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.

lemuel-signature
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-census-william-and-sarah-wood
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.

1802-lemuel-in-fayette

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

1807-lemuel-in-fayette

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

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