A Plausible Theory Part II

In my earlier post A Plausible Theory I began the search for the parents of my Dolly Schoolfield who was born 25 Feb 1759 in Worcester Co MD. I poked gaping holes in the prevailing belief that her parents were John Schoolfield and Mary Richardson, then went on to posit the theory she might be one of the two unidentified children of Joseph Schoolfield who died intestate in 1767. I also stated that if I found records that called that theory into question, I would move off it and develop a new one. Here is an entry in the 1790 US Census for Worcester County, Maryland:

1790 Census Schoolfield, Joseph Sr and Jr
1790; Census Place: Worcester, Maryland; Series: M637; Roll: 3; Page: 140; Image: 452

Um. Hmmm. Okay. That second Joseph Schoolfield has an abbreviation for Junior after it. For my theory to work, there needed to be only one Joseph Schoolfield in the 1790 census. There are two. Granted the identifier of Jun. doesn’t necessarily mean these two men are related. This is an alphabetical list. Census and tax takers commonly referred to two men with the same name in the same area as Senior and Junior, but family relationships weren’t noted. As often as not it only meant that one was older than the other.

If what happened next were a movie, the music score for it would have a beat that sounded like a head banging on a desk, and the melody would sound like a vacuum cleaner as I hoovered up all the early Worcester Co MD Wills and Deeds  for the surname Schoolfield, then struggled to make sense of them. I am a big fan of timelines. Putting things in the order in which they happened shows us things we wouldn’t normally see. So I deployed the Lazy Genealogist’s version of abstracting documents, and put them in order by date.

Lo and behold, right after the 1790 Census list of names were these two deeds:

5 Jun 1791 Joseph Schoolfield Senior sells to his son William Schoolfield part of SCHOOLFIELD’S PLEASURE AND RECOVERY Book O pg 146

25 Jun 1791 Joseph Schoolfield and his son Joseph Mitchelly Schoolfield part of SCHOOLFIELD’S PLEASURE Book O pg 149

There are various ways to convey property to one’s heirs: by writing a Will with specific instructions; dying intestate and allowing all the land to be entailed on the oldest son; give or sell the property directly to the intended heirs.

The person I’m calling Joseph Schoolfield the 1st died in 1744 and willed to his son John land called SMITH’S FIRST CHOICE. He willed to his son Joseph the 2nd part of a piece of land called DESART and all of an adjoining piece of land called RECOVERY. No mention was made of any of his sons being minors, so I’m assigning a birth year of 1722 to Joseph the 2nd to make him easily old enough to inherit the land without a guardian. It appears to me that the land RECOVERY passes from Joseph Schoolfield the 1st to his son Joseph Schoolfield the 2nd, to his son Joseph Schoolfield the 3rd. Joseph Schoolfield the 2nd, then, would be the Joseph Schoolfield in the above 1790 census, and Joseph the 3rd would be Joseph Schoolfield Junior in that census. (Did I forget to mention that the music score has a refrain that sounds very much like under-the-breath invectives?) If Joseph the 2nd was born about 1722, he would have been about 69 years-old  when he sold that property to his sons for fifteen shillings per son. That’s an age when someone would be getting affairs in order.

Taken alone the 1800 Census can be interpreted in more than one way. Combined with other records, the possible stories it can tell narrow significantly. Here is a Joseph Schoolfield living next door to Levi and Dolly Houston:

1800 Census Schoolfield and Houston
1800; Census Place: Pitts Creek Hundred, Worcester, Maryland; Series: M32; Roll: 12; Page: 181

Joseph and Levi are both shown as males 45+. Levi was born 9 Sep 17551.  He is 45. Looking at later census records, Joseph the 3rd was born sometime from 1755 to 1761, making him Levi Houston’s peer.

On the page before the one above is a different Joseph Schoolfield.

1800 Census Schoolfield, Joseph the younger
1800; Census Place: Pitts Creek Hundred, Worcester, Maryland; Series: M32; Roll: 12; Page: 180

See the correction made by the enumerator? That column is for males from age 16 to 25. My interpretation of this correction is that this Joseph Schoolfield is 26, giving him a birth year of 1774. That lines up with the 1820 census. I know it seems like I’m going pretty far into the weeds here, but it is important to establish that this is probably Joseph Schoolfield the 4th, aka the new Joseph Schoolfield Junior. He is now a grown up man able to start purchasing land in his own name:

7 Jun 1802 Joseph Schoolfield Junior purchased part of GREAT CONVENIENCY (sic) in Pitts Creek Hundred (located next to Levi Houston’s swamp) Book V pg 163

This next (abridged) document is the very first one I’ve found where there is anything like a connection between the Schoolfield family and the Houston family. It is also the earliest document I’ve found with Dolly’s name on it.

Houston to Schoolfield deed
Worcester County Maryland Deed book X pages 511-2

CHESTNUT RIDGE came to Levi Houston from the Will of his grandfather, James Houston (Worcester Co MD Will Book 4 pages 111-2) in 1772. Levi paid the supply tax on it in 1783. So here he is selling it and HOUSTON’S LOTT to Joseph Schoolfield Junior for 100 dollars in 1805. The next document I found is where George Schoolfield (son of Levi and Dolly named George Schoolfield Houston) sold land to Nehemiah Schoolfield in 1811 (Book AB pg 425).

Fair warning: trigger alert. This next document is not a happy one. It is revolting and sad and reality for the time period.

Houston, Levi witness sale of slaves
Worcester County Maryland Deed Book AD page 27

Joseph Schoolfield Senior (the 3rd) is giving children ages 11, 7 and 4 years of age to his daughter Sarah Ewell in Accomack, Virginia as slaves. I’m not going to go on a tear about how awful this is; nobody needs a lesson in morality from me. I’m going to point to the significance of this document: One of the witnesses is Levi Houston for one, and this is the last known document that shows Levi Houston living in Maryland for two. After this his family and their slaves migrate to Bracken County, Kentucky, thus ending all opportunities for contact between the two families.


I discovered an even more remarkable document dated 12 December 1830 in Worcester County Maryland Deed Book AW pages 139-142. Levi Houston died 11 Feb 1824 in Bracken County, Kentucky. The executors of his Will were two sons James and Joseph Houston. In that capacity they granted their power of attorney to recover and sell a runaway slave named Peter, who ran away before the family moved to Kentucky if he could be found. The document also reveals that on the way to Kentucky, the family lost another runaway slave named Grace while they were in Pittsburgh, PA (a busy gathering point for people headed to Kentucky via the Ohio River). And to whom do they give this power of attorney? Joseph Schoolfield (the 3rd) in Worcester County, Maryland, who was still alive in 1830 (he died in 1834). If I’m understanding this document correctly, Peter was located and was allowed to purchase his freedom for 100 dollars.

So what am I saying in all this? I’m looking very seriously at Joseph Schoolfield the 3rd as Dolly’s brother, and therefore, Joseph Schoolfield the 2nd as her father. It’s just a theory, like the one before it, but one with a better road map for making the case.



1 Coventry P.E. Church, Somerset Co., MD Parish and Vestry Records, Vol 1 from familysearch.org





I Love Me Some Half-siblings

Working with DNA matches on ancestry.com is a fun challenge for me. The one thing basic matches can’t do is tell us which part of an ancestral couple provided the DNA match. Was it from the mother or the father? That’s why DNA circles tend to show up in pairs. We have to dig a little deeper to make that determination.

Holmes 01
Abigail C Holmes and George H Wood family

Abigail C Holmes and George H Wood had seven known children. My ancestor is their daughter Josephine. I have cousin matches to descendants of all five of the children who lived to have children of their own (includes Josephine). Does this tell me that I share DNA with both Abigail and George? Not exactly. I shared DNA with one of them, that much is certain. To learn if it is one or the other or both, more has to be learned about their families, in particular their siblings if they have them.

No document has yet been found stating the identities of Abigail C. Holmes’ parents. Normally the above direction: look at the siblings, would apply. Except that two of Abigail’s unproven siblings married proven siblings of her husband George H. Wood. The only clear DNA cousin matches I have for her full siblings are also Wood relatives. How do I then distinguish between Holmes DNA and Wood DNA?

Circumstantial evidence points to Abigail’s father being John Holmes, born 1790 in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, and died circa 1857 probably in Nodaway County, Missouri.

1850 Census John Holmes
1850; Census Place: District 19, Edgar, Illinois; Roll: M432_105; Page: 165B; Image: 338

Here is John Holmes with his second wife Rebecca Partridge née Miller. Line 30 is Elma J. who lived long enough to have a death certificate issued by the state of Illinois. It shows that her parents were John Homes (sic) and Sarah Collins. We believe Sarah Collins was John’s first wife who probably died before John remarried on 29 Apr 1847. Line 32 is Melissa L Holmes, believed to be the first known child of that union between John and Rebecca. Line 33, Isaac N(ewton) Partridge is believed to be one of the known children from Rebecca’s first marriage to Robert Partridge. Line 39 is Polly Holmes, who married the day before John Holmes and Rebecca Partridge.

Holmes 02
Illinois Regional Archives Depository Edgar County Marriages

Here is the presumed widow Rebecca Holmes with her reassembled family in 1860.

Holmes 03
1860; Census Place: Ottumwa, Coffey, Kansas Territory; Roll: M653_347; Page: 772

Line 14 is Melissa seen in the 1850 census; line 15 is Lourena C. Holmes born in 1852, line 16 is L. Isaac Holmes, and line 17 is Almira Holmes who was born in 1857 in Missouri, which is why I place the death place for John in Missouri. The older members of this household are the children from Rebecca’s first marriage. Line 21 is Isaac N. (yes, that’s an ‘N’) from 1850; line 22 is Rebecca’s daughter who was living with Rebecca’s mother in the 1850 census. It took some real doing for a single woman to reassemble a wide-ranging family in one place like this. I have some admiration for this woman, even though she’s not my kin. Her daughter is, though.

One of the many advantages to building families laterally and down to more recent generations is all the surnames we get to collect to use to search DNA matches trolling for identifiable cousins. One of Lourena Holmes’ descendants had an unusual surname that I remembered, so when this cousin match showed up and I looked at her tree, I recognized it as being one I had recently added to my tree. (I won’t use the name here because the recently deceased relative is too close to the living cousin.) It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to figure out how we were related because she had another unique name on her tree that threw me off the scent. This cousin was enormously patient with me as I tried to sort it out. I was thrilled when I finally figured out that she was a descendant of John Holmes and Rebecca Miller Partridge! Proof positive that John Holmes really is my ancestor. The DNA we share came from him, and him alone.

Is this enough to satisfy a lineage society? No. But it moves John Holmes out of the realm of pure speculation and into a solid connection.

George H Wood has many proven siblings and parents and aunts and uncles, so proving his DNA wasn’t a challenge. Now I know I have DNA from both parents of my Josephine Wood, one of the parents of Abigail Holmes. All because of a half-sibling.

Plausible Theory

As a genealogy hobbyist, I have found myself drawn to a couple sub-specialties in the field of family research: helping people find Revolutionary War Patriots in their trees, and tracking down family lore. After spending some quality time helping others find more Patriots, I was suddenly without a project. I decided to apply what I’d learned about research to my own family and quickly discovered a new patriot! He is the father of one of my existing patriots, Levi Houston.

What about his wife, Dolly Schoolfield? Could I find some form of patriotic service for her father as well? To clarify, patriotic service does not have to be military in nature. It can take the form of paying a supply tax, swearing an oath of fidelity, serving on a jury, supplying food, clothing, transportation, medical relief, etc. This significantly raises the age of an individual who could be considered for recognition by the DAR. Someone far too old to bear arms could provide any number of allowed types of service with no limit to age. This is why I could contemplate looking for service for Dolly’s father.

Raise your hand if you’ve attached someone to your tree as a result of a shaky leaf hint without doing the research to support the relationship. *Raises hand*. I added Dolly’s parents and their parents years ago to my tree based solely on shaky leaves, then never gave them another thought.

The prevailing belief about Dolly Schoolfield’s parents is that they were John Schoolfield born 1730 in Worcester County, Maryland, and either Mary Richison or Richardson, no info. The vital stats on Dolly that have been accepted by the DAR are: born 25 Feb 1759 in Worcester Co MD, died 12 Feb 1836 in Bracken Co KY, married 1777 in Maryland. The closest I’ve come to a legit source for this data is the DAR. Earlier descendants of Dolly and Levi provided the information with no supporting documentation like a bible or baptism reference. The information had been handed down somehow to descendants of the first known child of Dolly and Levi: George Schoolfield Houston. One of these early applicants was the granddaughter of George Schoolfield Houston, making Dolly her great-grandmother. That’s good enough for me.

Using the year 1759 as a starting point, Dolly’s father needed to be at least 21, so he had to be born no later than 1738. The shaky leaf hint pointed to a John Schoolfield born 1730, son of Henry Schoolfield and Ann Bozman. I looked at the trees that had attached this person to see if I could track down the source. Nothing jumped out at me, so the search was expanded. Eventually I read a reference to a newspaper article that appeared on page 13 on 8 July 1906 in the Baltimore Sun. I highly recommend any Maryland Schoolfield researcher make the effort to find it on newspapers.com. Here is the part that matters to this topic:

Schoolfield, John b 1730 03

There he is, just like everyone said: John Schoolfield, son of Henry and Ann, b. 3 Feb 1730. Wait, what? Died 12 Feb 1720? Clearly he didn’t die 10 years before he was born; that is a typo. Still, he died when he was 9 days old. This article doesn’t mention the second John born to this couple, but records from Coventry Parish Church in Somerset, MD reveals this family had another son named John.

Schoolfield, John b 1747
Coventry P.E. Church, Somerset Co., MD Parish and Vestry Records, Vol 1 from familysearch.org

This John was born in 1747, making him too young to be Dolly’s (b. 1759) father.

Why are people so sure Dolly’s father is John Schoolfield and Mary Richardson (I have yet to find anyone in Worcester Co MD from that time period with the surname Richison.)? Time to look for any other John Schoolfield married to a Mary Richardson. There are two probable options.

John Schoolfield #1 is the son of Joseph Schoolfield (brother of the aforementioned Henry). His Will, written 13 Jan 1772, can be found on familysearch.org in Worcester Co MD Will Book 4 image 74. In it he acknowledges his wife Mary (Martin) and is very specific to state that she is to inherit any property that was hers before their marriage, and that no part of his estate is to go to pay any of her debts from before their marriage. This suggests that they were married later in life. Indeed, that seems to be the case given that when she died, her 1777 nuncupative Will (Worcester Co MD book JW4 images 203-4) only mentions children from her first marriage to John Richardson.  Neither document mentions Dolly.

John Schoolfield #2 was the son of John Schoolfield #1. He died intestate; a bond was filed on 1 Nov 1796. His wife Mary was named administrator. The documents for this time period were never filmed by familysearch.org. Someone on Facebook recommended I contact the Nabb Research Center for help finding the resolution to this estate. A researcher there found the partition of land for this estate in 1806 that names the heirs-at-law: Nancy, Harrison A, Mary Ann, John, William and minor son Robert. That this Mary Schoolfield is a Richardson is a guess on my part. On 18 Jan 1788 a Will for Robert Richardson was proven in which he names a daughter Mary Schoolfield (Worcester Co MD Will Book 13 image 105). There was a Benjamin Schoolfield who was also married to a woman named Polly. He died in 1799. Either way, that John Schoolfield isn’t Dolly’s father either.

I’ll admit that at one point I began to doubt Dolly was a Schoolfield. Yet evidence began to mount that she belongs in this extended family. Near as I can tell, there were three sons born to the original Maryland Schoolfield immigrant who might have been Benjamin Schoolfield. One son, Benjamin Jr. daughtered out. The remaining sons, Henry and Joseph represent the two branches of the Worcester/Somerset Schoolfield family. Members of both lines chain-migrated to Bracken County, Kentucky from about 1797 to about 1816. Joseph’s grandson Robert Schoolfield was the first to appear in the tax records in Bracken County. Eventually most if not all of the offspring of Henry’s grandson George Thomas Schoolfield followed. The family established the Bracken Academy in Augusta, KY. More than one teacher in the area bore the surname Schoolfield. Dolly and Levi Houston moved to Bracken County as well in 1812. At least some of their known children accompanied them. The question remains: who are her parents?

Well, I have a working theory. Since I’ve accounted for all of Henry’s sons/grandsons who could be of the correct age, that leaves sons and grandsons of Joseph. Robert Schoolfield, the anchor for the chain migration to Bracken Co was the son of John Schoolfield #1 from above. John Schoolfield #1 had a brother Joseph. Joseph died intestate in 1767. His widow Rebecca (Ennis) remarried to William Anderson Parker. Together they settled his estate. That final account leaves behind a tantalizing clue. In Worcester County Accounts Book Liber 60 page 340-1 presented to the court an accounting of the assets of Joseph Schoolfield in 1769 amounting to 71 pounds 15 shillings. After all the debts were paid, what remained was 39 pounds 19 shillings and 11 pence.

Schoolfield, Joseph account

It helps to know that the term infants was what we call minors. People up to the age of 20 could be called infants. As it happens, Dolly would have been 9 years old at the time of this accounting. Was she one of the two children of Joseph and Rebecca Schoolfield? There is no mention of her in the Will of William Anderson Parker. He names children, but not her. Dolly would have been married 11 years by the time William A Parker died in 1788. I’m still looking to see what happened to Rebecca.

What could account for the persistent belief that Dolly’s parents were John and Mary Schoolfield? Part of my theory involves the possibility that when Rebecca remarried to William A. Parker, she farmed her first two children out to Joseph’s family to raise. Like, say, for instance John Schoolfield #2 who might have married Mary Richardson? There are other options, of course, but this one, given what I’ve learned so far, is at least plausible.

Like all theories, they stand or fall over time based on new evidence. I’ll happily abandon this theory if better information appears. For now I can find nothing to support the belief that Dolly’s parents were John and Mary Schoolfield.


Preconceived Notion

One of the things I love about doing family research is that it forces me to challenge my thinking about even the most obvious things. Question everything. Force the brain to work. I’m lucky to not have to be confronted with facts about my family that force me to cope with cognitive dissonance. This is because I don’t have long-held, deeply rooted beliefs about who my family is/was. It’s all been new to me for the most part. That said, I’m not immune to accepting the interpretation of facts by others, unchallenged. I realized today, after processing some records I gathered, that one particularly thorny problem I’ve been working on had a glaringly obvious blind spot. I had simply accepted what others believed without breaking it all down to fundamental facts and evaluating it with fresh eyes. The reward, though, is getting an aha! moment. One of those jarring: How did I not see that before? episodes that forces us to laugh at ourselves.

Earlier I wrote about how I had misinterpreted the Will of John Wood Jr.  Today I was able to see that even seasoned researchers miss stuff. All this work I’ve been doing on this family is directly related to the interpretation of this part of that Will by a genealogist at the DAR.

The DAR allows members to submit what are called Supplemental Applications for additional Patriots they are descended from. A member submitted one, and got it approved for John Wood Jr. I’m grateful for that; he and his father John Wood Sr. are deserving of the recognition for their contribution to securing our freedom. I’ve been working for awhile now trying to prove that John Wood Jr. and Sr. are in fact my ancestors, not hers.

Witnesses for Will of John Wood Jr.

One of, if not the  only, deciding factors that the DAR accepted to allow this connection to the other family is one of the witnesses to this Will: Lemuel Stephenson. Lemuel Stephenson is the proven father of Sarah Stephenson. Sarah Stephenson is the proven spouse of one William Wood, born in Fayette County, PA in 1792. Sarah Stephenson was born in 1796 in Fayette County, PA. (From other Supplemental Applications.)

1850 US Census, Illinois, Edgar, District 19, pg 180A

What everyone accepted was that Lemuel Stephenson was related to John Wood Jr. as a result of the marriage between his daughter to a William Wood, listed as a son of John Wood Jr. How is it that in all this time that I’ve been gathering data to prove my belief that the DAR approved the wrong family line for this Patriot did I miss examining that basic assumption that Lemuel Stephenson was related to John Wood Jr. by marriage?

Timelines are Everything.

Without timelines we cannot truly put things into context. Timelines expose blind spots in our thinking. Timelines help us pinpoint when people move from one place to another. In this case it was critical that I fix when Lemuel Stephenson and his young family moved from Fayette County, PA to Clermont County, OH. I finally got close enough today.

Lemuel Stephenson appears in Georges Township, Fayette County, PA in 1800.1  This makes sense; he was married to the daughter of an established resident of the township, Enoch Abraham. The Clermont County History book says Lemuel moved to Clermont in 1802.2  Silly me, I never challenged that. Turns out…not so much.

Amazing what you can learn when you look at original records. Here he still is in Georges Township, Fayette County, PA in 1802.


He’s still there in 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, and oh look here he still is in 1807.3


Earlier years in this data set show that the taxes were collected in January of any given year. That puts Lemuel Stephenson and his daughter Sarah (b. 18 Nov 1796) aged 11 in Fayette County in January 1807. We know from the Will of John Wood Jr. that Lemuel Stephenson was present in Clermont County, OH, 18 months later, on 8 Jul 1808. By then Sarah Stephenson is 12 years old. Her future spouse, William Wood, is 16 years old (location as yet unknown). Who believes Sarah and William were already married by the date that Will was witnessed? She was twelve!

If the relationship between John Wood Jr. and Lemuel Stephenson was family on day that Will was signed was the reasoning for accepting William Wood married to Sarah Stephenson as the correct descendants of John Wood Jr., then isn’t that whole argument flawed on its face? How could they possibly have been related by marriage on 8 Jul 1808 when the marriage hadn’t taken place, and wouldn’t for a few more years?

It can be demonstrated that John Wood Jr. had been living in Mason County, KY from at least 1793 to 1798-9, then in Clermont County, OH from about 1800 till he died. The earliest possible time he could have met Lemuel was 18 months before he died. More likely the acquaintanceship was even newer than that.

They did know each other; there is no denying that. John Wood Jr. was an associate judge, as has been proven by court records. One of his fellow judges was William Buchanan. William Buchanan was married to the sister of Lemuel Stephenson’s wife. The Buchanan family had a long association with the Abraham family. Both families owned property in Georges Township, Fayette County, PA. The Buchanans moved to Mason County, KY for a few years before locating in Clermont, so they would have also known the Wood family.4  None of this changes the fact that at the time of John’s death, Lemuel Stephenson WAS NOT RELATED TO JOHN WOOD JR.

The other witness on the Will was Joshua Manning. He WAS related to John Wood Jr. They were brothers-in-law. Not all witnesses to Wills are related to the author of the Will. I hope I don’t ever allow myself to accept that reasoning without challenging it again.


1 1800; Census Place: Georges, Fayette, Pennsylvania; Series: M32; Roll: 38; Page: 552

2  Everts, L. (1880). Washington Township. In History of Clermont County, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers (p. 365). Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Company.

3 Fayette County (Pennsylvania). Board of County Commissioners; Georges Township, 1787-1819; FHL# 1449307

4 Everts, pg 363

The Click Bait of Its Day

I was recently contacted by the spouse of a cousin asking why I had someone listed as a spouse of E. H. Taft on my tree.  I looked and scratched my head. No earthly idea why I put that woman as his spouse, so she got removed. This was the first time a descendant of my William Watson and Annabelle Gibson had contacted me, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn more.

E. H. Taft is actually Charles H Taft. He was married to Rebecca Walker Watson. Rebecca Walker Watson was named for her maternal grandmother Rebecca Walker. Among the information I was given about Mr. Taft was a juicy tidbit about his death being reported on the front page of many newspapers because, it was claimed, he was a second cousin to President William Howard Taft. Intrigued, I scoured Newspapers.com for more information. At first I didn’t get any results, so I turned to the Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection. There I had better luck.

San Juan Prospector 21 Jan 1909 page 1

The above piece was picked up by a number of Colorado newspapers. I realized from these that my search on Newspapers.com had the wrong parameters. Armed with a specific date, and dropping the middle initial, I began finding results.

The following piece caught my eye because it put the storm in context.


This one is the clincher, though. The Hearst News Service got their hands on this story and applied some creative license to make the story more sensational. A tactic we recognize today as click bait.


Of course no one would have cared about any of this except for the claim that Charles H Taft was the 2nd cousin of President Taft. We know how common it is for these kinds of claims to be made by and about family. I have a biography of an ancestor published in a ‘brag book’ where the claim was made that the subject was related to Leonard Wood, and his wife a full 1st cousin to Samuel Houston. Neither panned out.

To be a full 2nd cousin, both people need to share a set of great-grandparents. I don’t know how well-vetted this is, but if it had glaring errors in it, I’m pretty sure some knowledgeable genealogist would have challenged it. Here’s a Wikipedia entry that outlines the ancestry of President Taft. His father was Alphonso Taft, grandfather was Peter Rawson Taft, and his great-grandfather was Aaron Taft (1743–1808).

Let’s take a peak-see at Charles H Taft. Charles married Rebecca 8 Jun 1904.1  As we see above, he died in 1909. He does not, then, appear in any US census as married to Rebecca. We learn from the 1900 Census that he was born Apr 1874 in Wisconsin to a father born in New York and a mother born in Pennsylvania.2  

1880 Census Whitewater, Walworth, Wisconsin, ED 239, pg 265A 3

There he is with his father H.L. Taft (born NY) and mother Mary (born PA), and widowed grandmother E.H. Taft (born CT).

1870 Census, Whitewater, Walworth, Wisconsin, pg 295A 4

Now we learn that H.L. is Henry. Mary’s birth state is given as New York rather than PA.

1860 Census, Albion, Oswego, New York, pg 168-169

Now we find Henry living with Mary in what looks to be his father’s household. Mary is again listed as NY, and Henry’s mother Eliza H (E.H.) was born in CT. On the face of it, Henry’s father, is John L. Taft, born in CT. Oh look…at his age: 49. Born about 1811.

1850 Census, Albion, Oswego, New York, pg 141A 6

This census places John L Taft’s birth year at 1809. His Find-A-Grave Memorial lists his birth year as 1811. I’ve seen it suggested he was actually born in 1810.

I don’t know who is the great-grandfather of Charles H Taft. Given that Aaron Taft, the great-grandfather of President Taft, died in 1808, two to three years before John L Taft was born, it seems unlikely that Aaron Taft is John L’s father.

Were Charles H Taft and President Taft cousins? Entirely possible. Were they 2nd cousins? Highly unlikely. As much fun as it would have been if the newspaper reports were accurate, I’m going to chalk this up to ‘another family lore bites the dust’.


1 Colorado, County Marriages and State Indexes, 1862-2006

2 1900; Census Place: El Moro, Las Animas, Colorado; Roll: 126; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 0068

3 1880; Census Place: Whitewater, Walworth, Wisconsin; Page: 265A; Enumeration District: 239

4 1870; Census Place: Whitewater, Walworth, Wisconsin, Page: 295A

5 1860; Census Place: Albion, Oswego, New York, Page: 168-169

6 1850; Census Place: Albion, Oswego, New York,Page: 141A

Open to Interpretation

In my previous post I made mention of the Will of John Wood Jr. One of the sticking points with trying to prove the correct son of this patriot is the Will. More specifically the fact that the DAR genealogists claim that Will is open to interpretation. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out what they meant. It seemed clear-cut to me.

To get to the bottom of this, I asked an acquaintance who is unfamiliar with the family or the challenge to analyze the Will so I could get her unbiased thoughts on what it says. While I’m waiting for her to finish, I decided I wanted to try my hand at it myself, then see how our results compare. In part this is an exercise in critical thinking. Can I strip away as much of my bias as possible and see this Will as an uninterested by-stander?wood-john-jr-will-page-1

My first step is to deconstruct this Will by making a series of statements of fact about what I see. No assumptions allowed. I do get to correct for modern spelling to preserve my sanity.

  1. It appears to be a photocopy of the original Will (as opposed to a transcription from a Will Book)
  2. The handwriting on the signature differs from the body of the Will
  3. This is the Will for John Wood
  4. He states he is from Washington Township, Clermont County, Ohio
  5. He states he is infirm of body but of perfect memory and judgment
  6. This is his last Will and Testament
  7. He leaves his burial ‘in a Christian like manner’ up to the discretion of his Executors
  8. He does not name his Executors
  9. He does not name his wife
  10. He Wills and bequeaths the whole of his estate both real and personal property to his wife (Except what is hereinafter mentioned)
  11. 1st exception: “or until my youngest son becomes of age if she should live so long”. He does not indicate who this youngest son is.
  12. He allows for the provision that his wife is able to sell the land for the benefit of the family as she “may think most proper”.
  13. He wills that his wife is to retain this privilege for her lifetime with a reservation.
  14. 2nd exception: From that property he excludes the horses he had previously given to his sons named in this order: Joseph, Absalom, William and John. He means for them to have these horses as their own.
  15. He names a granddaughter, Marget, but does not indicate who are her parents.
  16. He bequeaths $25 to Marget when she reaches age 18.
  17. He specifies that the $25 can be paid from the sale of the land if that sale takes place.
  18. He makes a provision for the land and its proceeds if his wife dies. It is to be sold and equally divided between his sons and daughters.
  19. He mentions daughters, plural. There are more than one. They are not named.
  20. The Will was written on the 8th day of July, 1808.
  21. The Will is signed by John Wood with his ‘seal’
  22. The Will is witnessed by Joshua Manning and Lemuel Stephenson

Let’s leave the probate aside since it doesn’t speak to the issue of the Will being open to interpretation.

I wonder how many people would look at this Will and think item #11 was the sticking point? I certainly didn’t. Not until I did this exercise was I able to see what part of my argument the genealogists were refusing to accept.

William is the son who is in contention. I claimed that the son of the patriot they previously approved was a minor at the time this Will was written. We know from census records that ‘proven’ William was born in 1792. He was only 16 at the time of this Will was written. My William was born in July 1787 (from a Bible record). He either just turned 21 or was on the cusp of turning 21.

They are saying that this Will does not make it clear that the minor-aged son isn’t one of the four named sons: Joseph, Absalom, William and John. Here’s the thing: They’re right. Based solely on the Will, there is no proof that there is a 5th son.

This Will hints that John Wood Jr. considered the age of inheritance as 18. He does not indicate what age equals ‘of age’. I’ve found guardianship records in Clermont County, OH that show guardians remaining in place until heirs reached aged 21, so it is possible that anyone under the age of 21 could still be considered a minor. This Will wasn’t proven until October 1808. By then there would have been no question that my William was 21. It can be proven John (III) was 18. Joseph was already married for 3 years; it can only be surmised he was at least 21. It’s been speculated he was born in 1783, making him 27. There are specific dates for Absalom, but I don’t know their source. Taken at face value, he was 25 at the time of his father’s demise. If these ages are correct, then John Wood Jr. named his sons in birth order. Using the guardian until 21 argument, the minor-aged son would actually be John (III). Since one was never appointed, that issue is moot. The ‘of age’ qualifier relies on popular and accepted belief at the time. This Will is maddeningly non-specific; it relies on the people who witnessed, proved and administered it to already know the identities of the wife, son and daughters. In the rugged frontier, guardianship laws don’t appear to have been rigidly enforced.

My argument was based on my belief that there is a 5th son. And indeed there is a 5th son. His name is David and he was born in the year 1799; making him about 9 years old at the time of the Will. We know his birth year from the mortality schedule, where he is listed as having died of rabies in 1849.1 It remains incumbent upon me to prove this. I think I can, even in the absence of direct evidence (no guardian was appointed to him). Doing so requires its own proof.

While frustrating, they are right to question my assumptions about this Will without proof that my argument is valid. I’m learning a lot from this process. Wills don’t always say what we think they say, or want them to say. Documents in general don’t always say what we think they say. I like this exercise. It forced me to look at this document and all its components with a more critical eye.


1 Non-population Census Schedules for Illinois, 1850-1880; Census Year: 1849; Census Place: District 19, Edgar, Illinois; Page: 213

The Forgotten Widow

I’ve written about John Wood Jr. before, back when I was first trying him on as a possible ancestor for my William Wood. Recently I’ve been immersed in studying this family as part of that thorough and exhaustive (code for expensive) search genealogists require for an analysis. The recurring theme I’ve noticed during this research is that no one who has worked on this family seems to have cared about his widow Margaret. It’s as if she ceased to exist the moment John Wood Jr. died.

Let’s look at how Margaret became a widow.

“John Wood, the eldest of the brothers that came to Manning’s Station, was one of the early associate judges, and while attending court at Williamsburgh fell ill, dying the next day after he was brought to his home north of Neville.”1

Evidence suggests he was about 49 when he died. Luckily, for all his descendants, he left a Will. Being an associate judge (and he was; there is ample evidence to support that claim), one would think he would have known how important it was to name his executor/trix. He does say he was infirm, so if the above is to be believed, he wrote it in haste, and possibly before he got home. He doesn’t mention his wife, daughters or youngest son by name. He does name his adult sons in this order: Joseph, Absalom, William and John (to whom he leaves horses), as well as a little grand-daughter Margaret (to whom he leaves $25). The remainder of his estate, real and personal, is left to his wife. “…or untill my youngest son becomes of age if she should live so long–But and if my Wife should think it to be best to make sale of my land for the Benefit of the family she is so to do as she may think most proper this previledge I will to remain with her during her Life…2” He goes on to make the provisions of what is to happen after his wife’s decease: the usual boilerplate language of dividing what remains equally among his sons and daughters.

Here’s the thing: she doesn’t die for a very long time. She lives at least another 32 years. Near as I can tell, she remains a widow for that entire time. With regard to the land, she probably couldn’t have sold it even if she wanted to because the family never had a deed to it. The property, situated on the Smith Survey No. 866 was tangled up in legal wranglings for decades, and was finally settled by a land patent granted by the Van Buren administration.3

Margaret Wood, her son Absalom Wood, Joshua Manning and Lemuel Stephenson appeared in the October 1808 session of the Court of Common Pleas. On the 18th of October they collectively put up a $600 bond for the administration of the estate. Margaret and Absalom were named as administrators of the estate.2

Margaret Wood begins appearing in the tax records in 1809.4 She continues to appear in available tax records from 1816-1819 in Clermont County, Ohio.5  Even though she couldn’t sell or partition the land, she was not without means. On 12 May 1817, she purchased 70 acres in White Oak Township, Highland County, Ohio for the sum of $165. This land was on the Francisco survey no. 2042.6 It is unclear when she actually moved to Highland County, since she’s still paying taxes in Clermont County until 1819. Next she appears in the 1820 Census in Highland County. This is tricky because ancestry.com has it transcribed as being Concord Township, Fayette County, but the top and side of the page clearly says Highland County.

1820 Highland County Census

Notice I have arrows pointing to two names: Margaret Wood and Godfrey Wilkins (among several important names on this page). Godfrey Wilkins is later found as the neighbor of and witness to the Will of my William Wood, Margaret’s son, in the 1840 census in Edgar County, IL.

By this time 6 of Margaret’s 7 children are still alive. Absalom has married the widow Buchanan; William married Elizabeth Houston; John Wood III married Margaret Buchanan, the step-daughter of his brother Absalom. All are living in Washington Township, Clermont County, Ohio. Hannah married David Jones and is living in New Richmond (he later becomes the Mayor). Nancy and David are still unmarried and presumably living with their mother in Highland County, even though the census says she has two females aged 16-25 living with her instead of a male and female. (Drives me crazy that it reads that way.) Anyway, just like the history book read, David married Margaret (Peggy) Graham, and Nancy married Peter Collins, both in Highland County.

Wood, David and Graham, Margaret marriage cropped

Collins, Peter and Wood, Nancy Marriage cropped

On 1 Mar 1828, David and Peggy purchase 2 plots of adjoining land to comprise 55 acres on the Spear Survey no. 2047 directly south of Margaret’s land.7

Returning to the 1820 Census, here is the bottom part of the page:

1820 Highland County Census bottom

John Graham is married to Elizabeth Partridge, daughter of Robert Partridge. After the death of John Graham, Elizabeth Graham married Godfrey Wilkins (mentioned above). Christenia Collins (widow of Isaac) shows signs of being the mother of Peter Collins, husband of Nancy.

I do have a theory about what brought Margaret to Highland County. See John Partridge on the above census? He was married to Jane Grimes, who is believed to have died around 1816 because he remarried. I’ve seen Margaret Wood as having the maiden name of Grimes on several ancestry trees. Haven’t found anything that proves it yet, but it is intriguing, and dovetails nicely with the known information. Did she move there to be near her own family?

1830 rolls around and things shake up a bit. David is shown on the 1830 census for White Oak Township.8 On 12 Sep 1830 he and Peggy sell their 55 acres.9  Margaret can’t be located on any census in 1830. She sells her land on 1 Oct 1831.10  Absalom has died; his widow Jane remains in Clermont. Hannah stays in New Richmond, Clermont. Margaret and four of her children: William, John, David and Nancy all move to Brouillettes  Creek Township, Edgar County, Illinois. Some of that was documented in my earlier post; there’s lots more I could say, but this post is, ultimately, about Margaret.

1840 Edgar Census David Wood cropped

Above is Margaret’s son David Wood in the Edgar County, IL 1840 US Census, pg 75. Way over in the female 80-89 column is a tick mark I believe represents Margaret: 32 years after her husband died. Remember, David’s mother-in-law Elizabeth is married to Godfrey Wilkin, who appears on page 77, so this can’t be her. Pretty sure it’s Margaret, who lived to be at least 80, still with her family. Her story just needed to be told; I needed for her to no longer be forgotten.


1 Everts, L. (1880). Washington Township. In History of Clermont County, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers (p. 363). Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Company.

2 Will and Probate records of John Wood of Clermont County, Ohio. Copy from Circuit Clerk’s office in Batavia, OH.

3 Everts pg 47

4 Ancestry.com. Ohio, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1790-1890 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999.

5 familysearch.org: Duplicate tax records of Clermont County, Ohio 1816-1838 Images 63, 205 and 338.

6 Transcribed Deed Book 3, pg 474 Highland County, Ohio Deeds

7 Transcribed Deed Book 2, pg 375 and 377 Highland County, Ohio Deeds (some of the deeds are transcribed out of order)

8 1830 US Census, Ohio, Highland, White Oak Twp, pg 52

9 Transcription Book 4, pg 300 Highland County, Ohio Deeds

10 Transcription Book 12, pg 400 Highland County, Ohio Deeds

11 1840 US Census, Illinois, Edgar, pg 75