I thought about this topic for quite a while. I started reading the ” Smyth County, History and Traditions” by Goodridge Wilson about Smyth County, Virginia and I found a section about the early churches and religions. Many of my ancestors settled in the Smyth County area – which was first Montgomery and then Wythe County area. Smyth was made a county in 1832 from parts of Montgomery and Wythe. In fact, my 5th great-grandmother, Freelove Cole Thomas, named the county seat of Marion in Smyth County! I have been curious as to the religious beliefs of my ancestors.
I discovered that the first people who came to settle in Smyth were mainly Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran and Reformed families with a few Methodist and Episcopalian among them. Those of Scotch-Irish extraction were numerous – which would includes my ancestors- and they were mainly Presbyterian. My Cole ancestors who came to the Smyth area were from Connecticut and Massachusetts and were either Baptists or Congregationalists before they came and became Baptist soon after arriving. (p. 120).
The Thomas Family are also my ancestors and were mentioned in the book as the first Thomas coming from Wales via Southampton and were probably Episcopalian or Presbyterian. The Presbyterians were the first to organize in the county and were called the Upper Holston Congregation meeting at a place called Royal Oak in 1776. The Holston River ran through Smyth County. Most likely, Thomas Thomas and his wife Freelove Cole Thomas worshipped at Royal Oak Presbyterian Church and became members because their children were listed as members. Their son, Abijah Thomas (Abijah Thomas and His Octagon House) was an elder in the church. (p. 125) You can read more about the Thomas Family here: Searching for “FREELOVE”
However I recently found information about the father of Thomas Thomas who was John Thomas married to Mary Robinette. It seems that John Thomas and his wife are credited with helping to found the New Valley Baptist church in Loudoun County, Virginia along with a Rev. Joseph Thomas. This would have been before they came to settle in Smyth County. So I have some Thomas families as Baptist and some as Presbyterian! I need to search more sources to verify any of this!
The James families of Smyth County were also my ancestors and may have been Baptist or Methodist when they arrived. I found that later many members of the James families were buried in Methodist cemeteries so this appears to be accurate. The Methodist movement started in the area with the arrival of a Bishop Asbury in 1788 (p. 122) and there was an age of revivalism that swept the country around the beginning of the 1800s. The Methodists ran camp meetings and classes and grew to be the largest denomination. “Bishop Asbury would sometimes come into this county through Grayson and sometimes up Cripple Creek. He was entertained at least once in the James home at Sugar Grove (this was my ancestor) and he formed strong classes in the Blue Springs and Cedar Springs neighborhoods on both sides of the county line “(p. 140).
Then there were the Baptists who probably came from Pennsylvania and Delaware. They had moved across and over the mountains partly to escape persecution but also to look for better land and living conditions. As the book stated: “Their preachers were not so much noted for learning as for fervent zeal, and were men who preached with power, sparing neither effort nor sacrifice to carry the gospel to the remotest settler. Many a rude arbor, shaded grove, and private dwelling, unlicensed by the general court as places of worship as the law required, were bravely used as such by these Baptist preachers.” (p. 129) Some of my ancestor names I found in the Baptist section included Burgess and Baker.
I found the picture below of an early church or “meeting house” as they were called in Smyth County, Virginia. Denomination is unknown. My research continues!
Source: Ancestry.com. Smyth County, history and traditions [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2005.
Original Data: Wilson, Goodridge,. Smyth County, history and traditons. Kingsport, Tenn.: Kingsport Press, 1932.
The prompt for week 16 of #52Ancestors was “out of place”. I wanted to learn more about the life of my paternal grandmother, Cammie Swanson Lyons, mostly because she seems a mystery to me. Seeing that she and Clarence Lyons were my grandparents, it did seem “out of place” or odd that I knew so very little about them. Sure I found a lot of facts in my research such as birth and death dates, who were their parents, when they got married, etc. I was able to write a few stories about them and you can see one here: The Lyons in Michigan
Beyond the facts, I wondered what her life was like growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia. What was her family like? I knew she was the fifth child of William Domman Swanson and Cora Virginia Phillips. Cora was the daughter of Oscar Phillips and Nancy Jane Burch, whom I wrote about recently. A Family of Phillips!
I knew my great-grandfather, William Swanson, was a fireman and killed in the line of duty in Lynchburg in 1926 when my grandmother was 33 and married with children of her own and living in Detroit, Michigan. One can only imagine what a devastating effect that his sudden death must have had on the family! Did Cammie travel to Lynchburg, Virginia for the funeral? She had ten brothers and sisters so a lot of families had to be affected. In trying to gain more insight into my grandmother’s life growing up, I started researching her siblings and found some more challenging family events that surely must have affected Cammie.
The first born child of William and Cora, Cammie’s oldest sibling, was PearlSwanson and everyone called her Pearlie May. She was born in 1887 and married a cousin named Oscar Stephens Phillips. Pearl and Oscar were married in Pelham, Caswell County, North Carolina in 1908 by a Justice of the Peace. They were both 21 at the time so didn’t need parental permission but why did they go to North Carolina to marry? Remember the family lived in Lynchburg, Virginia. None of the family were witnesses for the marriage so perhaps they eloped because of objections to the marriage or other reasons?
Pearlie May was a healer and a midwife as was her mother, Cora, and many of the Swanson women. Pearlie May was often attending to the “sick” with natural herbs and such. She always contended that there was a bit of gypsy in the family but that wasn’t yet proven! Anyway, Pearl and Oscar had 3 children named Audrey, Marvin Ashley and Mildred Dare. There is a picture of their house on 56 Federal Street in last week’s blog.
Their daughter, Mildred Dare was married 3 times and, according to a family story told by my aunt, her father Oscar shot and killed Mildred’s second husband, William Ginault, in self defense in 1962. Now I have not found anything else on this story except William’s death certificate verifying that he indeed died from a gunshot wound to the chest. Sounds like a family tragedy.
Cammie’s sister Maria Gertrude Swanson was born in 1889 and the family just called her Gertrude. She married Preston Waverly Holloran in 1909. When I found the 1910 census for the Swanson family, it showed that Preston and Gertrude were living with William and Cora, her parents, and they had a newborn daughter named Mildred Holloran. The next find was a surprise as Gertrude died of Pulmonary Tuberculosis in 1912 at age 23 leaving a 2 year old daughter! Gertrude and Preston must have moved in with her parents because of her illness. My grandmother Cammie was still living at home and I wonder if she helped to care for her dying sister Gertrude. I was unable to find any more information so far on her daughter Mildred Holloran but I will keep searching.
Bernard Edward Swanson was born in 1891 and became a railroad engineer. He married Frances Vernell Fernandez who was born in Portugal. I think that Bernard may have been a twin as there is a birth register for Vernon Swanson who also was born in 1891 and died as an infant. My grandmother was the next to be born in 1893 and after her was another brother, Roy Swanson who was born in 1895 and who died as an infant. The next brother was Corry Swanson who was born in 1896 and lived to age 77. He married Effie Lillian Steppe.
Ralph McWane Swanson was born next in 1900 on Cammie’s 7th birthday! Ralph was born January 28th and married Hazedell Marion Portewig in 1922. Sadly, Hazel, as she was called, died at the young age of 33 from influenzal pneumonia and a lung absess. She left 3 children, the youngest being but 2 years old. Ralph had to keep working as a fireman for the railroad to support the family and Hazel’s widowed sister, Gertrude Portewig Ashworth, took care of the children and raised them. The three children were Victoria Mallory, Cora Virginia and Ralph McWane Swanson, Jr.
In 1900, three children of William’s deceased sister, Margaret Swanson Martin, were also living with the Swanson family and being raised by William and Cora. They were his nephew Charles Martin, nephew Maury Martin and niece Maud Martin. William’s aged father, John W Swanson and 2 boarders also lived with the Swanson family. This made a total of 14 people in the household – a very busy family!
The next sibling of Cammie’s was born in 1902 and named Virginia McKinley Swanson but everyone called her “Vergie”. She married George William Gilley who was later a veteran of WWII and buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Vergie and George had 5 children named Ruby Virginia, Roland Sylvanious, Shirley Fern, Norma Jean and Donald. Now I know that this family must have visited my grandmother in Detroit or even perhaps lived in Detroit for awhile. Roland sent a letter to my dad during the war and recalled how they visited in Detroit and how my dad had broken his arm at the time! Also, Shirley Fern Gilley was born in Detroit in 1928, possibly during a visit! As far as I was able to find out though, the Gilley family did live in Virginia in the Lynchburg area! My grandmother must have been happy to have some of her family visit her in Detroit as all her family lived in Virginia except her brother Ralph who later moved to Michigan. We called him “Uncle Pat” but I have no idea why he was called “Pat” instead of Ralph!
The tenth child of William and Cora was Ruby Roosevelt Swanson born in 1904. She married Houston Bland Blankenship and they lived in Arlington, Virginia as Houston worked for the Navy Dept, Bureau of Ships. They had four children named Marjorie Courtney, Helen Adair, Joyce Ann and Carl Houston.
The last and eleventh child was James William Swanson in 1906 and he has a tragic story also. He died at 4 months old of marasmus and was sickly since birth. Since he died in Reading, Pennsylvania, it is probable that William and Cora brought him there to seek medical treatment. Marasmus is the inability of the body to process proteins and nutrients. It is unknown where he is buried. His death brings the total of children who died young to four.
When I look back on what I found, I see my grandmother and her family were no strangers to tragedy and death. I know she and her siblings had to work and help out with the family. At 17, Cammie worked in a box factory and her brother Bernard Edward worked in a rope foundry. I think they were a close knit family and must have had a lot of joys to balance out the tragedies. Besides, they certainly came up with imaginative names for their children! My grandmother died when I was in my last year of high school and lived over 600 miles away so I didn’t get to see her much. But I do remember she often had an air of sadness about her but she was always kind and loving to her family.
United Sates Federal Census, 1900, Auburn Radford Ward 2, Montgomery, Virginia, District 90. FHL microfilm 1241737
On #52Ancestors, for week 15, the theme is DNA. When I was growing up no one talked about DNA of course but I was always curious as to where our ancestors came from.
For sure I knew both sides of my mother’s family had immigrated from Finland so being about half Finnish was a given. But my dad’s side was a mystery! He never really talked a lot about it and I didn’t even know the name of his father who died in 1939. We lived in Upper Michigan but my dad was born in Virginia-way too far away to visit- and besides, I found out recently that his family moved to lower Michigan in the Detroit area about 1923. My Dad’s mother lived in Lower Michigan about 650 miles away and died when I was in high school. The Mackinaw bridge wasn’t built yet so if we went to Lower Michigan to visit we had to cross the straits in a car ferry. So we didn’t go but a few times.
The only person who ever mentioned any ancestry on Dad’s side was his brother Bill – who was the oldest and therefore must have known the family ancestry or did he?
My Uncle Bill said we were German, Irish and Dutch and mostly German and so we took that as our answer. However when I did have my DNA done, there were some surprises! Like I said, being half Finnish was a given and proved to be true. My Dad’s side was more that half British and Irish so Uncle Bill did have something right, he just left out the English! The German part was only around 5% and combined with French. So he overestimated the amount of German ancestry. The rest of the DNA report said broadly Northwestern European which could cover the Dutch ancestry that Uncle Bill talked about and a whole lot of other countries!
So now I had some definitive answers and as I am researching, I am able to find ancestors of the same descent as in my DNA profile. Many of my paternal ancestors can be traced back to the British Isles including some from England, Scotland, and Wales. I found some Irish immigrants also! You can read about them here: Irish Ancestors and Immigrants! I may have found a German ancestor but cannot verify it yet but have not found a French ancestor as yet.
Now it is well and good to have clues from your DNA but I wanted names, stories and photos – which are exceedingly scarce on Dad’s side! Over the last few years I have been researching mainly my father’s lineage and have found some great stories. It’s the stories that give substance to the names! Some stories are sad, some surprising and all of them are insightful! Some of the stories were downright spooky such as the story of a missing heirloom! A Ghostly Story and a Family Heirloom.
So I have this Swanson family of my paternal grandparents and great-grandparents and am trying to see where they fit in the DNA profile. The name Swanson seems like it would be Scandinavian, right? Well, it is an anglicized version of Svenson and was found in the British Isles in the early, early times. By the year 1221, it was found in Scotland in the name of Duncan Swainston (a version of Swanson) who acquired the lands of Swaynystoun, near Colinton, in Midlothian. ( Ref: House of Names.com) Swainston Manor was on the Isle of Wight and was later converted to a hotel. It has a 12-century chapel on its 32 acres which is believed to have been built by the Bishops of Winchester. Hm-m-m, could these be ancient ancestors?
A cousin of mine who lives in Virginia and whose ancestor is my Swanson grandmother’s sister had some interesting family information. I connected with her on
Ancestry. She wrote that the Swanson families were of Scotch-Irish descent. Now that made sense to me. With just a little research on the web, I found out that the Scots-Irish were Scots who settled in Northern Ireland mainly in Ulster and most were Presbyterian farmers. They started migrating to Virginia in 1715 and again in 1740 due to the famine in Ireland. I found that many settled in the mid-to-southern counties of the Shenandoah Valley starting in Augusta County, Virginia and migrating to Rockbridge, Amherst, Campbell and other surrounding counties in the Appalachians. These are the counties where I found my Swanson ancestors.
Knowing more about my DNA helps me to explore ethnic origins of ancestors that I find. I may not always find definitive answers on their origins but certainly can piece together clues to form an educated guess! Next week, I hope to delve into some Swanson stories!
For week 14 of #52Ancestors, the prompt is “brick wall.” In genealogy, a brick wall is when you can’t find any records or information on an ancestor and can’t research further – just like “hitting a brick wall!” I have encountered quite a few in my research but I am going to stretch the theme this week to write about an ancestor who worked in a foundry – a foundry that made bricks and cast iron parts!
To start at the beginning, this is a lovely picture of Cora Virginia Phillips, my great grandmother – the mother of my paternal grandmother, Cammie Lyster SwansonLyons. Cora married William Domman Swanson on 24 July 1884 in Amherst County, Virginia. You can find the story of William’s tragic death here. A Fireman’s Story: My great-grandfather.
Cora was the daughter of Oscar Fitzallen Phillips and Nancy Jane Burch, my second great-grandparents. As I was researching, I did stumble upon another Oscar Phillips in the family and he was Oscar Stephens Phillips, a cousin, who married Pearl May Swanson, the daughter of William and Cora Swanson. Confused yet? I was at first, too! Oscar Stephens Phillips married my grandmother’s sister, Pearl. We’ll just call him “Oscar S” as he will come up later in this story. But let’s get back to Oscar Fitzallen and Nancy Jane.
Oscar Fitzallen Phillips was born 11 December 1832 in the town of Amherst, Amherst County, Virginia. He was the son of Captain Benjamin Allen Phillips and Mary Nicholas Cazey (Casey) and was their 8th and last child. His father, Capt. Benjamin Phillips was a veteran of the War of 1812 and was born in 1777 during the Revolutionary War in Henrico Co., Virginia. Benjamin was a carpenter by trade and they lived in Lynchburg, VA. The 1850 Census for this family showed that their son Oscar was 18 and was working as a “moulder” – a trade he will follow through his life. A moulder made molds for cast iron parts or for bricks in a foundry by pouring the molten iron into molds and removing them when the iron has hardened – heavy and hot work! Oscar’s brother, Benjamin S, was a “plaisterer” which is an old spelling of plasterer. Capt. Phillips died 11 March 1863 in Amherst Co. and Mary Nicholas Cazey Phillips was born in 1795 and died 17 May 1857 in Lynchburg, VA. Mary Cazey is one of my brick walls I need to work on!
The 1850 Census naming Nancy Jane Burch who was to marry Oscar Fitzallen Phillips is the first record I found of her. She was the daughter of Stephen Burch and Elizabeth Miller McDaniel – or was the last name Miller or was Elizabeth a widow? See what I mean about brick walls! Clearly, more research is ahead for this family.
On the 10th of December of 1852, the marriage bonds for Oscar and Nancy were published with the bondsman being her father, Stephen Burch. They were married on Christmas Day in 1852 when Nancy was but 16 years old and Oscar was 20. By time Nancy was 20 years old, their first children were born – twins!- in October of 1856. They named them Millard Fillmore Phillips and Mildred Frances Phillips (Millard and Mildred – how charming!) Millard was noted in the 1870 Census but Mildred, or Millie as she was called, was not so it can be assumed that she may have died before 1870. I could find no record that she had married or of her death. Millard became paralyzed between 1870 and 1880 according to the census. He was working as a farm hand in 1870 and paralyzed by 1880. Millard lived with his parents until his death sometime before 1910. Cause of the paralysis is unknown but could have been an accident or disease.
The twins were the first children of 17 known children – yes, 17 children- and my great-grandmother, Cora Phillips, was the eighth child. The 1860 Census give little information about Oscar and Nancy’s family except that Oscar was a Grocer at the time and they had 3 children. The value of their real estate was $200 and personal estate was $1000. That would be about $6300 and $32,000 in today’s values. The Civil War started a year later and affected everyone in the country as well as in Virginia where many of the battles were fought. Nancy was 23 and Oscar was 26 when the Civil War started. In searching Confederate files, I did find 3 records for an “O. Phillips” or “Oscar Phillips” but the records did not contain enough information to verify that this was our Oscar who served although it is likely to have been him as he was of age to serve.
After the war Oscar is again working as a moulder in a foundry for the next 20 years in Amherst. The Lynchburg, Virginia City directory of 1875 listed him as a moulder at the Phoenix Foundry and living in Amherst (near Lynchburg VA).
Nancy bore their last child Julia May Phillips in 1880 at age 44 or age 45. Nancy bore 17 children in a span of about 25 years! I found this information in the 1900 Census records where they listed the number of children born as 17 and the number of children living as 12. I have only found 15 of the children so 2 may have died young between census records or at birth. Oscar’s occupation is again listed as Iron Moulder and they owned their home and carried a mortgage. Their paralyzed son Millard lived with them along with son Robert O, age 41, who is a locomotive overhauler; a daughter Alice, 30; Hubert F, 21, a cove maker in a pipe factory; and Julia, age 19. This was a family who worked in the trades!
In 1910, their home is in the Madison Heights Village, Elon District, Amherst Co and Oscar is now 78 and Nancy is 74. At 78, Oscar is still working as a moulder in a foundry and their son, Robert is a farmer running a truck farm. Their son Hubert is 28 and a mail carrier for the Post Office. About 1911, Nancy passed away although the exact date is not yet verified. Oscar Fitzallen died at age 81 in Madison Heights of heart disease.
I can’t imagine my great-grandmother, Cora, growing up in a family of 17 children – there probably was never a dull moment! I admire Oscar and Nancy for providing for and caring for such a large family! Here’s a brief list of what I know about 15 of the Phillips children, siblings of Cora.
Millard Fillmore Phillips1856-bef.1910 – twin of Mildred, became paralyzed
Mildred Frances Phillips 1856-bef 1870
Robert Oscar Phillips 1858-1936, married Lucy M Moon
Charles Edward Phillips 1860-1947, married Sally Ann Franklin
Mary Elizabeth Phillips 1865-1953, married Thomas Jefferson Wade
Melissa M Phillips 1866-? (She was 14 in the 1880 Census, missing in 1900 – may have died or married before 1900)
Cora Virginia Phillips 1867-1945, my great-grandmother pictured above. Married William D. Swanson. She died at the home of Oscar S Phillips who married her daughter, Pearl May Swanson (Home where she died is pictured below)
Rosa Lee Phillips 1869-1954, married John Peter Ledbetter (picture below)
Alice Merriman Phillips 1876-1962, married Seabird Ayers
Lilian Mae Phillips 1871-1946, married Henry Rosser Holloran
Joseph Carson Phillips 1875-1950, married Mary Archie Robertson
Hubert Fitzallen Phillips 1878-1948, married Hattie E Woodson
Newman Phillips 1878?-?, possible twin to Hubert
Julia C Phillips 1880-1968, married Henry Jenifer May
United States Federal Census: Year: 1850; Place: Lynchburg, Campbell, Virginia; Roll: M432_938; Page: 74A; Image: 151.
Ricks, Joel, Lynchburg City, Virginia Marriage Bonds, 1805-1854, Page 32.