Category Archives: Genealogy

There must have been a law that men had to wear mustaches

my greats

Remember this bit of narration at the start of Johnny Dangerously?

Immigrants poured in from all over the world, looking for a better life. Over 97 percent of them settled in a two-block area of New York City. There was a law that said that immigrants who wanted citizenship… had to stay out of their apartments and walk around the streets, with hats on.

Well, apparently at about that same time or a little earlier — say, the 1890s — there was a law even more strictly enforced than the one about hats, and it didn’t just cover immigrants.

It just struck me the other day that all four of my great-grandfathers had rather prominent mustaches (above). There was a serious lack of variety in approaches to grooming at that time. None of them had beards, none were clean-shaven — just big, sometimes carefully waxed, mustaches. I conclude that that was the heighth of fashion in South Carolina and Maryland.stache

But wait — it was the case in Tennessee, as well, as I see from the three out of four of my wife’s great-grandfathers that I have pictures of (below). Maybe it was a federal law.

For a time — throughout the ’70s — I followed my forebears’ fashion lead, as you can see at right.

It’s a silly little detail, but I wonder — was there ever another time in which men’s look was that standardized?

Js greats




Not that I told you so, but… No, scratch that: I TOLD you so!


Remember when Catherine Templeton suggested (but didn’t actually say, mind you) that her pride in the Confederacy was OK because her ancestors didn’t own slaves?

And remember that I said, based upon my obsessive research of my own family tree, that that is virtually impossible? As I put it, “If you’re a white Southerner and you think your ancestors owned no slaves, you should probably dig a little deeper.”

You shouldn’t make that claim because the math is against you, if your ancestors were white Southerners — and especially if they lived in South Carolina. You had dozens of direct ancestors in the first half of the 19th century alone (16 great-great grandparents, 32 great-great-greats, 64 the generation before that) — loads and loads of people who didn’t know each other, and most of whom you probably don’t know about. And in those days, almost half of white South Carolinians (46 percent) owned slaves. It’s really unlikely that a diligent genealogical searcher makes it through that minefield without his self-righteous notion that his ancestors were innocent of owning other people being blown to smithereens.

And now, there’s this:

South Carolina governor candidate says she was unaware her ancestor owned dozens of slaves

The story is actually not as clear as I’d like it to be as to how Ms. Templeton is related to Hiram Clark Brawley, the owner of those 66 slaves. He’s the father of Judge William Brawley, after whom she has said her father is named (Brawley is her maiden name). But that doesn’t say he was a direct ancestor, or anything, really. (When I read stories this vague on essential details, I want to grab the editor responsible and shake him.)

But it would appear that the Templeton campaign isn’t denying he was an ancestor. The candidate’s response is to try to move on: “This campaign is about the future, not about the past.” Which I suppose means we won’t be hearing any more about how proud she is of the Confederacy.

Anyway, I don’t point this out to give Ms. Templeton a hard time for what her ancestors did. If we bear responsibility for the sins of our ancestors, I might have more mea culpas to intone than she does.

No , my point, as always on this subject, is that no white Southerner should claim his or her ancestors didn’t own slaves. It almost certainly isn’t true. (And a bigger point is that even if it were true, that’s a ridiculous reason to be proud of the Confederacy.)

And yeah, I told you so…

My connection to the guy Catherine Templeton mentioned

Following up on my post about our ancestors owning slaves… I ran across something else interesting. To me, anyway. You know what a geek I am about this stuff.

As native South Carolinians know in their bones, and as interlopers from elsewhere (just kidding! y’all are welcome!) soon find out, we’re all related one way or another.

Here’s an illustration of that…

In the story cited previously, Catherine Templeton mentioned someone who I suppose is one of her forebears, since he had the same surname and her father is named for him. The story wasn’t specific, though:

Templeton said her family arrived in South Carolina in the late 1700s, adding her father was named after Judge William Brawley, “who fought for this state, fought in the Battle of Seven Pines, even lost an arm for this state.”..

Anyway, whatever her connection is to Judge Brawley, it’s apparently one of the things that makes her proud of the Confederacy.

So I looked up Judge Brawley, and found this:

William Hiram Brawley (incorrectly reported in some works as William Huggins Brawley; May 13, 1841 – November 15, 1916) was a U.S. Representative from South Carolina and later a United States federal judge. He was the cousin of John James Hemphill and great-uncle of Robert Witherspoon Hemphill….

And the light flashed in my head: Hemphill! So I clicked on John James Hemphill and found this:

John James Hemphill (August 25, 1849 – May 11, 1912) was a U.S. Representative from South Carolina, cousin of William Huggins Brawley, nephew of John Hemphill and great-uncle of Robert Witherspoon Hemphill.

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. I then clicked on this guy’s uncle John Hemphill and found what I suspected:

John Hemphill (December 18, 1803 – January 4, 1862) was Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, and a United States Senator.

Sen. John Hemphill

Sen. John Hemphill

The picture was familiar, because it appears on my family tree. That John Hemphill is my fourth-great uncle. He was the brother of my great-great-great grandmother Margaret Hemphill — my Dad’s mother’s mother’s father’s mother.

He was an interesting guy, playing a prominent role in the early history of the state of Texas. A while back, someone told me that he was interesting in another way.

I don’t know whether the story is true or not, but it made an impression at the time, and it’s why his name rang a bell.

A couple of years ago, having run across my tree, a woman wrote to me to ask me what I knew about Sen. Hemphill. I didn’t know much — for instance, I’d never found the name of his wife if he had one — but she said she knew why I hadn’t found a wife:

John Harrison Hemphill is my maternal 2nd-great grandfather. The Senator never married, although he had 2 daughters by his female slave, Sabina. Their names were Theodora and Henrietta. I know Theodora was born in Austin, but I’m not sure if Henrietta was. Hope that helps….

I wrote back and forth with this lady, and she shared what she had, but she wasn’t sure of all the precise connections. And I’ve looked at her tree since then, and I don’t find Theodora or Henrietta or Sabina. So maybe she’s decided she isn’t as sure about being descended from Hemphill that way.

And she might even be wrong about being related to Hemphill at all — which wouldn’t be a shock, given the circumstances and the lack of the normal confirming sources, forcing her I suppose to rely on family anecdote. I’ve come to doubt it because she mentioned doing the Ancestry DNA test, but she doesn’t show up in my DNA results as related.

But it was a fascinating story, and the main reason why his name rang a bell.

Anyway, maybe I’m related, distantly, to Catherine Templeton. Which would make another fairly common Southern story…

If you’re a white Southerner and you think your ancestors owned no slaves, you should probably dig a little deeper

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a correction that proves the point of this post. While I knew I had quite a few ancestors who owned slaves, just for contrast I mentioned one great-great grandfather (Henry Waller) who did NOT. I was wrong. A first cousin has written to let me know Henry owned at least one slave, whom he mentioned in letters home. I hope to get copies of those letters soon. So even I am guilty of falsely believing that one ancestor owned no slaves…

Last week, Catherine Templeton used the standard cliche rationalization for why she’s proud of her Confederate heritage:

“It’s important to note that my family didn’t fight because we had slaves,” Templeton said to a room mostly filled with university students. “My family fought because the federal government was trying to tell us how to live.”

We won’t get into the fact that the one thing white Southerners — the ones in charge — were afraid the federal government would make them do was stop owning slaves. And I’ll point out only in passing that if your ancestors owned no slaves and took up arms for the Confederacy, then they were victims of a major con job. Some of my own ancestors were duped in the same manner.

But not all of them. I’ve long known that some of my ancestors were slaveowners. But it wasn’t until I started seriously building out my family tree that I realized how many of them fit that description.

As much as I love talking genealogy — as y’all know, to your sorrow — I hesitated to post this. But my tree is the only one I know this well, and I think what I have found argues against the claims that all too many white Southerners make. And I think people should know that. So here goes…

Patrick Henry Bradley

Patrick Henry Bradley

At first, I had thought that slaveholding was limited to my paternal grandmother’s people, the Bradleys (for whom I’m named). Patrick Henry Bradley, her grandfather, was one of the leading citizens in his part of Abbeville County. When the War came, he raised his own company and led it in the field, but soon returned home to serve out the rest of the war in the Legislature. His eldest son stayed at the front, and was killed at Trevillian Station in 1864.

I would have assumed that the Bradleys were slaveholders just because of Patrick Henry’s service in the Legislature, which was largely made up of the slaveholding class. But I don’t have to assume; I have documentary and anecdotal evidence to that effect. I don’t know whether he had a lot of slaves, but he had some.

James Chesnut Jr.

James Chesnut Jr.

I had accepted this as fact long ago, but I had assumed that my ancestors in other branches of the family were generally innocent of having owned other humans. Not based on anything, really, beyond the fact that none of them were quite as upscale as the Bradleys. Of course, when I say “Bradleys,” I’m lumping in a lot of folks who bore different surnames — pretty much that whole quarter of my tree. For instance, James Chesnut — husband of famous diarist Mary Boykin and one of the leading men in Confederate South Carolina — is a 3rd cousin four times removed. (That means my 6th-great grandfather, Alexander Samuel Chesnut, was his great-great grandfather.) He was in that Bradley fourth.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following paragraph is dead wrong. Henry Waller DID own at least one slave, I am reliably informed. I hope to have evidence of that soon…)

But I had liked to think that another great-great grandfather, William Henry Waller, was more typical of the rest of my tree — just an ordinary soldier who got caught up in forces bigger than he was. I’ve never seen or heard anything to indicate Henry owned slaves, or money or much else. But admittedly, I don’t know a lot about him. He went AWOL to visit the family farm in Marion County when his unit was marching north toward Virginia. My great-grandmother — who died when I was 4 years old (yep, that’s how recent that war was: someone who lived then overlapped with my life) — was born nine months later. She, my mother’s father’s mother, never knew her father, because Henry died of disease at the siege of Petersburg. Consequently, I know practically nothing about him. I don’t even know who his parents were, or whether he had siblings. That line is the shortest on my tree, because of that break.

The old lady is the daughter of Henry Waller. The big-headed kid on her lap is me.

The old lady is my great-grandmother, the daughter of Henry Waller, who died at Petersburg. The big-headed kid on her lap, grooving on the apples, is me. This was 1957.

I picture Henry as being one of those guys like Virgil Caine in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” A sympathetic character caught up in events and trying to get by the best he could. And I tended to lump others from the non-Bradley portions of the family into that category.

But I was wrong, as I learned from early census records after I finally paid to join Ancestry and gained access to that site’s documentary “hints” about my forebears. Later census records name everyone in a household (although their names are often spelled wrong). But in the early decades of the 19th century, the records would just name the “head of household,” and then give a demographic breakdown of the rest of the household — X number of “Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25,” and Y number of “Free White Persons – Under 16.”

But the really revelatory data comes under such headings as “Slaves – Males – 26 thru 44.” I assume the records were kept that way so each slave could be counted as three-fifths of a person for the sake of electoral apportionment.

Perusing these records can be a real eye-opener. While Henry Waller may not have owned slaves, others on my mother’s side did. Take, for instance, my 4th-great grandfather Henry C. Foxworth, also of Marion County: There were six slaves in his household in 1820. This sort of thing will pop up again and again in a white Southern family. However humble and righteous you may think your ancestors were, a family tree is likely far more diverse — here I mean economically diverse in particular — than you give it credit for being. And the people who bore your surname are only a tiny fraction of the people from whom you are descended who lived during the centuries of slavery. Until I really got into building my tree, I had no idea I was descended from anyone named “Foxworth.”

Wesley Samuel Foxworth marker(By the way, like Patrick Henry Bradley, Henry Foxworth also lost a son in the war. My great-great-great grandfather Wesley Samuel Foxworth was also killed during that Petersburg campaign. Fortunately for me, his daughter from whom I am descended had been born 12 years earlier.)

I am three-fourths South Carolinian, but hey, at least I won’t find any of that slavery stuff among the Warthens up in Maryland, right? So I thought — somewhat irrationally, since Maryland (although it stayed in the Union) was a slave state.

My great-grandmother Rebecca Jane Rabbitt — who married my great-grandfather Warthen — died in 1898, two days after the birth of her sixth child. She was 35. But I’ve been a lot luckier tracing her tree than poor Henry Waller’s, taking it back to the Middle Ages. (Through her, I’m a Tudor, making Henry VIII a cousin.)

But one of the more interesting things I’ve found on that line is much more recent — it involves her grandfather, John Thomas Rabbitt Jr., 1779-1863. It’s an indenture contract. One William Frumfree, described as “a colored man,” owed $40 to the state of Maryland, and was in jail in 1829 because he couldn’t pay it. My ancestor paid it for him, in exchange for which… well, here’s a quote from the document Mr. Frumfree signed:

… I do hereby bind myself to the service of said Rabbitt in any manner in which he may chose to use me for and during the term of one year from the date hereof to be considered and treated as the slave of said Rabbitt during my term of service as contracted by this paper…

Oh, and just in case you thought that would be lighter service than being a permanent slave, there’s this language:

… the said Rabbitt is to be subject to no liability for his treatment or chastisement of me which he would not own in the case of one of his own slaves for life…

But hey, don’t think the only thing Mr. Frumfree got was out of the jail. He was also paid “the sum of one cent.” No, really. It’s all in the document signed on May 13, 1829.

About all I can say for John Thomas is that as of the 1820 and the 1840 censuses, he didn’t own any slaves. So, there’s that.

Why do I tell you all of this? To shame myself, or to perversely brag about what wheeler-dealers my ancestors were? No. Of course I’m uncomfortable with this topic and these details, but my point is that I highly doubt that my tree is unusual. Note that these slaveowners I’ve mentioned had nothing to do with each other. They never met. They were from very different families living in different places under different circumstances. In other words, these incidences of slaveholding were independent of each other.

And it crops up often enough that I can’t believe I’m anywhere near alone in this. Almost half of white South Carolina families (46 percent) owned slaves. What do you think the chances are that none of the many families that led do you owned human property?

If other white Southerners really knew who their ancestors were, you’d seldom hear a proud neoConfederate say, ever-so-self-righteously, that his (or her) ancestors didn’t own slaves. The odds are against it being a fact.

It is a wise child that knows his own father, and a wiser one who knows even more of his forebears, and faces up to reality.

So how is he Joe Kennedy “the Third?” It doesn’t add up…


I’ve learned a lot from my study of my family tree, and not just about my own genealogy. I’ve learned about history in greater detail, and about families in general, and the ways people lived in the past.

I’ve learned, for instance, that people used to get married a lot. I had long known that my great-grandfather Warthen and his father had each had three wives. And I had thought that was weird, that there must be some Henry VIII-ish streak in my line. From studying my tree further back, I’ve learned how common that was in past centuries. At first, I thought that was because of wives dying in childbirth (I have reason to think that happened to my great-grandmother). But I’ve run across quite a few women with two and three husbands — especially when you get back into the middle ages, when men frequently died in battle or backed the wrong team and got beheaded.

This was Joe Jr. So how was his nephew "Joe II?"

This was Joe Jr. So how was his nephew “Joe II?”

I’ve even sorta kinda come to understand the “removed” business with cousins. Sometimes I can hold on to that understanding for as much as 30 seconds before it slips away from me.

But this week, I find myself confused about naming conventions.

Tuesday night, the Democratic response was given by this young kid named Joseph Patrick Kennedy III. I looked at him, and immediately thought, No, no, no; they’ve got that wrong. Joe Kennedy III is about my age, and was in Congress decades ago.

But then I looked it up, and saw that that Joe Kennedy was called “the second,” not the third, and then I was really mixed up.

As I said on Twitter earlier today:

OK, there was old Joe Kennedy, the patriarch. Then there was the one killed in the war. Then there was this one’s father. So how is THIS one “the third?” I’m counting four…

I didn’t embed that tweet so I could give you links to help keep it straight.

It starts with his father being the second, which he shouldn’t have been — unless his family was making a statement and only naming him after his grandfather and not the war hero uncle, or vice versa. At least they said II and not junior, since his Dad was RFK.

But why wasn’t he the third?

Wikipedia says of the son of RFK that “He was named after his grandfather Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., the patriarch of the Kennedy family.[a] ” OK. And that is why he was “II” instead of “junior,” since his father did not bear that name. Fine. But there was another between them, although not in direct succession, also named for the old man. So, since once you get into numbers instead of juniors it’s not necessarily about who your father was, why wasn’t he the third?

A famous dynasty should have a better, clearer grip on naming conventions. Or maybe there’s a rule I just don’t understand. Can anyone enlighten me?

Maybe we should just do like the Russians and the Welsh and the Vikings and the Irish and use patronymics — Josefovich, ap Joseph, Josephsen, O’Joseph — and scrap the numbers, if they’re not going to be more helpful than this…


Merry Christmas, Baby: Now, SPIT!

dna kitOK, so maybe it wasn’t the most romantic gift idea ever. And maybe it was more a present for me than for her.

But I had to give it a shot.

I called my wife a little while ago on this Cyber Monday and mentioned that she hadn’t told me what she wanted for Christmas. She replied that I hadn’t told her what I wanted for Christmas.

After a little back-and-forth about that, I said, Not that this is a related question or anything, but have you ever… thought about having your DNA done?

“I knew it!” she said. She, too, had seen the ads that said there was a special deal ending today: $59 for an Ancestry DNA kit, instead of the usual $99. “You want me to spit into a tube!”

See, I’ve been working pretty hard on her family tree as well as my own. And I’ve had some real success. For instance, one of her great-grandfathers had been kind of a dead end for her, as he died young far from his family. But I’ve managed not only to find his parents, but to carry his line back another five generations before that, back to Germany (we knew the name as Smith, but it was originally Schmidt).

Which is pretty cool, right? And with the data that a DNA analysis would provide, the sky would be the limit! Right?

What an exciting present! At least, I thought so.

She’s thinking about it. She’s probably also wondering what it is in my DNA that makes me this way…

DNA deal

Remember: You only get one mother!

only one of each

That may sound like a Mother’s Day message, and indeed, it’s a good thing to remember: Be good to your Moms, folks.

But I’m posting it in a spirit of celebration over having solved a problem that’s been worrying me no end the last week or two.

Any fans of Catch-22 out there? Remember The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice? Well, when looking at my family tree — or portions of it — that was me.

First, I noticed with puzzlement that my father was on the tree twice. Not as duplicates, so I couldn’t merge the two Dads using the Ancestry tool for that. The database saw him as just one person, but displayed him twice, with a twist: One version of him showed up alone, with no wife or family. The other showed him in relation to my Mom, my brother and me.

Ditto with all four of his siblings: One version of each alone, another version with their families.

Then, I saw with alarm, the weirdness had spread to my father’s father and his siblings. Then, to his father and his siblings. Finally, to my great-great grandfather Nathan Benton Warthen and his siblings!

I needed to fix this, because I badly needed to back up the tree on my hard drive by syncing with Family Tree Maker, but I didn’t want to infect my offline tree with… whatever this was.

I had some anxious chats with people at Ancestry about this. They kept saying there must be someone — in one of those four generations, or maybe a generation or two before or after — who was listed as being married to a close relative, or had some other irregularity in his or her close relationships. That would cause all those people to be “related” to me in more than one way, hence the duplication.

Do you realize how many people that meant I had to check, tediously, one by one? I mean, Nathan Benton Warthen had 10 kids — nine with my great-great grandmother, and one with his second of three wives. I had to check each of them and all of their descendants that were on my tree.

Unfortunately, I started with the present day and worked back. I’ve been doing this during spare moments for days…

But finally, eureka! Finally, I checked Augustus Thomas Warthen, the one child of Nathan Benton and that second wife, Emma Augusta Adams, to whom I’m not related. (Nathan’s third wife was also named “Emma.” I guess that simplified things for him.) Bingo! It showed him with two mothers — Emma Augusta, and my great-great grandmother, Rhoda Ann Etchison.

Apparently, I was careless in copying some information from another Ancestry tree, maintained by someone who was mistaken about who Augustus’ mother was. So the correct datum and the wrong one were at war with each other, causing nasty ripples in the continuum.

I severed his link to Rhoda, and a miracle occurred — I no longer saw everybody twice.

Yeah, I know y’all don’t care. But it made my week. And I pass it on for those of you who have trees on Ancestry as well.

Remember: You just get one mother.

No, guys, THIS is a witch hunt!

Illustration of a Salem witch trial.

Illustration of a Salem witch trial.

Warning: This is another family tree post! Although it’s about my wife’s tree, not mine…

Yesterday, our self-absorbed president Tweeted:

Back here in South Carolina, Rep. Rick Quinn said:

Indicted Republican lawmaker Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, vowed Tuesday to fight charges against him, deemed the allegations “very weak” and said special prosecutor David Pascoe, a Democrat, is on “a partisan witch hunt.”…

No, guys. Neither of these is a witch hunt. I’ll tell you about a witch hunt.

It involves my wife’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Elspeth Craich.  She was born in Scotland in 1631, and died there sometime after 1656.

We know she lived at least that long, because in that year, when she was 25, she was detained as “a confessing witch.” But the Culross Council failed to bring her to trial, and the charges were consequently dismissed. I’m still not sure why. I doubt that she put a spell on them or anything.

This is on my mind because this very week, I found more about her case from this site:

“23 June 1656.

“In presence of the said bailleis and counsell, compeared personallie Master Robert Edmonstoun, minister at Culrois, and declared the last weik befor the last wek, he being in Edinburgh anent the adhering to the call of Master Matthew Fleyming to the work of the ministrie of this congregatione, and having maid diligent tryall at the clerk of the criminail court and others what course might be taken with Elspethe Craiche, presentlie lying within the tolbuthe of Culrois as ane witche voluntarlie confesst be herself, he declared that except murder or malison could be provin against such persons, thair was no putting of thame to deathe; yet the said Maister Robert being most desyrous that one of the foresaid number of the counsell sould goe over to Edinburgh, and tak over the said Elspethe her declaration and confessions, and to cause pen ane petitione in relatione therof, and the said mater being taken to consideratione, and being ryplie advysit therwith, the saids bailleis and counsell be pluralitie of voices have electit and chosen William Drys-daill to goe over to Edinburgh against Twysday come eight dayes, being the first day of July, being ane criminall court day, to present the supplication befor the judges there for granting of ane commission to put the said witche to the knowledge of ane assyse, and to report his diligence theranent.”

“30 June 1656.

“The qlk day, in presence of the said bailleis and counsell, conforme to the commissione grantit to him the last counsell day anent the petitioning for ane commissione to put Elspethe Craiche, witche, to the knowledge of an assyse, maid report, that he being unsatisfied with the clerk of the criminall court his answer to him anent the procuring of the said commission, he therefter went to the right Honorable Generali George Monk; who having related to him the poore condition of this burghe, how that they war not abill to transport the said witche over to Edinburgh, and to be at the great expense that they behovit to be at in attending upone her there, the said Generali desyred the said William to draw up ane petitione, and present the samyne befor the counsell of estait upone Twysday next; who accordinglie drew up ane supplicatione at Alexr. Bruce his directione, and left the samyne with George Mitchell, to be written over be him; and becaus the said Wm. had brought over the said Elspethe her confessions, the samyne was appoyntit to be send over, to the effect bothe they and the supplication may be presentit befor the said counsell of estait against the morrow.”

It would appear that the application of the Culross minister and magistrates had been ineffectual to procure any assistance from the Council of State in Edinburgh towards either getting Elspeth Craich tried and condemned in Culross, or transporting her for that purpose to Edinburgh. Cromwell’s government was not favourable to religious persecution of any kind, whether as regards heresy or sorcery. The following entry is almost ludicrous, from the woe-begone demonstration made therein by the town council, who have no other resource left than to get rid of their expensive prisoner as speedily as possible. It is satisfactory to find that the poor woman had at least been tolerably well supplied with meat and drink, whatever other sufferings she may have undergone :—

“25 August 1656.

“The said day the saids bailleis and counsell, taking to consideratione the great trouble that hath been susteaned be the inhabitants of this burgh in watching of Eppie Craich, witch, within thaire tolbuthe this quarter of this year bygane, and the great expens that this burgh is at for the present in susteanyng and interteanyng her in bread and drink and vther necessaris, and finding it to be expedient to dismis hir furthe of the [tom away] upone her finding of cautione to present her to prissone whenever [torn away] sail be requyred, under the pane of 500 merkis: Thairfor, in presence [tom away] the said Elspethe Craiche . . . to be dismist . . . tolbuthe, and befor that tyme … to be presentit befor the kirk-sessione of Culrois.” [The latter part of this entry is in a sadly dilapidated state in the minute-book.]

Well, I’m glad to know that during her ordeal, she was at least “tolerably well supplied with meat and drink.” In fact, she seems to have been eating and drinking so much that the local authorities couldn’t afford to hold her any longer.

Did she beat the rap because of Cromwell's policies?

Did she beat the rap because of Cromwell’s policies?

But was it that, or did she get off because of the politics of the moment, as “Cromwell’s government was not favourable to religious persecution of any kind, whether as regards heresy or sorcery?” (Which surprises me a bit, what little I know of Cromwell.)

Doug would probably say it’s because of the expense, because he says it’s always about the money. And they certainly mention it a lot.

But her acquittal must remain a mystery, the latter part of the record being “in a sadly dilapidated state in the minute-book.”

It may have simply been that, according to Matthew Fleyming, “except murder or malison could be provin against such persons, thair was no putting of thame to deathe.” And if you can’t burn a witch, what’s the point, right?

Anyway, that is a witch hunt, although an unsuccessful one — even though she was “ane witche voluntarlie confesst be herself,” which you would think would have made the hunt a lot easier.

That’s all. My mind’s just been on “witch hunts” this week…

How long is a generation? Longer than I thought…

Coronation of Charlemagne

Coronation of Charlemagne

We hear a lot of silly generalizations about demographic cohorts that we refer to as “generations,” which become particularly absurd when you look at how they are defined. For instance, the only really cool generation, the Baby Boom, supposedly includes people born in 1964.

Which is ridiculous. How can you possibly be a Boomer if you can’t remember JFK’s assassination, the arrival of the Beatles or the introduction of the Ford Mustang? It’s obvious; you can’t — if the Baby Boom has any cultural meaning.

But there’s another problem: Even with that overbroad definition, the “generation” only lasts from 1946 to 1964 — 18 years.

That’s not a generation.

So what is a generation? Not having made a study of it, I’ve tended to think it was in the 20- to 25-year range.

That made particularly good sense to me, since my wife and I had our first and second children at ages 23 and 25. Yes, I’m aware that most people of our generation were a bit slower than that, but I figured that in earlier times, people married and had kids even earlier than we did, so historically, 20 to 25 years made sense.

But today, it struck me to use my family tree to find out how it works in reality — and I was surprised at the result.

I decided to go back as far as I reliably could — to Charlemagne, from whom I (and every other person of mostly European descent) am directly descended. He was, calculated the way I first discovered the connection, my 38th-great grandfather (I’ve since discovered quite a few paths back to Charlemagne, which is a mathematical certainty when you go back that far).

So that means he’s exactly 40 generations back.

Charlemagne was born in 742. I was born in 1953. I subtract one from the other and get 1,211 years. Divide that by 40, and the average generation is 30.275 years.

Even going back through the Middle Ages, when life was supposedly so nasty, brutish and short! And maybe it was, for poor people. And no doubt, most of my ancestors in the 8th century were peasants. Unfortunately, I can’t trace back to them; the records don’t exist.

So I’m stuck with 30 and a quarter years. And it would seem reasonable that the more recent generations were even longer.

And they were, slightly. Let’s go back just 10 generations, to about the time my ancestors were moving to this country. Let’s consider some of my 8th-great grandfathers:

  • Walter Chiles II, born March 20, 1630 in Middlesex, England. (Died in Jamestown, Va.)
  • Capt. Luke Gardiner, born Jan. 11, 1622 in Oxfordshire, England. (Died in Maryland.)
  • Sir Ambrose Crowley III, born Feb. 1, 1658, in Staffordshire, England. (Died in England, but his daughter emigrated.)
  • Richard Pace II, born about 1636, Charles City, Virginia. (Grandson of the famous Richard Pace who saved Jamestown.)

The average length of a generation going back to them is, respectively, 32.3, 33.1, 29.5 and 31.7 years.

So, an average of 31.65 years per generation.

Yes, these are all great-grandfathers; the mothers were usually younger, which might reduce the average if there were more female links in the chains (I later checked, and found those were mostly male connections). I just went with male ancestors for the one-to-one comparison. (Also, when you go back that far, there tends to be a bit more information available about them.)

It just seems to defy reason. Yeah, my notions may seem skewed by having had a child at 23, but our youngest was born when we were 35 — and by the time she started school, when we went to PTA meetings all the other parents seemed way younger than we were. Which argued that most of them didn’t have their kids at 35.

Anyway, that’s what I find. As Bryan likes to say, your mileage may vary…

Talkin' about my generation -- the only cool one, of course.

Talkin’ about my generation — the only cool one, of course.

All hail Donaeld the Unready, King of Mercia!

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy, in building my family tree, finding ancestors with fun nicknames, such as “Strongbow,” and “Horse-Swapping Billy Smith” and “Shaggy-Breeches.”

The very best sobriquets are the medieval ones — just the best, terrific, believe me. They’re just so… direct. For instance, I am descended from the following: Charles the FatCharles the BaldCharles the HammerCharles the Beloved and Charles the Wise. And that’s just the Charleses. (All are direct ancestors except the Fat, who is just a cousin, but I couldn’t leave him out.)

Take that current obsession and combine it with my enjoyment of such TV shows as “Vikings” and “The Last Kingdom,” and you just know that I would love this Twitter parody, “Donaeld the Unready“:


As you can see, Donaeld is “The best early medieval King out there. I’m just great. I’m the bretwalda. The bestwalda. I’ve got great swords, everyone says so. Make Mercia Great Again.”

Some of his recent Tweets:


What’s in a name: ‘Horse-Swapping Billy Smith’

My ancestor was sort of an Eastern version of a Pony Express rider.

My ancestor, I take it, was sort of an Eastern version of a Pony Express rider.

Made a lot of progress on the family tree over the weekend. I started on a trove of material on my son-in-law’s family that my daughter brought back from Tulsa over the holidays, and added more than 70 of his kin to the tree — thereby giving my twin granddaughters a nice start on knowing that side of their heritage.

I spent the rest of my time filling in recent gaps in my own side of the family. No delving back into the Middle Ages — no Strongbow or Ragnar or Charlemagne; I stuck to the realm of great and great-great grandparents. I even added a few people who are still alive (which I find are much harder to get basic information on than dead people — although Facebook has made it easier to find photos of them). Recently I’ve discovered that, since I now know a lot more about searching the Web for clues, I’m often able to quickly identify connections that eluded me in the past.

Also, I finally gave in and paid for a six-month membership to, so I was pretty much drinking data from a firehose with regard to the last century or two. (I only signed up for the U.S. data, so I don’t get anything about ancestors before they crossed the Pond.)

Here’s my favorite discovery of the weekend: My great-great-great grandfather William Burns Smith, who was born in 1803 in North Carolina, and died in Marion County, SC, in 1897. He was my mother’s mother’s mother’s father’s father.

I had already known who he was, and he had already been on my tree. But over the weekend I discovered the fun part: He was known as “Horse-swapping Billy Smith.”

I love finding an ancestor with a catchy sobriquet, such as “Strongbow” or “Shaggy-Breeches.” This one came with a fun anecdote. Horse-Swapping Billy delivered the mail by horseback between Marion and Bennettsville (the town where I was born). The local postmaster was sufficiently impressed by the job he did that he bothered to record this story:

“There is another family of Smiths, below Marion, which I understand is in no way related to those hereinabove noticed – I refer to the late William B. Smith and his family. He, as it is said, came when young from North Carolina, and settled below Reedy Creek Baptist Church, on an apparently poor place; he was called “Horse-swapping Billy Smith” — he was a great horse trader, and in that respect his mantle has fallen upon his sons, Nat. P. and Henry…

William B. Smith, away back in the 50’s, carried the mail on horseback from Marion to Bennettsville, by way of Catfish, Reedy Creek, Harlleesville, Selkirk, Brownesville and Clio to Bennettsville, and back the same route, once a week — at which time the writer was postmaster at Reedy Creek; he went up one day and came back the next; sometimes one of his boys, James or Nat, would carry it.

The writer remembers on one occasion, the old gentleman went up; his horse sickened and died at Bennettsville, and the next day Mr. Smith came back, walking and carrying the mail bags on his shoulders, and went on to Marion that evening. I suppose he was then fifty years of age, and the distance traveled on his zig-zag route was at least sixty miles. One of the men of the present day, much younger than Mr. Smith, would not think of such a trip. Mr. Smith had much of the “get up” in him, and whatever he undertook to do, he did it, and if he failed it was no fault of his; he was accustomed to labor and hardship, hence it did not hurt him….

I love it! There was no keeping Horse-Swapping Billy down! He was just full of the “get up!” And it he failed at anything, don’t blame him, because you know he gave it 110 percent!

My frustration, though, is that the chronicler doesn’t bother to explain fully why he was known as “Horse-Swapping Billy.” In what way was he “a great horse-trader?” Did he have a side business in horse-trading, or was he into it as a hobby? Or was it a broader metaphor, as in he was a guy good at making deals, whether they literally had to do with horses or not? Or, like the Pony Express riders of about that time, did he swap horses at various points on his mail route? If so, he should have made a swap before he got to Bennettsville that one time.

It’s a small thing to give me such delight, but it’s stuff like this that keeps me going with this hobby…

When I discovered this, I called my uncle (who lives in Bennettsville) to share, but to my disappointment he already knew about Horse-Swapping Billy. But we got onto other family matters, and he told me that he’d always heard that the Browns way back on his mother’s side of the family were at some point connected to the Browns on his father’s side.

And… here’s the good part… ultimately they’re supposedly all related to the legendary “Cut-Face” Brown.

I spent an hour or so digging around, but didn’t arrive. I’ll look again when I have time. I’ve just got to find out how I’m related to a guy with a name like that

Weak links in the family tree: The problem of Betty Crowley

OK, here’s another post in which I’m indulging private obsessions, what with this being a slow news week. Most of you will likely be uninterested, but I’m hoping Lynn Teague or someone else — preferably someone as besotted by genealogy as I currently am — will have useful advice, or at least be able to commiserate.

In recent months, I’ve made some pretty exciting (to me) breakthroughs in researching the family tree, some of which I’ve mentioned here. Most branches on the tree peter out when you get back to the Old Country, if you can get even that far. For instance, I can get back to the last Warthen — or as it was spelled then, Wathen — to live and die in England. He was Sir Charles Wathen, my 9th-great grandfather, who died in Bristol in about 1658.

There the line ends, which is anomalous. Most of my family tree, like everyone’s, is pretty common. But if I can get back to a Sir So-and-So or a Lady Whatever, I usually start a streak that can in some cases go back at least a few centuries. Which is fun. As I race through the centuries on one of those, I feel a rush that I suppose gamblers feel on a lucky streak in Vegas.

By the way, I don’t see having lords and ladies in my background as any reason to put on airs (although pictures of their castles on Wikipedia might make me slightly wistful). Pretty much anyone of European extraction will get there if they have the diligence and luck to go back far enough. For instance, I was excited when I first traced a line back to Charlemagne (38th-great grandfather, calculated one way). Then I read that, if you’re European, you’re definitely descended from Charlemagne, and through multiple lines:

If you’re vaguely of European extraction, you are also the fruits of Charlemagne’s prodigious loins. A fecund ruler, he sired at least 18 children by motley wives and concubines, including Charles the Younger, Pippin the Hunchback, Drogo of Metz, Hruodrud, Ruodhaid, and not forgetting Hugh.

This is merely a numbers game. You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. But this ancestral expansion is not borne back ceaselessly into the past. If it were, your family tree when Charlemagne was Le Grand Fromage would harbour more than a billion ancestors – more people than were alive then. What this means is that pedigrees begin to fold in on themselves a few generations back, and become less arboreal, and more web-like. In 2013, geneticists Peter Ralph and Graham Coop showed that all Europeans are descended from exactly the same people. Basically, everyone alive in the ninth century who left descendants is the ancestor of every living European today, including Charlemagne, Drogo, Pippin and Hugh. Quel dommage….

So I decided that if all Europeans are descended from Charlemagne (and from pretty much everyone else alive at the time), the point of the genealogy game was to figure out how. And I did, so I win. My next great accomplishment was to discover double, triple, and more grandparents. You see, if you get back that far, you are descended from some people several ways, because if you keep exponentially increasing ancestors — 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,024, and so on — after a few centuries you have more ancestors than there were people on the planet. So your branches start intertwining, collapsing onto one another; the same people keep popping up.

I was excited when I found my first double ancestor. Now, it’s routine. I think I’m now descended from Charlemagne about eight ways — just as you probably are.

So I know I’m not special, but I get a kick out of making the connections. The thing is… if you’re a commoner like me, you have to get back to the people who were prominent enough in history to have their own Wikipedia pages. And that almost always entails getting through some people who did not leave such definite tracks in history. That means there is almost always at least one weak link you can never be sure of.

An example: A couple of weeks back, I got on yet another exciting streak. I made a couple of breakthroughs on the Benton line. My great-great grandfather, Nathan Benton Warthen, got his middle name from his mother’s family. Once I’d gotten the Bentons back to the first generation in this country, I made a leap that got me to such fun discoveries as:

  • De Clare coat of arms

    De Clare coat of arms

    Richard “Strongbow” de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, (1130–1176). I wrote something about this 24th-great grandfather last week. He was the first of the Normans who would conquer Ireland, which means he caused a lot of trouble that has reached to our own generation. He did so with the help of one of the Irish kings, Diarmait of Leinster — known by the dubious sobriquet “Diarmait of the Foreigners” for his ignoble role in helping start the English domination of his country — whose daughter he married, making Diarmait my ancestor as well. My wife is descended from the Irish chieftains Strongbow defeated to take Waterford, so this caused some awkwardness at my house.

  • FitzWarin coat of arms

    FitzWarin coat of arms

    Sir Fulk FitzWarin III, Marcher Lord of Whittington and Alveston — This 24th great-grandfather rebelled against King John and was forced to become an outlaw. Who does that sound like? Yep, his story seems to be one of the possible sources of the Robin Hood legend — or at least, a parallel story. Interestingly, he and John had grown up together, after Fulk was sent to King Henry II’s court as a boy. But they fell out over a childhood game of chess and never reconciled, indicating that one of them was probably a very sore loser. At least, that’s the account in the “romance” written after his death, called Fouke le Fitz Waryn.

  • Sir John Oldcastle

    Sir John Oldcastle

    Sir John Oldcastle, MP, Baron Cobham — This one’s not a direct ancestor — his sister Alice was my 18-great grandmother — but he was a fun discovery anyway. Apparently, Uncle John was originally the inspiration for Falstaff in Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, there is evidence that he was even called by his true name in early versions of the plays, but Shakespeare had to change the name because Oldcastle had prominent descendants who had pull at the Elizabethan court, while John Fastolf did not. He’s actually a more serious character than the sometimes buffoonish Falstaff — he was a prominent practitioner of Lollardy, a pre-Reformation dissenting religious movement. Eventually he was burned for heresy and insurrection — which made him a hero in Protestant Elizabeth’s reign.

Fun stuff, huh? And it was particularly exciting because all my previous forays into the Middle Ages had been through my great-great grandmother Jane Hearst Chiles Bradley, a very well connected lady. All of my paths to Charlemagne — as well as to interesting contemporaries such as my 5th cousin once removed Patty Hearst — start with her. This was a whole other branch, virgin territory, and that made it special. New vistas opened before me.

But… these enchanting Medieval romances are built upon a rickety foundation. I refer to the problem of Betty Crowley.

According to my researches of various online databases, I am about as certain as one can be about such things that one Joseph Benton (1684-1752), was my 6th-great grandfather. I only have one source for this, WikiTree, but the particulars add up logically. WikiTree tells me that his parents were John Benton and Betty Crowley.

Betty is the ancestress who gets me to all of the aforementioned romantic figures of the 1200s. Once I get to her father, Sir Ambrose Crowley III — an ironmonger who appears to have played a significant role in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution — it’s pretty smooth sailing back to the Middle Ages, with multiple sources for each generation, and lots of specifics.

For instance, I can read about Sir Ambrose himself here and here and here and here and here. So he is the kind of ancestor I love to find, because it means I’ve hit another hot streak.

But here’s the problem, or one of the problems: Only one of those five sources — again, WikiTree — acknowledges that he had a daughter named Betty. lists a daughter named Elizabeth, so one naturally thinks, “There she is!” But this Elizabeth married John, 11th Baron St. John of Bletso, and I see no indication that she ever left England.

Worse, WikiTree shows Ambrose and wife Mary Owen as having both a daughter named Elizabeth, and our Betty. Which seems highly unlikely. I doubt these folks were illiterate, and I just can’t see them not knowing that “Betty” was a diminutive for “Elizabeth,” or deliberately giving two daughters — both of whom grew to adulthood — the same name. Maddening.

My third and final source of worry: WikiTree shows both Betty and her husband John Benton dying in Reno County, Kansas, in 1718. This is the kind of error that just makes me want to bang my head against a wall. I don’t see how anyone could have in seriousness entered such a bogus “fact” without realizing it had to be wrong. This is almost a century before the Louisiana Purchase. There were to my knowledge basically no white people in Kansas in 1718, much less a married couple from New England. Francisco Vázquez de Coronado had passed through in 1541, but he hadn’t stuck around.

So, Betty Crowley presents a problem. But there’s always a problem like Betty, when you try to go back so far.

On the one hand, what does it matter? Whether I’m actually related to all of these people way back when or not, I’m having fun, and I’m learning so much more about history from studying the contexts in which they lived. And besides, even if I had in hand birth and death and marriage and baptism certificates on every one of them, there’s always the chance that one or another was a bastard and it was hushed up. People were not necessarily paragons of virtue in the past (Sir Thomas More may have been writing of my 19th great-aunt Lady Eleanor Talbot Butler, who apparently had an irregular connection with King Edward the IV after the death of her husband, when he referred to “the holiest harlot in the realm,” because she was always in church when she wasn’t in bed with the king. Or if he wasn’t referring to her, it may have been to my cousin Elizabeth Woodville, whose second husband was that same King Edward IV. It’s good to be the king…)

Still, I hate loose ends, and it would be cool to tidy them up. So if anyone has any hints on how to solve the problem of Betty, I’d love to hear them…