52 Ancestors: #4 William Henderson DEMPSEY 1860-1941

I spent the last weekend moving 52 Ancestors #1, #2, and #3 to my blog. Rewriting, formatting and adding images took longer than expected. 52 Ancestors #4 is a bit late getting published but I am now back on schedule to post on Mondays starting next week.


Proving Parentage of Wm H. DEMPSEY in a Roundabout Way

In 1995 I received a package from my aunt Lois Dempsey Lee containing family group sheets, marriage certificates, other misc. notes were written by her first cousin Geraldine Dempsey Workman. Included was a letter written by Geraldine explaining how she had gotten started with this hobby. In the late 1970’s her younger daughter had taken a mini-course in high school and passed her work on to her older sister who soon tired of the project. Geraldine picked it up as a hobby, took a night class in genealogy, and began searching at the local courthouse, then ventured on to other courthouses in other states.

She wrote that William Henderson DEMPSEY was the son of Wm A. Dempsey and Sarah Wood. I believed this to be true however I was only able to “prove” this in a roundabout way.

  • William Henderson DEMPSEY was never seen with his parents on a census.
  • 1870 census: with a Forsythe family, no relationship listed.
  • 1880 census: with a Campbell family,  listed as adopted.
  • 1884 marriage record: listed his parents as W. & S. Dempsey.
  • 1941 death record: father Wood Dempsey and mother as unknown.
  • 1941 obituary: mentioned a brother Elijah L. Dempsey.
  • 1885 will of Elijah Wood: “bequeath to my grandson Elijah Lewis Dempsey”.
  • 1943 death record for Elijah Lewis Dempsey has not been found at WVCulture.
  • 1850 and 1860 census found for Wm. A. W. and Sarah
  • pre-1850 marriage record for Wm. A. W. Dempsey and Sarah A. Wood not found.
  • All marriage records for children of this couple were found, parents were listed as Wm and Sarah.
  • 1930 death record of John Henry Dempsey: father seen as Wm Dempsey BUT instead of his mother’s name, John’s wife’s name was listed under the maiden name of mother.
  • No death records were found for the other siblings.
  • 1870 census: Elijah and his mother Sarah Dempsey were found together in a household but no relationship is listed.
  • Recent find: Provost Marshal File. 1862 “William A. W. Dempsey – citizen residing on Dogwood Ridge, Fayette Co., farmer, left home on the 18″ [May 1862]. Started when they heard firing at the Court House, came down to get work in the Valley, refers to Simpson Wood, Styris Wood, and G. W. McVay, of the Oil Works, (brothers-in-law of his). Knows Hamilton as Hamilton of Hawks Nest.”

After analyzing all records found, this is the story I would like to tell about my great-grandfather William Henderson DEMPSEY.

A Family Continues to Grow

William Henderson DEMPSEY was born in Clifty, Fayette County, West Virginia, on 14 September 1860, a few months after the enumeration of the 1860 census. He was the sixth child of William A. W. DEMPSEY (1860 age 40) and his wife Sarah Ann WOOD (1860 age 36). William’s older siblings were Elizabeth Rachel “Lizzie” (1846-1880), James Alexander “Buck” (1848-1909), Mary Virginia (1854-1900), Eunice V. (1855-1940), and John Henry (1857-1930).

The Civil War Years

The American Civil War began 4 February 1861. In that year a separate government for the western section of Virginia was organized under the name of Kanawha. In 1862 Virginia separated from western Virginia. The DEMPSEY family continued to grow with the birth of William’s youngest brother Elijah Lewis (1862-1943) during the war. West Virginia was admitted into the union as the thirty-fifth state on 20 June 1863. The American Civil War ended 23 June 1865.

A Family Is Split Up

William’s father died soon after the end of the war (abt. 1867). In 1868 his sister Lizzie married Robert J. HUGHES. By 1870 the family had split up and the children were living with different WOOD relatives. James was living with his Aunt Amanda Jane (WOOD) PARRISH; Eunice and John were with their grandfather Elijah WOOD; Elijah, the youngest, and his mother Sarah were with his aunt Turzey (WOOD) NEAL; and Mary Virginia age abt. 16 was not found.

Year: 1870; Census Place: Mountain Cove, Fayette, West Virginia; Roll: M593_1686; Page: 147A; Image: 297; Family History Library Film: 553185.

William, age 10 at the time and working as a farm laborer, was living with the Abraham “Abram” FORSYTHE family. Mr. FORSYTHE was first married to Sarah HENDRICK (d. 1859) and second to Mary WESTLAKE in 1862. Both Abram’s brother Samuel and Mary’s sister Mathilda were married to WOOD’s. This is likely the connection and reason that we see William with the FORSYTHE’s in 1870. Abraham FORSYTHE moved to Colorado in the 1870’s.

Siblings Began To Marry

In the 1870’s three of his older siblings married:
Mary V. married John A. SNELL in 1872
Eunice married John Isaac SCAGGS in 1874
James A. “Buck” married Mary E. SADDLER in 1874

Adoption of William H. DEMPSEY

“United States Census, 1880,” images; Internet Archives (https://archive.org/stream/populationsc18801402unit#page/n230/mode/1up : accessed 27 Jan 2014) West Virginia > Fayette > Mountain Cove ED 30 Sheet 114A, citing NARA microfilm publication T9-1402

William is seen with the John CAMPBELL family in 1880. He is listed as “adopted” however no record has been found to show that this was a legal adoption. It is not known how long he lived with this family before or after the 1880 census. John CAMPBELL was first married to Mary KESLER (the mother of Nancy seen in census) and second to Amanda Francis ALDERSON (mother of Joseph and Fanny seen in census). John CAMPBELL died in 1895 leaving a will. William H. DEMPSEY was not mentioned.

Two of William’s brothers married in 1882: John Henry married Amanda Ann McCLUNG and Elijah Lewis married Octavia Dell INGRAM.

Life as a Married Man and Father

1884 marriage register entry for W. H. Dempsey and Laura B. Ingram

William, at the age of 24, was the last of the DEMPSEY children to marry. He was joined in matrimony with Laura Belle INGRAM age 16 on 1 October 1884
[line 6 from bottom], nearly two years after his brother Elijah and her sister Octavia married.

William and Laura’s first child Viola was born in 1885 and died in 1887. Three months prior to the death of his first child, William’s mother Sarah Ann WOOD died on 1 April 1887.

Five more children were born before 1899: William W. “Willie” in 1888 and Ernest Rupert in 1890, both in Keeneys Creek; Oscar Lawrence in 1892 in Prince or across New River in Royal, now a ghost town; Roy Lee in 1894 and Pearl in 1897, both in Victor.

From the places of birth of the children, we know that William and Laura lived in Keeneys Creek in 1888 and 1890, in Royal (Raleigh) or in Prince (Fayette) in 1892, and in Victor from 1894. There is conflicting information on the residence in 1892. No birth record has been found for son Oscar whose WWI Draft Card shows his place of birth as Royal. When he entered the V.A. Facility in Huntington as a patient in 1940 he gave information used for his 1940 death record including Royal as the place of birth. Both records were produced with the information given by Oscar. On his record of marriage in 1914 the place of birth is seen as Prince.

This conflicting information on the place of birth for Oscar made me look more closely into the area since one place was in Raleigh County and the other in Fayette County. I learned that the first coal mine in Raleigh County was opened at Royal in 1891. Royal Coal and Coke Company used Prince as their post office address. A unique suspended cable system was used to transport the coal down the mountain and across New River to the railroad at Prince. William H. Dempsey may have been a miner at the Royal Coal Mine at the time of Oscar’s birth.

“Royal was once a booming coal town. Now it’s just some metal artifacts, stone walls, and gravestones.” Ghost Town: Royal, WV

William Becomes A Land Owner


MRIN08552 William Henderson Dempsey
William Henderson Dempsey (1860-1941)

On February 25, 1899, W. H. DEMPSEY bought a parcel of land in Victor, Fayette County, West Virginia, for the sum of $225. In later years the home was passed on to his son Fred and was sold in 1998 after the death of Fred’s widow Myrtle Hazel ROOP DEMPSEY BOLES.

R. W. Coleman To W. H. Dempsey
This Deed, made the 25th day of February 1899, between R. W. Coleman, party of the first part, and W. H. Dempsey, party of the second part, both of the county of Fayette, and State of West Virginia, Witnesseth, That for and in consideration of the sum of Two Hundred and Twenty-Five Dollars, ($225.00), payable as follows to-wit: Fifty Dollars, ($50.00), cash in hand before the delivery of this deed, Fifty Dollars ($50.00), in six months from this date with interest from date, Fifty Dollars, ($50.00), in twelve months from this date, with interest from date, and the residue, to-wit, Seventy Five Dollars, ($75.00), in two years from this date, with interest from date, for which defered payments the said W. H. Dempsey has this day executed his promisory notes to the said R. W. Coleman; the said R. W. Coleman has bargained and sold, and by these presents doth grant and convey unto the said W. H. Dempsey, a certain parcel or tract of land, situated on the North side of The James River and Kanawha Turnpike, East of Victor, in Mountain Cove District, in Fayette county, West Virginia, adjoining the land of H. Nunnery, Ed. Legg and others and bounded and described as follows, to-wit: Beginning at a bunch of maples on the North bank of the said turnpike; thence, N. 59‘ E. 52 poles, to a stake on Nunnery’s line; thence, with Nunnery, N. 4‘ E. 10 poles, to a stake East of a small pine, thence leaving Nunnery, S. 81‘ W. 32 poles, to a hickory, corner to Ed. Legg; thence, with Legg, N. 73 W. 19 poles to the S.E. corner of the School-House lot, thence, with the turnpike, S. 6‘ E. 20 poles, to a stake; thence S. 36‘ E. 28 poles to the beginning, containing Eight and one-fourth acres, Being a part of a 47 acres tract heretofore conveyed to the said R.W . Coleman by John A. Hawver, Trustee. To have and to hold to the said W. H. Dempsey, his heirs and assigns, forever, with covenants of general warranty. And the vendor’s kin is hereby specially reserved to secure the defered payments above described. Witness the following signatures and seals.
R. W. Coleman -Seal
State of West Virginia, County of Fayette, to-wit:
I, J. R. Koontz, a notary public of the said county of Fayette, do certify that R. W. Coleman, whose name is signed to the writing above, bearing date on the 25th day of February, 1899, has this day acknowledged the same before me in my said county. Given under my hand this 25th day of February, 1899.
J. R. Koontz, N. P. Fayette County, West Virginia
West Virginia, Fayette County Court Clerk’s Office, July 26, 1899.

"United States Census, 1900," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-11931-68695-71?cc=1325221&wc=M94B-XQX:n435351443 : accessed 24 Jan 2014), West Virginia > Fayette > ED 17 Mountain Cove district (north side) Ansted & Hawks Nest towns; citing NARA microfilm publication T623
“United States Census, 1900,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-11931-68695-71?cc=1325221&wc=M94B-XQX:n435351443 : accessed 24 Jan 2014), West Virginia > Fayette > ED 17 Mountain Cove district (north side) Ansted & Hawks Nest towns; citing NARA microfilm publication T623

On the 1st of June 1900, William was listed on the census as owning a mortgage-free farm. From the deed above we know how payment was arranged. The farm was not fully paid for at the time and the deed had not yet been recorded in the County Court Clerk’s Office. The important thing was that the family had their own home. William H. was working as a coal miner and had been employed during the past 12 months.

Following the purchase of their home four more children were born in Victor: Fred Rothwell in 1899, Clyde Lewis in 1902, Hester Ethel in 1904 and Earl Stanley in 1910.


1910 census
“United States Census, 1910,” images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po1680unit#page/n246/mode/1up : accessed 24 Jan 2014) West Virginia > Fayette > ED 20 Mountain Cove district; citing NARA microfilm publication T624, FHL microfilm 1375693.

By 1910 William had changed occupations and was now a carpenter doing housework for a wage. Three sons ages 15, 17, and 25 were working as miners in the coal mines.

Tragedy Strikes the Dempsey Family

William’s oldest son Willie married Mallie Lee GRAY. Their first two children, William’s first grandchildren, Olive (1909-1910) and Herbert (1911-1911) both died young. Willie was killed on October 5, 1915. He had gone into a small mine at his home, accompanied by his wife and little son Gordon, to mine some coal for home use. While his wife was watching him a heavy fall of slate came in on him, killing him instantly.

Three more children married shortly before and after the beginning of World War I in 1914: Oscar Lawrence married Fannie Belle Noble, Roy Lee married Liliane Madelene Nunnery, and Ernest Rupert married Virginia Lenora “Lee” Wills.

1920 census 2
“United States Census, 1920,” images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu1948unit#page/n332/mode/1up : accessed 24 Jan 2014) West Virginia > Fayette > ED 33 Mountain Cove District, Victor Precinct; citing NARA microfilm publication T625, FHL microfilm 1821948

On the 1920 census, we see that William is now a self-employed carpenter doing housework.

By 1930 all children had left home and William age 69 and Laura age 61 were living alone in their home valued at $3000.

“United States Census, 1940,” images, Family Search (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1961-27896-14870-71?cc=2000219&wc=M9QD-FXP:264584504)

In 1940 their divorced son Oscar had come back home to live. By this time both William and Oscar were unable to work and no longer working. The 1940 census was enumerated as of the 1st of April and the page was dated May 7 while May 20 was written in the margin showing the date of visit. Oscar was admitted to the V.A. Facility in Huntington on May 8 and died on May 14. Therefore by the time, the enumerator came around to the Dempsey place Oscar had died but was included in the count as he was living on April 1st. William’s wife Laura Belle died about five months later on October 8, 1940, in Victor.

William H. Dempsey Dies After a Short Illness

MRIN08552 William Henderson Dempsey death

William Henderson Dempsey died Friday, January 24, 1941, after a short illness. His daughter Hester SKAGGS was the informant. Not all information that she gave was correct on the death certificate. The father’s name was given as Wood Dempsey and mother’s maiden name as Unknown.

Obituary of William H. DEMPSEY


MRIN08552 William Henderson Dempsey obit
The Charleston Gazette, January 26, 1941

Publication: The Charleston Gazette
Published: January 26, 1941
Headline: William H. Dempsey
Services for William Henderson Dempsey, 80, of Victor, retired carpenter, who died Friday after a short illness, will be held today at 2 p.m. at the Hopewell Baptist church, Victor. Rev. George B. Denver of Lansing will officiate.
Burial will be in the McVey cemetery on Shady creek in charge of the Thomas mortuary, Ansted.
Survivors include a brother, Elijah L. Dempsey of Ansted; five sons, E.R. Dempsey of Ansted, R. L. Dempsey of Fayetteville, Fred Dempsey of Victor, Clyde Dempsey of Garten and Earl Dempsey of Lansing; and a daughter, Mrs. William R. Skaggs of Ansted.

© 2014, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

When I’m not doing genealogy and blogging, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful Luxembourg countryside.

9 thoughts on “52 Ancestors: #4 William Henderson DEMPSEY 1860-1941”

  1. Cathy, you have done a great job with this bio. As I was reading it, I could hear my mother’s voice talking about her grandparents and aunts and uncles. She was a teenager when the family moved to Victor to care for William and Laura, and when talking about him she always described him as such a sweet man. I believe she said he died from the effects of a stroke, but not 100% sure of that.


    1. Thank you Becky. It is so nice to have the family respond to my writing about our ancestors. We need to talk about the memories that our parents have passed down to us before we forget about them and aren’t able to pass them on to the next generation.


  2. Cathy – an unbelievable job you are doing. Sure hope that someday, somehow we will be able to find more about William A. W. Dempsey – specifically his parents. I’d like to eventually find out when my family members first arrived in America, and where they came from. With what you have done we are already way back in time and the Virginia/West Virginia area is already full of Dempsey’s, or so it seems. Good luck – your distant cousin Steve in Missouri.


  3. Cathy,
    This is great! You could publish all of these next year in book form, perhaps as “Opening Doors in Brick Walls-52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” (Of course that would be only Volume I, with more to follow.)
    I’d buy it!!


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