Cora Virginia Phillips was the daughter of another Oscar Phillips – Oscar Fitzallen Phillips, my 2nd great-grandfather.  The two Oscars were cousins.   When checking my family records, I discovered that Cora Phillips Swanson never remarried after William’s untimely death and she actually passed away in this house at 56 Federal Street on 26 April of 1945.  She was living with her daughter and son-in-law at the time.




Phillips, Oscar S, home at 56 Federal Street, Lynchburg VA
56 Federal Street, Lynchburg, Virginia.  Home of Oscar S Phillips on right.  Circa 1935

I discovered even more!  Here is a picture of the Box Factory that my grandmother, Cammie L Swanson, daughter of William and Cora, worked in when she was 17 in 1910!

Swanson, Cammie, Box Factory picture 1 001 (2)

Some days researching genealogy are not always productive but sometimes you can hit a bonus — Thanks to Jones Memorial Library!  I’ll be back!

Who Would Have Guessed? What I Found in the Library!

Week 5 of #52Ancestors        The prompt this week “at the library. ”


Immediately this prompt brought me back a couple years when I had the great fortune to go to Salt Lake City, Utah and research at THE  LIBRARY!  Of course I am talking about the Family History Library which has became my most favorite library of all time!  I traveled there with my daughter, a dear cousin and a friend for an adventure that sparked my genealogical journey.   We left Chicago on a flight to Salt Lake City for a week of intense research.  We were in awe of this immense five story library and all the resources – just overwhelming!  If you have even been there, you know what I mean!  If you haven’t been there, you really should go!

FHL, SLC 001
Family History Library at Salt Lake City, Google Images

My daughter and I arrived knowing very little about our roots, especially my father’s ancestry.  I knew he was born in Lynchburg, Virginia which was quite far from where he finally settled and raised his family – the western end of the Upper Peninsula  of Michigan where my mother grew up!  I spent my married life in southeast Wisconsin- still far away from Virginia.  I wasn’t even sure of the name of my father’s father – my grandfather who died, as I later found out, in 1939 of tuberculosis in Detroit where he had moved his family in the 1920s.   Both my parents had passed and I had no one to ask!

But all that was about to change as we immersed ourselves in our family history with the help of so many volunteers.  We learned how to search and find microfilm numbers and to use the microfisch machines.  We did this for a couple days then decided we needed more – we needed to find stories to go with the names of ancestors we discovered!  We spent the rest of our time there doing just that by searching periodicals and books and more books.   We had discovered more and more surnames we had never known – it was eye-opening!  There were surnames of James, Swanson, Dudley, Lyon, Smith, Ashlin, Cloud, Porter, Campbell, Catlett, Taliaferro, Madison, Mason, Underwood, Phillips and many more!    AND – we found stories and family histories!  What an awesome library – we really needed more like a month that just a mere week but we gathered as much as we could and delighted in our finds!

FHL, inside 001
Here is where we spent most of our waking hours!

One very amazing and memorable experience happened to me while there.  First I must tell you that my maternal grandmother, Alma Tusa Knihtila, died when I was but six years old.  My mother’s parents lived “just across the alley” from us and I remember a few things about her.  She had immigrated from Finland in the early 1900s.   I had one picture of her when she was older, probably about age 60 as she was 65 when she passed.  My mom told me once that she lived in a little tiny town of Amasa, Michigan when she came from Finland because she had relatives there.  We spent a lot of time in the “stacks” where the books are shelved by states and then by counties in the state.  Each row of stacks seemed a half mile long!

FHL, book stacks 001

Of course we spent a lot of time in the Virginia stacks.  One day, I wandered to the Michigan row of stacks and perused the counties, finally finding Iron County, Michigan books – the county where Amasa is.  I really didn’t expect to find anything about this tiny town but, to my complete surprise, there it was – a book on Amasa!

The book was titled simply, “Amasa, Michigan” and was published by the Amasa-Hematite Centennial Corporation printed in 1992.  I glanced through the thin bound book hoping to find some clues about my grandmother’s past.  What I did find was so unexpected – a picture of my very own grandmother, Mrs. Richard Knihtila, in the early years of her marriage – about 1914 or 1915!  Granted it was a small picture as she was with a group of people but there it was and she looked so beautiful!  A young woman with her long hair braided and woven around her head just as I remember how she wore her hair when she was my grandmother!

Here I was 1500 miles away from my home and almost on the other side of United States  and I open this book and there is a picture of my grandmother that I had never seen – a grandmother who died when I was six!  I would have never dreamed that I would find a book on little Amasa, Michigan in Salt Lake City, Utah!  It was so exciting and in that little book were more surprises!  I found pictures of two of her brothers who lived in Amasa and stories about their lives!  They stayed in Amasa and were a part of the community.   Now I knew their names and their children’s names and their stories.  So this is why my grandmother went to Amasa upon arriving in America – her brothers had gone before her and settled there.  Of course I copied the stories and pictures – pictures that I treasure.  It was an amazing find!

Alma in Amasa
My grandmother, Alma Tusa Knihtila, is the third from the left in the back row.  The picture I found in the Amasa  Book!

Later, my brother found some old family pictures of my grandmother with her mother and two sisters when she was a young girl in Finland before she came to America and gave them to me.   More pictures to treasure!  You can find the story of her coming to America in the blog “Mother’s Day” published May 2018.

Grandma K with mother an 2 sisters 001
Alma, my grandmother is seated next to her mother, Sanna Puirola Tusa, and her two sisters, Hulda and Hilja are standing behind.    Circa 1908.

This is just one of the very many reasons that the Family History Library is so special for me.  It was an experience like no other.  If you are lucky enough to go, absolutely prepare your research plans ahead of time as it is easy to be overwhelmed by the massive amounts of information and resources.  We were happy to have so much assistance by staff members that we were able to focus our research to areas we wanted to cover.  We can’t wait to go back!