Where did you come from, John Thomas?

This weeks prompt on #52ancestors is “nature” and who would be closer to nature than a farmer?  When I research ancestors in the 1800s, most of their occupations are farmers farmer 1700 001with an occasional blacksmith, merchant or iron worker.  The wives are “keeping house” according to the census records.  This week, I would like to focus on John Thomas, a farmer, who really challenges my research skills!  For one thing, he had a common name and I had no idea that there were so many John Thomas’s out there in the records – born in every time period!  It took me a while just to determine which John Thomas was my 6th Great-grandfather but I found him and his wife, Mary Robinett.  They were parents of my 5th great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Thomas, who you can read about here.  Searching for “FREELOVE”

Thomas, john and mary 001

John Thomas was born on 16 October 1733 according to family Bible records which were recorded but the original Bible’s whereabouts are unknown.  John’s place of birth is not yet proven and I have found sources that list him being born in Massachusetts or Connecticut but these definitely were not our John Thomas.  Another source listed him as being born in Southampton County, Virginia.  According to the book about his grandson, “Abijah Thomas & His Octagonal House,” by Mack H Sturgill, “a thorough search of vital records and deeds of that county in the county seat at Courtland failed to reveal a trace of John Thomas and his family there.  That leaves the origin and provenance of John Thomas in limbo.” (See also: Abijah Thomas and His Octagon House)  Another story had John as a great-grandson of the orphan, also named John Thomas, who came to the Plymouth Colony at age 14 with Governor Winthrop.  There is no documentary evidence that this story is true!  In order to find more information on his birthplace, I started by researching the children of John Thomas and Mary Robinett.

Research on their children revealed that their son Thomas Jefferson Thomas was born in either Virginia or Pennsylvania.  However, the 1880 U. S. Census of Thomas Thomas’s daughter, Mary Polly Thomas Porter, shows her father was born in Pennsylvania and her mother was born in New York.  Since Thomas Thomas was born in 1766 and was the third child, the John Thomas family most likely was living in Pennsylvania in 1766 – my guess is that they lived in Southampton, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Southampton, PA 001 It is possible that the Southampton referred to in the book was really the Southampton in Pennsylvania, not the Southampton County in Virginia.  There is a Southampton township in Bucks County PA and Southampton was a seaport through which Quakers such as William Penn entered as well as many immigrants of Scots-Irish descent.  Now our John Thomas was not only of Scots-Irish descent, he was also associated with Quakers.   John Thomas and other Baptists joined with a group of dissident Quakers and members of the Pennepek Baptist Church to form the Southampton Baptist Church.  For now, my best assumption is that John Thomas certainly could have been born in Pennsylvania.  However, the names of his parents are still a mystery!

Historically, the Scots-Irish were Scots, mostly farmers, who settled in Northern Ireland in the province of Ulster after 1600 to escape religious persecution under English rule.  They started migration to Virginia in 1715 and many sailed into the ports of Philadelphia and Southampton and eventually settled in the mid and southern counties of the Shenandoah Valley.  The Scots-Irish soon became the dominant culture of the Appalachians in Pennsylvania and Virginia.  This could help explain how John Thomas may have come from Pennsylvania and eventually settle in the Washington/Smyth County area on the Holston River.  John Thomas and Mary Robinett acquired quite a large tract of land along both sides of the South Fork of the Holston River in 1773.  This was part of the St. Clair Land grant is and is still known as St. Clair’s Bottom (also called Sinclairs Bottom) and was in Washington County, Virginia.  This area was first Augusta County, then Fincastle County until Washington County was formed in about 1777.  Later it became Smyth County but not until 1832.  Sinclairs Bottom was a tract of 996 acres patented by Charles Sinclair in 1753 who lived on it until the French and Indian War massacres of 1755 drove him out.

John Thomas married Mary Robinett on 26 March 1761, the daughter of Samuel Robinett and Ann Osborne.  Mary was born in 1740 in Southampton – I assume Southampton, Pennsylvania.  Mary’s gravestone indicated she was the daughter of Samuel and Samuel could have been related to an early immigrant named Alan (Allen) Robinett.  Alan came to Pennsylvania at the time of its settlement by William Penn.  According to Rootsweb, John Thomas and Mary were married in Augusta County, Virginia. (At that time, Augusta County covered a huge area from the middle of Virginia and westward.)  They started their family with two daughters, Sarah in 1762 and Martha in 1764.  Thomas was born in 1766, Mary in 1769 and, lastly, Abijah in 1776.

John and Mary were quite possibly living in New Britain, Bucks County, PA up to about 1766 and moved to Black Swamp, Cameron Parish, Loudoun County, Virginia.  On 18 July 1767, John Thomas was one of nine organizing members of a newly formed New Valley Baptist Church in Loudoun County, Virginia.  John and Mary were baptized by Rev. Joseph Thomas (possible relative) along with 6 or 7 others.  In October 1768, the Loudoun County Tithable (tax) list for the South Fork of the Holston River, listed John Thomas and his neighbor, Thomas John (2 different men).  Somehow Thomas John was related to John Thomas.  When Thomas John died in 1806, our John Thomas signed his will as a witness and Thomas John left his entire estate to John Thomas’ children!

Holston River 001
John Thomas owned land on both sides of the South Fork of the Holston River.

On March 1774, John Thomas obtained 404 acres and had the land surveyed.  It was on the north side of the South Fork of the Holston River in Sinclair Bottom.   The land adjoined the land of William Lewis who, interestingly, was also his neighbor in Loudoun County!  John was also a neighbor of Joseph and Hugh Cole who are also our ancestors!

This story gives some insight into John Thomas’s beliefs.  On 21 November 1781, our John Thomas who acknowledged himself  “indebted to the Commonwealth of Virginia in the Sum of Four Hundred Pounds Specie,” would not swear allegiance to the United States of America government most likely because of religious beliefs.  His Baptist neighbor, William Lewis and his sons who were old enough to fight in the Revolution were also found indebted to the Commonwealth for not swearing allegiance or serving in the military.  John and William Lewis were members of the Baptist church which incorporated some Quaker beliefs in pacifism and swearing allegiance “Only to God.”  Of course, the county records do not reveal why they were indebted but the Virginia Assembly did pass a law in May 1777 requiring all adult males to swear an oath of allegiance.  The penalty for not doing so was loss of the right to vote, hold office and serve on juries.  In addition, an added penalty of double taxation was passed in October of that year.  As far as I can determine from later county records, John Thomas paid his penalty and was allowed to reside in the county.

In 1792, James Cole (another ancestor of ours) sells one acre and 100 poles of land for building a new Baptist meeting house (church) in the Holston River area for just 20 primitive baptist church pic 001shillings to the Acting Trustees of the Congregation of Sinclair Bottom.   John Thomas was one of the Acting Trustees.  This Primitive Baptist Church was built about 1775.  Primitive Baptists are the same as Hard Shell Baptists believing in following scripture and adult baptism among other ideas.

In 1795, John was able to obtain more land from the Commonwealth of Virginia on the Waters Redstone which is a tributary of the South Fork of the Holston River.  He gained 230 acres.  In 1804, their daughter Anna Thomas Martin died and in 1806, daughter Mary Thomas also died.    On 3 February 1816, John’s wife, Mary Robinett Thomas, died in Sinclair Bottom, Washington/Smyth County and she was buried in the Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Sinclair Bottom.  Three years later in 1819, their son Abijah Thomas died and was buried in the same cemetery.   John was not listed in the 1820 census and was possibly living with his son, Thomas Thomas and his wife, Freelove Cole Thomas.

On 21 January, 1820, John Thomas sells to his son Thomas Jefferson Thomas, 315 acres of

South fork of Holston R 001
South Fork of the Holston River,  Smyth Co., Virginia

land for one dollar out of “natural love and affection for his son.”   Also “of natural love and affection” for his grand-children and one dollar, John deeds 275 acres of the South side of the Holston River to Sally Allen, John Thomas, Polly Thomas, Betsey Thomas, Martha Thomas, Sam Thomas, Anna Thomas and David Thomas who are all children of his deceased son Abijah Thomas.

On 9 July 1821, John Thomas died in Sinclair Bottom, Washington/Smyth County, Virginia and he is laid to rest next to his wife, Mary, in the Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery.

prim Baptist church cemetery 001
Cemetery of the Primitive Baptist Church, Chilhowie, Smyth Co., Virginia


  • Sturgill, Mack H; Abijah Thomas & His Octagonal House, Tucker Printing, Marion, Virginia, 1990.
  • Year: 1880; Census Place: St Clair, Smyth, Virginia; Roll: 1390; Page: 112A; Enumeration District: 085.
  • Wikipedia: Southampton, Pennsylvania/history.
  • Rootsweb WorldConnect Project Genealogy – History, On Going Research (Owner: Don Martin Thomas) on Samuel Robinett.
  • https://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=thomas1560&id=120
  • Sturgill, Mack & Kenneth, Smyth County, Virginia Cemeteries, Volume 1; P. 150.
  • Loudoun County, Virginia, Tithable List; October 1768, South Fork of the Holston River; Loudoun County Virginia Courthouse; Leesburg, Loudoun, Virginia.
  • Edwards, Morgan; A History of the Baptists, Vol. 2, 1770-1792; Prepared for publication by Eve B Weeks and Mary B Warren.  Heritage Papers, Danielsville, GA 30633: Copywrite by Mary B Warren, 1984, p. 42.
  • Montgomery County, Virginia, Plat Book A, p. 33.
  • Wilson, Goodridge, Smyth County, history and traditions. Kingsport, Tenn,; Kingsport Press, 1932; p. 121.
  • Summers, Lewis Preston, Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800; 1 Volume in 2 Parts; Part 2; Pgs. 1294-1295. (Referencing Washington County, Virginia; p. 260).
  • http://www.newrivernotes.com/va/washsurv.htm (land surveys of John Thomas).
  • Find A Grave; findagrave.com; citing John Thomas, Memorial 45539287; and citing Mary Robinett Thomas, Memorial 45538411.

Where Did My Ancestors Worship?

Week 17 of #52 Ancestors: AT WORSHIP

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!



early church 001

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.




Glimpses into One Family’s Story

Grandma Lyons with Art 1945 001
Cammie Lyons holding my brother in 1945.

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!

grave markers of William and Cora Swanson 001I 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 Pearl Swanson 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.

Chinault, Wm Fred, husb Mildred Phillips, death, 1962, Lynchburg VA 001
Death Certificate of William Chinault.

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.


(Swanson) Maud Mary Martin Milstead
Maud Mary Martin

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! Gilley, Shirley, dau of Virginia Swanson, picture 001 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.

LaFon, his mom and baby art 1945 001
My grandmother, Cammie Swanson Lyons and my father, LaFon Camlyn Lyons with my brother in 1945.  Picture taken at our home in Michigan.












grandma Lyons grave marker 001


  • United Sates Federal Census, 1900, Auburn Radford Ward 2, Montgomery, Virginia, District 90. FHL microfilm 1241737
  • North Carolina Marriages, 1741-2011 [database on-line]Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
  • Death Certificate for Maria Gertrude Holloran. Virginia Death Records, 1912-2014 (Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.)
  • United States Federal Census, 1910, Lynchburg Ward 1, Virginia, District 77, FHL microfilm 1375647.
  • Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940; FamilySearch; FHL microfilm: 2048489.
  • Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940; Salt Lake City, Utah; FamilySearch, 2013; FHL microfilm: 2048456.
  • Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death for James William Swanson; File No. 117760; Berks County, PA.

DNA could stand for Discover New Ancestors!

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?

LaFon, brothers and sisters and mother 001
William (Bill), Cammie, LaFon, Eddie, Coralie and Dreama June – Dad’s Family

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.

Some stories were inspiring such as finding ancestors who were inventors! Inventors Uncovered!

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?

Swainston manor 001

Swainston manor, hotel 001
Swainston Manor converted to a Hotel, Isle of Wight, Ireland

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!



A Family of Phillips!

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!

Cora Phillips Swanson 001
Cora Virginia Phillips Swanson

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 Swanson Lyons.  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.

Phillips, Benjamin, Capt, 3gg
Capt. Benjamin Phillips

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).

Phoenix Foundry picture

Phillips, Oscar, city dir, 1875, Lynchburg VA 001

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
  • Nannie Belle Phillips 1862-1945, married Simeon W. Ford, see a story about her here Simeon and Nannie Belle Ford – A Surprising Couple!
  • 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
Phillips, Rosa Ledbetter and Husb. d o Oscar Phillips
Rosa Lee Phillips Ledbetter and John Peter Ledbetter
Phillips, Oscar S, home at 56 Federal Street, Lynchburg VA
Home of Oscar S and Pearl May Phillips at 56 Federal Street, Lynchburg, Virginia.   My great-grandmother, Cora Virginia Phillips Swanson died in this house 26 April 1945.


  • 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.
  • Ancestry.com, Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2014.
  • Find A Grave: wwwfindagrave.com/memorial/160388487/mary-n-phillips
  • Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.
  • United States Federal Census: Year: 1860; Place: Amherst, Virginia; Roll: M653_1332; Page: 400; FHL microfilm: 805332.
  • United States Federal Census: Year: 1870; Census Place: Elon, Amherst, Virginia; Roll: M593_1633; Page: 4550A; Image: 362; FHL microfilm: 553132.
  • United States Federal Census: Year: 1880; Census Place: Elon, Amherst, Virginia; Roll: 1353; FHL microfilm: 1,255,353.
  • United States Federal Census: Year: 1900; Place: Madison Amherst Virginia; Roll: 1699; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 0010; FHL microfilm: 1, 241699.
  • United States Federal Census; Year: 1910; Place: Elon, Amherst, Virginia; Roll: T624_1621; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 00212; FHL microfilm: 1375634.
  • Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-1917, Database, FamilySearch, FHL microfilm 2,046,910. (citing Amherst County, Virginia).
  • Chataigne’s Lynchburg City Directory, 1875-76.






The Porter Family of Cripple Creek

This week, I want to add to the Porter ancestry stemming from Scotch-Irish roots.  Most of the Porters settled in the Cripple Creek area of Wythe County, Virginia.  (see the posts Irish Ancestors and Immigrants! )  The first Porter immigrants from Donegal, Ulster, Ireland were James Robert Porter and his son Andrew Porter.  The son of Andrew was Capt. Robert S Porter who married Margaret Lindsay Ewing about 1745 in the Virginia Colony.  They were my 6th great-grandparents.  Their son, named Andrew Porter Sr. after his grandfather,  was to become my 5th great-grandfather.  An interesting note about another son of theirs – William Porter, who was born about 1775, died on 13 October 1817 on the ship “Congress”  while in the U. S. Navy, during the War of 1812.

Andrew Porter Sr. was born 4 Apr 1773 in Wythe County, Virginia according to most sources.  However, one source places his birth in Fincastle, Botetourt County, VA.  Andrew married Martha Mary “Polly” Gleaves in 1792 in Wythe County VA.  Andrew would have been about 19 and Martha about 18 at the time of their marriage.  Martha Mary Gleaves was born 13 Dec 1774 and  was the daughter of William Gleaves, a Revolutionary War soldier and patriot, and Elizabeth Turk.  William served in Capt. Thomas Hamilton’s Company, the 1st Virginia Regulars.   Elizabeth was also the sister of Major James Gleaves of Wythe County.  Sounds like a lot of history to research in the Gleaves family!

Andrew and Martha had nine known children during their marriage.  Their youngest child was born in 1813.  In 1820, the Porter’s lived in Evensham, Wythe County, VA.  Evensham was later called Wytheville.  In 1820, Andrew was about 47 and Martha about 46 and they owned 10 slaves.  By 1830, they had 9 slaves and still had their farm in Evensham, Wythe Co.

However, Martha died 11 Nov 1832 and in 1834, two years later, Andrew remarried to Mary Bralley or Brawley who was about 20 years younger than himself.   I found a widow’s pension application made by Mary for Andrew’s service in the War of 1812 so he evidentially did serve in the war.  By 1840, Andrew and his new wife had a total of 13 slaves but the 1850 Slave Schedule showed only 3 slaves.  Andrew was about 77 in 1850 and his wife Mary was 57.

During his lifetime, Andrew had amassed a lot of acreage.  Some of the land records showed acquisitions of 600 acres on Cripple Creek in 1772 and 86 more acres won in a land dispute.  In his will he conveyed to his son, Andrew Porter Jr., land on the south side of the New River which he had inherited from his own father Robert plus land in Blount County, Tennessee!  In 1833, Andrew Sr.conveyed to Stephen Porter, his youngest son, the land on which Andrew lived along with several tracts adjoining it, about 1,000 acres in all!

Andrew Porter Sr. died in 1853 at age 79  and was buried in the Porter Family Cemetery in Speedwell, Wythe County.  He was buried next to his first wife, Martha Mary Gleaves Porter.

Two of the daughters of Andrew Sr. and Martha actually married two brothers from the Scott family and one of the sons married a Scott sister!  So there were three Porter-Scott intermarriages in the family – it must have made family reunions very interesting!   And were their children first cousins and nieces and nephews?  All of the above!  Elizabeth “Betsey” Porter , born 1794, married Esquire William Scott and Margaret “Peggy ” Porter, the sister born 1795, married John Scott, William’s brother.  Later,  Capt. James F Porter, born 1803, brother to Betsey and Peggy Porter, married Elizabeth Scott, the sister of William and John Scott.  Capt. James Porter, a farmer, died in Lawrence Co., Pennsylvania at age 50 of paralysis.

I found out that the Scott brothers and Elizabeth were children of James Scott and Rachel Holmes.  James Scott was from Ireland and Rachel was of the nobility of Scotland.  There was so much opposition and displeasure with her family that James Scott and his wife emigrated to America and settled in Rye Valley, near Blue Springs, VA (now in Smyth Co. VA)

Porter, Margaret Scott, grave, 1871, Montgomery VA 001

Another daughter of Andrew Sr and Martha was Mary “Polly” Porter, born 1797, who was married twice.  First she married Stephen Gose, who died in 1824, and then married David Jones Pickle.  A picture of the Stephen Gose home is below.

Porter, Mary Gose, home, picture, Wythe VA 001

William Porter, Jr, son of Andrew Sr and Martha, was my 4th great-grandfather, born 1799 and died 1867 at the age of 67.  He married my 4th great-grandmother, Mary Polly Thomas, daughter of Thomas Jefferson Thomas and Freelove Cole.  You can read about them here: Searching for “FREELOVE”   William and Mary Polly Thomas was the parents of Susannah J Porter, my 3rd great-grandmother.   For more information on Susannah, read: Portrait of a Strong Woman.   

Porter, Robert, grave, 1852, Fayette, Ohio 001Another son, Robert Porter, born 1799, married a Mary Polly Thomas also but this was from a different Thomas family as far as I could determine.  This Mary was the daughter of Moses Thomas and Catherine Williams.  They settled in Ohio.



Andrew Sr. and Martha did have 3 more children including Andrew Jr. in 1805 who died in 1850 at age 45.  Daughter Sarah Gleaves “Sally” Porter was born in 1808 and married Henry Michael  and they moved to Greene Co., Ohio.  Sarah died in 1860 at age 52. The youngest son, Stephen D Porter was born in 1813, married Margaret McNutt, and died in 1883 at age 70.  This was the only information I could find on these last three children.

The Porter Family was an interesting research and I feel fortunate to find some valuable information on them!  I hope you enjoyed the posts!


Virginia Deaths and Burials, 1853-1912, database, FamilySearch, FHL microfilm: 2048587 and FHL microfilm: 34256.

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

War of 1812 Pension Applications, Washington D. C. : National Archives.  NARA Microfilm Publication M313, 102 rolls.  Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Record Group Number 15.

1820 U S Census; Census Place: Evensham, Wythe, Virginia; Page: 221; NARA Roll: M33_139; Image: 238.

1830: Census Place: Wythe, Virginia; Series: M19; Roll: 200; FHL microfilm: 0029679.

Year: 1840; Census Place: Wythe Virginia; Page: 88; FHL film: 0029693.

United States Census, 1850, database, FamilySearch; Wythe County, Virginia; family: 1391; NARA film publication: M432.

United States Census (Slave Schedule), database with images, FamilySearch; Wythe County, Virginia; Line: 14; NARA film publication: M432; FHL film: 444983.

Early Adventurers on the Western Waters, Vol. III, Part 2, by Mary B Kegley Porter, Page 484.

Wythe County, Virginia Will Book 8, p. 43.

Find A Grave; findagrave.com; Memorial # 100905280; 143101863; 39556902; 549269936; 44845293.

U. S. Federal Census Mortality Schedule [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 1999.

Dodd, Jordan R, et. al., Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850. Bountiful, UT, USA: Precision Indexing Publishers.


An Ancestral Map from 1793!

Welcome back!  Last week, I delved into some of our Irish ancestors, James Robert Porter and his son, Andrew Porter.  They came from Donegal area in Ulster, Ireland and settled in the area of Cecil County, Maryland Colony in the early 1700’s.    This week I wish to reveal some of my findings on Andrew Porter’s son, Capt. Robert S Porter, my 6th great- grandfather.

Robert S Porter was born 1737-1740 in the Virginia Colony of British America.  He was the only son of Andrew and Eleanor (Ellen) Gillespie as his mother died shortly after his birth.  His father did remarry to Margaret Leiper who raised Robert and possibly 9 other children!  The family moved to Virginia in the Cripple Creek area.  (see below)  Robert married Margaret Lindsay Ewing who was born circa 1745 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Colony and died in July 1808 in Blount County, Tennessee.  Robert and Margaret were married 29 April of 1765 in Pennsylvania and Margaret was the daughter of Alexander Ewing.  They had 9 children, one of whom was named Andrew Porter after his grandfather and became my 5th great-grandfather.

Porter, Robert, Military, 1775, Rev. War 001

There is not much information found yet on Robert but he is listed the AGBI and was an officer of the Continental Army.  He was Captain of Porter’s Regiment and is a DAR ancestor # A091290.  Robert died 6 Aug 1781 at aged 40 or 41.  He died a relatively young man in Montgomery County, Virginia.  His burial site is unknown.


However, I did happen upon a really neat map from 1793 of the Cripple Creek area which shows the land holdings of my ancestors that I would like to share!

Porter, Robt, Andrew, map, 1793, Cripple Creek, Wythe Va 001 (2)

On the map is seen the land holdings of Andrew Porter, father of Robert Porter in the middle left side.  Land belonging to Robert Porter is shown above Andrew’s land.  Notice also the names of William Gleaves and the Ewings.  Robert’s wife was an Ewing and the Ewing family must have been quite prominent in the area to have a mountain named after them!  Robert and Margaret’s son, Andrew, married the daughter of William Gleaves whose land is also noted not far from Andrew Porter.  Towards the middle right side of the map is “Porter’s Ferry” (just under Ivanhoe) which is the ferry that James Robert Porter (the immigrant) willed to his sons William and Andrew Porter.  A mill on Cripple Creek was also owned by the Porter family.  Above Porter’s Ferry is land held by a John Lyons which could also be an ancestor!  The map notes that “the names around the border of the map are those of men associated with the original settlement within the present bounds of Wythe County (Virginia).”

So our ancestors were among the original settlers of Wythe County, Virginia!  This map was just too interesting to keep to myself and I hope you enjoy it!  Next week, I plan to explore more Porter ancestors starting with Robert’s son, Andrew.



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: Ancestry.com.

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.  You can read about Chesley, Phoebe and Columbus here: First blog post  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: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2007.

Historical Data Systems, comp. U. S., American Civil War Regiments, 1861-1866 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 1999.

http://www.fold3.com/image/#30451126 (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, findagrave.com.

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: http://www.lva.virginia.gov


Smyth County Historical and Museum Society in Marion, Virginia.