Monday, November 30, 2009

COG 85: Orphans and Orphans

This article is written for the 85th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy hosted by Greta's Genealogy Bog.

It all started with seven names written on a piece of paper:

Zerlinda Jane Pitts born 11 Mar 1854 (Bert's mother)
Joseph Anderson Pitts born 26 Feb 1855
Ruth Ann Pitts born 12 Mar 1856
James Marion Pitts born 5 Apr 1857
Nathan Rich born 29 Apr 1861
Dora Clark born 10 Jan 1865
Nora B Yisley born 5 Jun 1872

Who are they? And better yet, how do they relate to me?

My paternal grandmother gave me this piece of paper along with many others related to her family's history shortly after my marriage a dozen years ago. When we talked about this particular paper, she told me she thought Zerlinda Jane Pitts was her grandmother on her father's side (her father was Bert which I already knew). She assumed the other three Pitts' were siblings but Nathan, Dora and Nora were a mystery.

I knew that Zerlinda Jane typically went by Jennie (wouldn't you if your name was Zerlinda?) based upon the census records after she married Conrad Coons Scott. I can't list the countless searches I did of online census records looking for a Jennie Pitts. Then I switched to Zerlinda and still nothing. I continued searching on Joseph, Ruth, and finally James. That gave me on hit: a James Pitts in the 1860 census in Oskaloosa, Jefferson, Kansas. James was 3, Cylinda was age 6, and Medina was 27. I already knew that my grandma's family had ties to Jefferson and Johnson counties in Kansas so this was a very likely possibility. And I could also see how Zerlinda could be butchered by a census taker into Cylinda. But where was Ruth and Joseph and what about a father?

As time went on, I managed to piece together the pieces of a sad, sad tale. Medina Scherer (alternately spelled Sherer or Shearer) married Absalom Stroud Pitts on the 10th of July 1853 in Lee County, Iowa. They had four children, as listed above: Zerlinda, Joseph, Ruth and James. Tragedy struck the young Pitts family not once, not twice, but three times in a short two-year period. Joseph died in April 1856, Absalom in August 1857 and Ruth in September 1857 just three short weeks later.

How Medina ended up with her two remaining children in Jefferson Co, Kansas from Lee Co, Iowa is not known, but it's safe to say the next few years were very eventful for her and her two young children. The 1860 census that I referred to above was taken on the 26 July 1860. According to another researcher Medina married James Rich on 29 July 1860 in Oskaloosa. James Rich can be found in the Mission Creek, Waubaunsee, Kansas census taken 24 July 1860 with Medina age 30, Jane age 6 and Wm age 3. Did James list Medina and the children before they had actually moved in and he got their names and ages wrong? Or were Medina and the children already living there prior to the marriage? I tend to think the first one is more likely as Medina is listed on her own in Oskaloosa days before the marriage and that an overzealous James listed household members that had yet to move in. Medina and James had one son, Nathan Samuel Rich born 29 April 1861, before tragedy struck yet again. James died in 1861 as a result of injuries sustained while digging a well supposedly near the Kansas State Capital grounds.

Medina married yet a third time to Samuel Hamilton Clark on 7 Mar 1865. They had one daughter, Dora, born 10 Jan 1865. From what I understand those dates are correct meaning that their daughter Dora was born nearly two months prior to their marriage. I don't know what happened to Samuel but likely by 1869, Medina and children were living in Nodaway Co, Missouri. One researcher shared the tidbit that Medina left Samuel and noted their divorce was finalized 30 Nov 1870.

Medina married for a final time to widower David Yeisley in December 1870 in Nodaway Co, Missouri. Medina and David had two children: Nora B in 1872 and Walter in 1875. Medina and David are buried at Swinford Cemetery, Nodaway Co, Missouri. A descendant provided their headstone photo on Find A Grave.

So where did my great-great-grandmother, Zerlinda Jane "Jennie" Pitts, go in all this shuffle? On 8 Aug 1869 at the age of 15, Jennie married Conrad Coons Scott in Nodaway Co, Missouri. By this time, she had lost two full-blood siblings, her father Absalom, her first step-father James Rich, and it appears her mother Medina was already on the outs with Jennie's second step-father Samuel Clark. It should also be noted that James Pitts, Nathan Rich, Dora Clark, as well as Nora and Walter Yeisley all went on to live fairly long lives, married and had children. But Jennie was the oldest of all the children and she saw it all unravel.

When I first began researching Conrad and Jennie, I always wondered why she married at age 15 to someone who was nine years her senior. After researching her mother's life, I finally found some answers. Even though Jennie wasn't a true orphan in that she didn't lose BOTH biological parents, there was clearly enough instability in her early years that hope for a good and stable marriage must have pushed her to it at such a young age. She had better luck than her mother. Jennie and Conrad were married for 35 years until his death in 1904 in Desoto, Johnson, Kansas. She passed away two years later in Loring, Wyandotte, Kansas. They had six children of which at least three lived to adulthood.

With thanks to researchers Dave W. and Mel C. for sharing some of the above information with me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The D.A.R. Jackpot

The Daughters of the American Revolution announced this week that after a decade-long effort to digitize their records they are now available online. I have known for quite some time of the possibility of a couple of Patriot ancestors but haven't quite gotten around to proving without a doubt that I am a descendant.

So out of curiosity, I went to their research site and entered searches on a few names. I first searched for Isaac Grindstaff born in 1754 and served from North Carolina. He is a proven Patriot and my good online friend Anita recently entered DAR through him. I need to make one final connection before I would have adequate proof. My line is as follows: me, my father, Lee McNeill, Della Grindstaff, Rev. Isaac Grindstaff, Henry Grindstaff OR alternatively me, my father, Lee McNeill, Charles McNeill, Margaret Ledford, Clarissa Grindstaff. What I still need to prove is that Henry and Clarissa's father is Isaac Grindstaff b. 1774/6, who is a known son of Isaac b. 1754.

I went to the Ancestor Search option and what I found was a list of six members that have proven ancestor from Isaac Grindstaff b. 1754. It lists the child they descend from and three of those six descend from Isaac Grindstaff b. 1774/6 and his second wife, Prudence Ledford. I believe I descend from his first wife, Sally or Sarah Hart.

My other known Patriot ancestor is Henry Woody of Virginia. There were 10 members descended from him. The line is me, my father, Lee McNeill, Della Grindstaff, Mary Jane Woody, William Woody, Josiah Woody, and Wyatt Woody who is the son of Henry. I didn't see any members listing Wyatt as their descendant, but rather his siblings John, Randolph, and Susannah B.

However, the real "jackpot" came when I searched for an Isaac Harmon of Massachusetts using the Descendant Search. This search looks for all matches of any descendants listed on the application rather than just the Patriot themselves. I am reasonably certain my ancestor Walter Harmon b 1798 in Tyringham, Berkshire, Massachusetts is the eldest child of Isaac Harmon (1774-1849) and Mary "Polly" Rawson. The line is me, my mother, Fred Harmon, Edward Harmon, Walter Harmon, Porter Harmon, and Walter Harmon b. 1798.

The Descendant Search enabled me to view the descendants of the Patriots and I was very surprised to see Isaac b. 1774 listed as a child of the Patriot Soldier Isaac Harmon b. 1751. I had no idea Isaac Harmon b. 1751 was a soldier, but 12 women have been able to attain membership with him as their Patriot. So that means I need to continue to pursue proving Walter Harmon b. 1798 is the son of Isaac Harmon b. 1774. I have found a birth record for Walter but want to verify there are no other possible Walters that could be confused with mine. As you can see this family liked to use the same names over and over.

So I'm off to search the Family History Catalog to see what films I need to order.....and to start getting my application in order.

And I hadn't realized how many Isaacs I actually descend from.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thomas Howell and Piety Wilson

Thomas Howell and Piety Wilson are my 4th great-grandparents. I have previously written about their daughter, Jane Howell, who is my 3rd-great grandmother and her husband Archibald McNeill.

Thomas Howell was born about 1805 in Tennessee, the son of James Howell and Martha "Patty" Hill. Piety Wilson was born about 1804-1805 in North Carolina. She may have been the daughter of John Wilson. Thomas and Piety married about 1823 in Burke Co, North Carolina. Thomas and family can be found in the 1850 and 1860 Yancey Co, North Carolina census. In 1870, Thomas and Piety can be found in Snow Creek township, Mitchell Co, North Carolina census. By 1880, Thomas is still in Snow Creek and living with his second wife, Eliza, and his children from that relationship: Saunders, McWilliam, Elmira, Minnie and Melvina.

Piety died in 1874 and Thomas died 22 Jan 1891. Both are buried at Gouge Cemetery, Mitchell Co, North Carolina.

They had the following children:
  • Nancy Ann born abt 1824, married Henry Gilbert Silver
  • John D born abt 1830, died 19 July 1862 in Richmond while serving in the Civil War. He married Sarah Wilson and had four children.
  • James C born abt 1832
  • Martha born abt 1833
  • Mary born abt 1835
  • Elizabeth M born abt 1837
  • Jane E (my ancestor) born abt 1841, married Archibald H. McNeill, died Nov 1862.
  • Robert Pinkney born abt 1844. He also served in the Civil War.

Thomas is probably my most "colorful" ancestor. He is well-known to have several illegitimate children with more than one woman. Prior to Piety's death, he had several children with Eliza Tolley. whom he married following Piety's death. It is possible that Eliza may have been his niece, her mother possibly being Thomas' sister. However, I have not confirmed that fact.

Besides farming, Thomas was also known to be a blacksmith. I suspect that his grandson, Robert Nelson McNeill, may have learned the blacksmith trade from Thomas. Based upon review of Archibald McNeill's Union pension documents, it appears that Archibald remained close with his first father-in-law after the death of Jane Howell McNeill.

My dear online friend and cousin-in-law, H. McKinney, took the following photos of Thomas and Piety's headstones at Gouge Cemetery, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. As you can see, weather has taken it's toll on them. More recent memorial stones have been placed below the original headstones.

If you are related to Thomas Howell or Piety Wilson, please contact me. I would love to share information.

Sources available upon request.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - Isaac Grindstaff and Prudence Ledford

Headstone photos of my fourth great-grandfather Isaac Grindstaff (1774/6 - 1866) and his second wife Prudence Ledford (1812-1883). They are buried at Bakersville Cemetery in Bakersville, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. I believe this cemetery may have been originally called Grindstaff Cemetery because so many of the Grindstaffs are buried there. I understand there are two sections to this cemetery, one farther up the hill than the other. This photo was taken by my dear online friend and distant Grindstaff cousin, Anita Wages.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - Isaac and Mary Woody Grindstaff

Headstone of my second great-grandparents, Isaac Grindstaff (1852-1936) and Mary Woody (1853-1946). They are buried at Mine Creek Cemetery in Mitchell Co, North Carolina. Isaac was a preacher at Mine Creek Church. This photo was taken by my dear online friend and distant Grindstaff cousin, Anita Wages.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Noah Ledford and Clarissa Grindstaff

Noah Ledford and Clarissa Grindstaff are my 3rd great-grandparents. I have previously written about their daughter and my ancestor, Margaret Ledford, and her husband Robert Nelson McNeill.

Noah Ledford was born about 1813 in North Carolina, the son of Frederick Ledford and Prudence Curtis. The Ledford line may have come from Virginia and before that in England. This is unconfirmed information at the time of this writing. Clarissa Grindstaff was born about 1822 to Isaac Grindstaff and his first wife Sarah Hart. The Grindstaff line was of German ancestry and the original spelling was something along the lines of Crantzdorf, though I also have seen it with a K rather than the C spelling.

Noah and Clarissa were married about 1837 or 1838, likely in Yancey Co, North Carolina. They had the following children (dates are approximate):

  • Prudence C (1839-1919) married John Kenneth Deane

  • Isaac Leander (1840-?) married a Selena E and remained in the Mitchell and Yancey areas

  • Sarah C( 1841-1893) married to David Ralph Silvers

  • John (1843-?) married Mary Lowery and remained in the Mitchell Co area through at least 1900

  • William Taylor (8 Aug 1848-13 Jul 1920) married Matilda Pannell Young. He died at Ledger, Mitchell Co. and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery which is presumably in Mitchell Co.

  • Margaret, my ancestor (1848-1927) Information on her family may be found here.

  • Elizabeth (1850-2 Jun 1917) married Joe Pitman and died in Avery Co, North Carolina. She is buried in a "home grave yard" according to her death certificate.

  • Henry (1853-1900) supposedly married twice to Jennie Johnson and Darcus Jones

  • Phebey (1853-?) and may have married Anderson Pitman

  • Curtis Allen (May 1858-9 Feb 1945)

  • Clarissa Lucinda (19 Feb 1859-22 Mar 1949) married John Lenarde Young and is buried at Lily Branch cemetery in Mitchell Co, North Carolina

  • Hazy C (1864-?)

  • Harriet C (1866-1926) may have married a Clate Deane

Noah, Clarissa and children can be found in the 1850 Yancey Co, North Carolina census. In 1860, they are at Ledger again in Yancey Co. In 1870 they are no where to be found. I have done a page by page search of the Snow Creek township in Mitchell Co. where he is located in 1880 and never located him. Endless searches on have also been fruitless.

Online trees indicate Noah died 23 Jan 1895. However, there is no source nor a cemetery listed. I had communicated with an individual who had much of the same information I had as listed above, but she had no indication of a source for the death date. It is unknown when Clarissa died but it was some time after 1900 when she is found in the Snow Creek, Mitchell Co, North Carolina census living with her son Curtis.

Ledford is still a very common name in Mitchell and Yancey counties as these early lines were very prolific. If you can share additional information with me, I'd be most appreciative. I can be reached by clicking on the contact button on the left side of the blog.

Sources are available upon request.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Siblings of Hector McNeill

In my last post, I wrote about my 4th great-grandfather, Hector McNeill. After extensive examination of the 1850 to 1880 Yancey County, North Carolina censuses, I have been able to determine the siblings of Hector McNeill. I have hopes this analysis will help me work towards determining Hector's parents.


1850 - Hector, age 33, is living in Yancey Co. with his children and John age 45. Next door is Nancy Cox age 32 married to David with several children in the home as well as a Margaret McNeal age 30. All indicate they were born in North Carolina.

1860 - Hector, age 45, is living in Yancey Co. with his children John, Sarah J., and James, as well as John age 60. Another son and my ancestor, Arch McNeal is living next door with wife Jane and son Robert N. Next door to Arch is a widowed Nancy Cox with nine children, seven of which were listed in the 1850 census, Margaret McNeal age 35 and Elizabeth McNeal age 11. This Elizabeth McNeal appears to be the youngest child of Hector and the late wife Betty. Again, it appears all of these individuals were born in North Carolina.

1870 - Hector, age 55, is living in Crabtree Township, Yancey Co. with his second wife Martha Gouge and his daughter Jane, which I think may be Sarah Jane. He is again living next door to Nancy Cox age 55, Margaret age 52, eight children of Nancy's, and Elizabeth McNeill age 21. Part of the problem in this census year is that all members of the Nancy Cox household are listed under the surname Cox. However, it appears evident based upon the ages of Margaret and Elizabeth that they are both the same people as found in 1850 and 1860. Again in this census year all are indicated to have been born in North Carolina.

1880 - This census year focuses on four households with the head of household as follows: Harmon Cox, John Cox, Hector McNeal, and Edmond Cox. It should also be noted that John McNeill does not appear in any of these households and I was unable to locate him in the 1880 census.

First, Harmon Cox is listed in 1850 as a child of David and Nancy McNeill Cox and in Nancy's household in 1860. In 1870, he is married and living adjacent to Hector McNeill. In 1880, Harmon is married with four children. His birthplace is listed as North Carolina, his father born in North Carolina and his mother (the late Nancy McNeill Cox) born in what I think says South Carolina.

Second, John Cox is listed as a child in the household of David and Nancy McNeill Cox in 1850, and in Nancy's household in 1860 and 1870. In 1880, John is age 36 and the head of household. Listed in his household is Margaret McNeal age 66 listed as his aunt. Five of his siblings are listed as such and are the same individuals listed in prior census years living with their mother Nancy. Eliza McNeal, age 26, is listed as a cousin to the head of household, John. John is also listed as born in North Carolina. He contradicts his brother Harmon and says that his mother Nancy was born in North Carolina. Margaret McNeal is listed as born in North Carolina, as well as both her parents. However, because she is just one of the many listed in the household I don't hold much credence to this being completely accurate. The census taker may have just been filling in the ditto marks down the column.

Third, Hector McNeal is listed as age 72 with his second wife Martha, age 50. Hector lists his birth place as North Carolina, his father birth place as Scotland and there is a big smudge over the mother's birth place, but it appears the beginning letters may be Sc which would indicate Scotland. Also, Martha is listed below Hector and rather than ditto marks for her mother's birth place, NC has been written in. That to me indicates that something other than NC was listed as Hector's mother's birth place.

Lastly, Edmond Cox is listed as age 45 with a wife Martha. In 1850, Edmond was listed as a child in the David and Nancy Cox household. He is listed as a child in the 1860 and 1870 households of Nancy Cox. Edmond lists his birth place as North Carolina as well as for his parents, which again contradicts his brother Harmon's listing of South Carolina.

The final piece of evidence for 1880 is the Mortality Schedule from the U.S. Census for Crabtree, Yancey Co, North Carolina. Nancy Cox, age 68, is listed as having died in July 1879 of dropsy. She is listed as born in North Carolina, her father in Scotland, and her mother in North Carolina.

Based upon the above analysis, I have determined the following McNeill siblings and their children:

John McNeill born 1799-1805 in North Carolina. Either moved away or died by 1870. While I have found no concrete evidence listing him as a sibling to Hector, his living in Hector's household for both the 1850 and 1860 census years leads me to believe they are brothers.

Nancy McNeill born 1815-1818 in North Carolina or possibly in South Carolina, married to David Cox. It is possible that Nancy's father was born in Scotland.

Nancy and David had the following children:
Edmond born abt 1835
Mary born abt 1837
Harmon or Harmond born abt 1839
Sarah A born abt 1841
John born abt 1843
Margaret born abt 1844
Olive or Ollie born abt 1847
Hannah born abt 1850
Isaac born abt 1853

Hector McNeill born between 1808-1817 likely in North Carolina. He died some time after 1880. Both his parents may have been born in Scotland. See this post for information on Hector's children.

Margaret McNeill born between 1814-1825 likely in North Carolina.

Because Margaret is listed as an aunt to Nancy's son John Cox in the 1880 census, I reasonably believe Margaret and Nancy are siblings. Additionally because Elizabeth McNeill is listed as a cousin to John Cox in the 1880 census and she is a known child of Hector, I feel comfortable linking Nancy, Margaret and Hector as siblings.

If you have any connections or further information on the McNeill or Cox families, I would love to hear from you. Please use the contact button on the left side of the blog.

Sources are available upon request.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hector McNeill and Betty Presnell

Hector McNeill and his wife Betty Presnell (or perhaps Pressley) are my 4th great-grandparents. Hector McNeill was born some time between 1808 and 1817. Alas, he is one of my ancestors that does not age a decade with each census. According to the 1850 Yancey Co, North Carolina census, he would have been born in 1817. Both 1860 and 1870 have him born in 1815 and from out in left field, the 1880 census lists him as 72 years old which equates to 1808. So therefore I use the age range, though I likely suspect it was probably in the 1815-1817 range.

Hector wasn't listed in a Yancey or Burke county census prior to 1850, nor can I find any other McNeill, though it is likely he was there. He is estimated to have married Betty Presnell in the mid-1830s as their first child was born about 1836 and said to have been born in Burke Co. (later Yancey), North Carolina.

Hector and Betty had the following children:

1. Daniel born abt 1836 - died 9 May 1862 Ashland, Virginia while serving in Co E 6th NC Infantry

2. Archibald (my ancestor) born 1838 - died 31 Jul 1886 Mitchell Co, NC

3. John born 3 Jan 1841 - died 26 Nov 1935 South Toe, Yancey Co, NC

4. Alexander L born abt 1842 - died 13 Mar 1924 Asotin Co, Washington

5. Sarah J. born abt 1844

6. James born 1846 - died 21 May 1926 Asotin Co, Washington

7. Elizabeth born 2 Apr 1849 - died abt 1934 in Virginia

A descendant of Elizabeth provided me with her exact birthdate and the information that the day after Elizabeth was born her mother Betty died (3 Apr 1849) presumably as a result of complications related to childbirth.

The book Cabins in the Laurel by Muriel Earley Shephard details a story about Hector's second wedding in a chapter entitled "A Burnt Mountain Wedding". Hector married Martha (Patty) Gouge on Christmas Eve some time during the 1860s. The story recounts his rapid walk over the snow-covered mountain to get there on time as well as the revelry (i.e. imbibing) that took place.

I have no record of Hector's death date, though it occurred sometime after 1880. A dear online friend and cousin-in-law has been kind enough to share some photos of a memorial marker at the Gouge Cemetery in Mitchell Co, North Carolina. Her family, the Gouges, believes that Martha Gouge McNeill is buried at that cemetery and believe that Hector may be with her. To honor their memories, a marker has been installed at that cemetery. She has given me permission to include a photo here and also to allow me to post them at Find-A-Grave.

Additionally I do not know who Hector's parents were. Family lore indicates a McNeill came to Camden, South Carolina in 1760 with a three year old son Neill. That Neill would marry another another passenger on the (as of yet unknown) ship by the name of McMillan or McMillian. The story goes that those are the parents of Hector. So assuming that Hector was born about 1815, it seems more likely that this Neill and wife McMillan may be grandparents to Hector, not his parents. However, I've yet to come across anything to indicate who Hector's parents may have been nor have I found a Neill McNeill that married a McMillan in any online trees. Alas, the hunt continues.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Silver Chapel Baptist church and cemetery

View of the Silver Chapel Baptist church and cemetery from the old McNeill home place in Bandana, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. Photo taken by my dear online friend and cousin-in-law, H. McKinney in November 2004.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - Robert and Margaret Ledford McNeill

Headstone of my great-great-grandparents, Robert McNeill and Margaret Ledford. This is the only "evidence" I have that Margaret died in 1927. I have tried unsuccessfully obtaining a death certificate from the State of North Carolina as well as from Mitchell County (where she is buried) and Buncombe County (where the family lived by 1930 but could have been only after her death). Robert and Margaret are buried at Silver Chapel Baptist Cemetery in Bandana, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. This photo was taken by my dear online friend and cousin-in-law, H. McKinney in November 2004.