Crumbling Brick Walls

Dead ends or brick walls are common frustrations for family historians. We are constantly picking away at the walls, hoping each time we will make a new discovery. For example, I had heard stories that one person on my tree had spent time in an orphanage. The 1940 census listed the individual as living with a grandparent and a woman listed as her daughter. Based on what information I had, I knew the woman was not the individual’s mother. Three siblings were also listed, though they youngest, an infant, was incorrectly listed as a daughter of the grandmother. I found the orphanage online and was able to obtain records of the parents’ names and why the person was placed in the orphanage. Not only did I correct information, but my “wall” moved back a generation.

One of my favorite resources are cemeteries. My grandfather used to take me “graveyard hopping” around Haywood County, North Carolina. At each cemetery, I would photograph graves of any surname I recognized from my research. As I can, each photograph will be attached to the individual on my tree and cemetery or memorial websites. is one such site. While researching my father’s side, I found an individual who had researched Higginbotham graves in West Virginia. This individual had not only photographed cemeteries, but included death certificates and obituaries. Often the memorials on FindAGrave only list what information is on the grave marker. Mr. Higginbotham’s information allowed me to verify familial connections and provided details that allowed me to add new families.

This blog was originally published on on May 29, 2014.

Untangling the Families of William Lea (1682-1784?)

Note:  This blog was originally published at

It did not take much time to untangle mystery of William Lea and his 27 children.  As I suspected, the family trees of William and his siblings are intermixed.  Thanks to another DNA match and researcher, I was able to discover information that not only allows me to correct my family tree, but also leads to at least 3 presidents.

The Families of William Lea (1682-1784): Did he really have 27 children?

I was reviewing DNA matches for my family tree when I came across a conundrum.  While I shared a common ancestor with one individual, the previous ancestors did not match.  The more I researched, the more confusing the lineage became.

My 5th great grandfather, Benjamin Wilson Clark (1730-1806) married a woman named Elizabeth Lee.  According to what I have found, Benjamin lived and died in Culpepper, Virginia.  Elizabeth’s parents are William Lea (1710-1770) and Rachel Ambrose (1710-1770); William’s parents are William Lea (1682-1784) and Ann Taylor (1684-1731) who may have been married in 1699 when they were 17 and 15 respectively.  Some of the trees on Ancestry also listed Frances Major (1688-1784) as William’s wife with a marriage date of 1705.  William would have been 21 and Frances would have been 17.

When I was trying to verify the second wife, Frances Major, I noticed major discrepancies in the children.  (In one tree, William appears as his own first child.)  This is not uncommon in early colonial research as jurisdictions may not have kept official records.  Researchers, therefore, often do not have supporting documentation such as marriage or birth records.  The hints on for William (1682) are primarily from family records.  Not one “official” record is listed.  It is because of such errors that I look at official records first before adding the family trees.

It will take some time, much research, and a concerted effort to untangle the families of William Lea (1682).  Help from descendants of Lea/Lee families, especially anyone in Virginia who can search county and state archives would be appreciated. I will post the correct information as I find it.

The following is a list of William Lea’s children from the combined Ancestry trees according the year of birth and the name of the child’s mother.

  1. Francis (1701-1766) – Ann
  2. Catherine (1702-1750) – Ann
  3. Annis (1705- ) – Ann
  4. James (1706-1792) – Ann
  5. Elizabeth (1708-1803 – Frances
  6. Sarah (1708-1768) – Frances
  7. Elizabeth (1709-1750) – Ann
  8. William (1710-1770) or (1710-1764) – Ann
  9. James (1714- ) – Ann
  10. Sarah (1714-1783) – Frances
  11. James (1715-1792) – Frances
  12. Sarah (1715-1783?)  – Ann/Frances
  13. James (1718-1788) – Frances
  14. John (1720-1781) – Frances
  15. Elizabeth (1722-1803) – Frances
  16. Francis Wainwright (1726-1766) – Frances
  17. John Gabriel (1726-1781) – Frances
  18. William (1733-1794) – Frances
  19. Isabella (1735-1796) – Ann/Frances
  20. Nancy (1736- ) – Ann/Frances
  21. Luke (1739-1813) – Ann/Frances
  22. Frances (1741-1804) – Ann
  23. Eunice (1761-1816) – Ann
  24. George (1765- ) – Frances
  25. Annis (1767- ) – Frances
  26. John (1783- ) – Frances
  27. Frances (1802- ) – Frances


  1. William and Ann’s first seven children are born over a 14  year period from 1701-1715).  This does not support a second marriage to Frances Major in 1705.
  2. The first two (twin girls?) of William and Frances’ children are born in 1708.  However, the next child  is not born until 1714 or 1715.
  3. Children are born to mother after child-bearing age (about 1738) or the mother’s death.
  4. There are gaps between birth years that possibly indicate generations.  For example, between Frances (b. 1741) and Eunice (b. 1761) or between Annis (b. 1767) and John (1783).

Changing History

I have reading multiple articles and postings related to the scrubbing of American history of offensive items – specifically the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (mistakenly called the Confederate flag) and anything related to the Confederate States of America.  One columnist has even suggested banning the movie “Gone with the Wind.”  It saddens me that so many know so little about American history.

I am a proud American, with roots all over this great nation.  My family can trace my roots back to the New Netherlands colony (now New York).  Our ancestor was probably the first individual of mixed ancestry in the colony when he moved here from Salee, Morocco, in 1629. Many ancestors and relatives have fought in most military campaigns since the founding of this country.  I have direct ancestors who fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War.  One direct ancestor died in a Union POW camp nicknamed “80 Acres of Hell.”  Asbury Glenn Pless, a Confederate soldier, is buried in what has been called the largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere.  I also have relatives who fought for both sides of the War, first the Confederacy and then the Union.  No one can deny that atrocities were committed by both sides.  Those who fought in the war did not for their own reasons, most often for the right of self-determination, or States’ Rights.  However, their descendants should not be held responsible for their actions.  If we are honest, the Civil War illustrates how extreme philosophies and refusal to compromise on both sides almost destroyed this nation.  Sounds a little familiar.

History is history. It is composed of events that bring both great pride and great shame to the human race.  To erase the parts we do not like is to repeat the horrific mistakes our ancestors made.  People with evil intentions will cloak themselves in symbols to excuse their actions.  It is how a symbol meaning good fortune now represents the holocaust of 11 million people. Some individuals who commit heinous crimes have mental illnesses; others have been taught to hate and that hate has clouded all perceptions of right and wrong.  Instead of addressing what is really wrong, it is easier to blame and erase the past.  If the trend continues, everything we genealogists do may be erased, too.

DNA Surpises

I recently had my DNA tested for ethnicity.  It confirmed the majority of my genealogical research and the prior DNA tests for my parents, yet there were surprises.

I am 99% European.   No surprise there.  My research has taken me back to Ireland, Scotland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany.  The majority of my DNA (87%) is estimated to come from three groups: Great Britain, Scandinavia, and Ireland.  It was in the trace amounts – and what was not present – that held some surprises.

What was not present was Native American.  On my mother’s side, we have family stories of Cherokee ancestry.  I have found one distant relative, my 7th great-grandmother, who was said to be full Cherokee. There are two explanations: either it really is not there or it skipped me.  I have to wait until other relatives are tested to see which is true.

On my father’s side, I had traced one line back to a man named Jan Jansen (also Janzen or Jansoon) van Haarlem, my 12th great-grandfather.  Van Haarlem was a Dutch privateer from Haarlem, North Holland in the Netherlands.  He was captured by Turks. converted to Islam, and was later governor of Sale, Morocco.  According to most stories I have found on him and his son , Antony van Salee, I knew that van Haarlem had children with a Moroccan or Moorish woman.  Therefore, I was not surprised to see the trace amounts for North Africa (>1%) and the Iberian Peninsula (5%) even though 15 generations separate us.

What did surprise me was the remaining trace ethnic groups:  Europe East (2%), Italy/Greece (2%), and European Jewish (2%).  According to, “Europe East” expands from the Baltic Sea in the north to Greece in the south; from Germany in the west and Russia to the East.  European Jewish covers all of Europe, yet I have found no records to indicate any of my ancestors were Jewish.  Through my research, I have traced ancestors back to Germany, yet I have found no records to support these trace amounts.  I do not know if I will ever find the exact ancestor that leads me to each of these regions, but I will be looking.  I hope to test other family members soon to see what their DNA says.  I wonder what surprises are hidden in each of theirs.

Every Life Tells a Story

As a family historian, there are many things I can research online and on paper.  I can find birth and death certificates, land deeds, wills, and many other local, state, and federal records.  What is more difficult to find are the personal stories.  The farther back we go as researchers the less likely it is we will find personal accounts of our ancestors’ lives.  We may draw some conclusions from the timeframe in which the individual lived, but not the details of daily live.  If we are lucky, we might locate family Bibles, journals, or letters.

Now, it seems that many people share every little detail of their lives online.  Social media has replaced journals, letters, and, perhaps, even email.  Don’t get me wrong:  I do use social media, but more to share ideas and to stay in contact with family and friends.   Sharing personal details on line is much too risky.  Yet, there are ways we can safely share details of our lives with our family and descendants.   One individual I know is writing a personal history for his children and grandchildren, thus preserving the details of his live for generations to come.

As a researcher, I am also in the process or recording the details I have learned about the people on my family tree.  The facts about each life are important, but they tell only a part of the story.   Each person on our family trees has a story to tell that is important.  It does not matter if they were rich or poor.  What is important is how they lived their lives; their choices – good and bad – and responses to the events they experienced contributed to the lives we live.  While some truths might need to be kept secret to protect family members, it is important that we record what we know and what has been handed down in family stories.  Both facts and stories should be documented.  What cannot be proven should be attributed to oral history or tradition.  Provide an in text reference to the source as well as a list of sources at the end of each document.  (Some genealogical and family history societies provide formats for formal documentation.)

Note:  Family historians, though not only record the history of individuals but history.  When documenting when and where a person lived, accuracy is important.  Most states have web sites which provide information when counties were established.  (Wikipedia has county lists for each state, but be sure to verify the information provided.)  This information is worth printing as a reference.

New Year’s Resolutions

Is it a tradition in your family to make New Year’s resolutions?  I have never made them.  New Year’s for me is more than making resolutions that I probably won’t keep.  Instead, I like to focus on the celebration and the opportunities that a new year brings.  One tradition I try to keep is celebrating with the whole world.  I love following the start of the year in each time zone until it reaches the one in which I live.  New Year’s is one of the few times that we celebrate being human.  If even for a few short hours, there is hope.

This year, I am going to make at least two resolutions.  One of them is to become a certified genealogist.  It is not going to be easy, but it is something I have wanted for a long time.  Yet, as much research as I have done, I don’t know where to start.  How do we turn a hobby – even an obsession – into a profession? 

The Board for Certification of Genealogists has strict requirements (click here to see if you are ready).  As any good teacher or researcher will tell you, it’s best to take it one step at a time.  

My first step is to determine how long I have been “intensely doing genealogical research, writing, and compiling.”  I have been researching since I was at least 10 years old when my mother took us to the National Archives in Washington, DC, to locate census records on microfilm.  Most of my current research is done online as I am researching out of state.  My list of courthouses, archives, and historical societies I need to visit is long.  I have researched and compiled, even creating my own forms.  (Please email me if you would like a copy.)  It is now time to write.

If you are a certified genealogist, what tips would you give to us?  Which are the best national societies to join?  What are the best conferences to attend?  I know I would appreciate your advice.

Happy New Year!


It’s been a long while since I last posted, so I thought I would take advantage of a snowy day. This is the 3rd day in a week that the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast has had snow. I love the beauty and the quiet.

This year, Christmas has taken on a more somber tone as we, like others, have experienced the loss of several loved ones. Being a military family, we often spent Christmas away from grandparents and our extended family.  When we can’t be together, we trade phone calls and share a little bit of Christmas together.   I hope this is a tradition we never lose as it is made sweeter through our losses.

Christmas in our house is not “official” until I set up the Nativity.  It is the first decoration each year.  This year I started a new tradition (I hope) by making gifts.  They are not elaborate, but making them allows me to focus on the individual instead of searching stores and fighting crowds.  Making the gifts has also brought back some of the joy of the season.  I am reminded of simpler times when Christmas was special.  Another tradition I enjoy is one my mother started.  Each year, she gives all of us a White House ornament.  I look forward to opening the box and seeing the beautifully crafted ornament celebrating a part of American history.  When decorating the tree, they are among the first to be hung.

What are the special Christmas traditions in your family?  Remember to include the traditions in your family history records and Christmas albums.  Tell the story of each special tradition, gift, ornament, and religious observance.  In our traditions, we are able to celebrate with those we love – both the ones we lost and the ones we hold dear each day.