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


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

Okay, So I Got THAT Wrong

In an earlier post on this blog titled Brick Wall Paper, I thought I had discovered a census record for my great-grandfather James H. Myers.1

Possible parents for Amarilla Cox

I speculated that the enumerator just dittoed the Cox surname onto some grandchildren. Wishful thinking on my part. Turns out the James H Cox is actually James Hamilton Cox. I discovered this in the best way possible. I got a DNA cousin match on that proves I have the correct family for my Amarilla (Winnie) Cox!

Oddly my first reaction to this was, Be Careful What You Wish For. This new cousin match had Martha G and John Cox on it, but with a lot of other unknown siblings to the James Hamilton Cox. I was sad that I no longer had an early census record for James H Myers, but thrilled that I had proof I had the right family. I got to work correcting my tree and researching this James H Cox.

My first clue that he is the real deal was the 1880 US Census for James.

1880 Census James Hamilton Cox
1880 Census James Hamilton Cox2

He named his first son Jerome Benjamin, which is his older brother’s name. I haven’t found James Hamilton Cox in the 1900 or 1910 census yet, but he does show up in the 1920 census in Cambridge, Washington, Idaho.3 This is the same location his brother Jerome Benjamin lived when four of his many children were born. Other records suggest James Hamilton Cox was divorced even though he is listed as single in this 1920 Census. He was working as a laborer in a pool hall.

I even have a theory on where the middle name Hamilton came from: a friend and neighbor with whom John and Martha Cox bought and sold land in Putnam County, Missouri: Hamilton Davis. I’ve been combing through a deed index for that county and have found multiple entries for land exchanges between the Cox family and Hamilton Davis.

Bless the heart of the woman who had her DNA tested on and had this Cox line on her tree! I don’t mind being wrong on who I thought James H was…especially since now I know I have the correct family. Yay!


1 1860 US Census, Missouri, Putnam, Liberty, pg 346, HH# 35

2 1880 US Census, Missouri, Chariton, Wayland, ED 163, pg 437A, HH# 142

3 1920 US Census, Idaho, Washington, Cambridge, ED 182, pg 1B, HH# 20

Developing a Theory

Researching families is part mystery and part soap opera, which is a large part of its great appeal. I really didn’t intend to spend any time on this Smith family, but one discovery led to another and now I’m intrigued. In an earlier post I wrote about a document online that described the reasons behind the Irish immigrants’ choice to leave Reading, Pennsylvania and move to Nodaway County, Missouri. From that document I learned that many of these immigrants were members of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Reading. I discovered there is a recently published book on the marriages and baptisms for this church that covered the time period I needed.

I began by asking my librarian to request photocopies of the index page(s) for John Smith from a library that has a copy. What I got were two sets of index pages, one for baptisms and one for marriages. I looked for pages where John Smith also appeared with the names for his children who were believed to have been born in Reading: Richard, Margaret, Mary and Anna (Agnes was born in Missouri). I also asked for the index page(s) for McIntyre. It’s a good thing I did, too. When all was said and done, I had before me the baptism transcriptions for Richard, Mary and Anna (but not Margaret). I also saw that the marriage record for John Smith and his second(?) wife, Elizabeth McIntyre the mother of my Anna, might be in this book as well, so I requested a copy of the page directly from a library that owned the book because it is numbered oddly. The baptisms begin at page 1 to whatever, but marriages are numbered 1 to whatever as well. So are the confirmations. The book is in three sections, each with its own numbering system.

The very kind gentleman at the distant library obliged me and…surprise! The marriage record totally messed up my belief that Margaret (b. 1855) was the daughter of John and Elizabeth. Their vows were made on 27 January 1859.1 Ohhh-kay, oops. Why did I think Margaret was her daughter? Because Elizabeth responded on the 1910 Census that she had given birth to 4 children and 3 were still living.2 I already knew Richard wasn’t her son and the baptism confirmed that (pg 58 baptisms); it wasn’t unreasonable to guess that the four girls were hers.

At first I thought Margaret might have been hers from a previous marriage, which would mean McIntyre wasn’t her maiden name. Then I considered that Margaret was Elizabeth’s, but born out of wedlock with John. But I rejected that because too many years elapsed from the time Margaret was born until John and Elizabeth married. It seemed out of character with what I had learned about John. Now I’m developing a new theory: Elizabeth was John’s third wife, not his second.

Time to break out the handy timeline. You know…that whole correlation thing.

Richard Smith baptized 27 Sep 1847
Richard Smith baptized 27 Sep 1847 pg 58

There’s no easy way to screen grab the 1850 census for Richard because he appears on the first line of the page; the rest of the family unit where he’s living is on the previous page. What is interesting and makes this complicated is that he is not living with his father John in 1850. He’s living with two other families, the Browns and the Hocks.3 Through email correspondence with a lovely woman knowledgeable about the Brown family,  I learned that these families are unrelated. Mary Brown is the head of this family with her three children; she’s German and a Lutheran. It appears the Hocks and Richard Smith were her boarders.

John Smith married Elizabeth McIntyre 27 Jan 1859
John Smith married Elizabeth McIntyre 27 Jan 1859 pg 24
John Smith 1860 Census
John Smith 1860 Census taken 14 July

Some clerk tried to fix Elizabeth’s age to account for Richard being 13. She was 25, not 35. She was also three weeks from her delivery date when they were visited by the census-taker.4

Maria Smith Baptism 4 Aug 1860
Maria Smith Baptism 4 Aug 1860 pg.158

See how Margaret being 5 years old is a problem? (Also shows why we can’t make assumptions about relationships in these early census records.) Ideally I need to find her baptism record. Where do I begin? It’s a good bet she really was born in Pennsylvania, that narrows it some. Where was John Smith in 1850? This new theory means I don’t have to rule out men who are married. I think I can rule out for now men who have established families. I found one candidate who has a birth year in the right range.

Possible 1850 Census for John Smith.
Possible 1850 Census for John Smith.

It’s fairly obvious why I like this record. John Smith appears to be married to someone named Mary who is six years younger than he is in a household headed by William J McIntyre.5 I would have preferred his occupation to have been machinist instead of merchant. And this still leaves the question: If he was remarried, why isn’t the three-year-old Richard living with them? Him living with a McIntyre is pretty tempting. Oh how I wish Elizabeth McIntyre appeared somewhere, anywhere in the 1850 census. This Mary might be her sister. Elizabeth’s later census records state she came to America in 1850. I have not found her yet.

Whoever is Margaret’s mother, it seems clear that John is her father, and he did not abandon his children. He kept them together in a cohesive unit and continued to provide for them until his death in 1875. He named all five in his Will.6

John Smith names all five children in his Will.
John Smith names all five children in his Will.

My new theory gives me options of where to look for more information about this family. It also might explain why Mary, Anna and Agnes, according to my Uncle, never ever spoke of Margaret or Richard. Richard was certainly a half-sibling; Margaret might have been, too. Maybe the girls didn’t feel kinship toward them. I certainly have my work cut out for me trying to answer these questions.


1Zimmerman, E. (1999). St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania : Baptisms (1818-1886), marriages (1819-1874), confirmations (1835). Apollo, Pennsylvania: Closson Press, pg 24 of the marriage section.

21910 US Census, Missouri, Buchanan, St Joseph, ED 55, p 5A, ln 43

31850 US Census, Pennsylvania, Berks, Reading, NE Ward, pg 193A, ln 1

41860 US Census, Pennsylvania, Berks, Spruce Ward, p 998 ln 36

51850 US Census, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, North Ward, p 245B, ln 4

6 Nodaway County, Missouri Probate Records, Will Book C pg 147