52 Ancestors: #27 Mary E. “Polly” DOSS ~ An Unwed Mother, Not a Spinster

52ancestors“The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.”

This is entry #27 in Amy Johnson Crow’s Challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

Hard to believe that we are halfway through the year and beginning the 2nd half of the challenge this week.

52 Ancestors: #27 Mary E. “Polly” DOSS ~ An Unwed Mother, Not a Spinster

My 3rd great-grandmother Polly never married. She wasn’t a spinster. She couldn’t have been since she was my ancestor. She was the mother of eight children all from a bond she had with one man my 3rd great-grandfather William CLONCH.

Polly was the daughter of Levina DOSS. Period. One unmarried mother in my family tree would be easy to take. But two is a bit harder. Polly’s mother Levina had up to seven children and left no trace of who the father of these children may have been. Or maybe she did leave something to identify the father(s) but it hasn’t been found [yet]. Why did these ladies, mother and daughter, never marry? Did they want to avoid total dependency on a husband?

Single Woman vs. Married Woman

Although life may have been harsh, Polly possessed more rights as a single woman than a woman who was married. A single woman had a say over certain matters in her life. She could own property, enter into contracts, act as executor of an estate, or serve as a guardian. A married woman’s legal identity essentially ceased to exist when she married. A husband owned whatever belonged to his wife with the exception of personal items such as clothes and jewelry.

Levina or Lavina

Polly was born in Pittsylvania County around 1816. Per her mother Levina DOSS’s 1820 and 1830 census details she was the 6th of 7 children in the household. The censuses are the only documents I have seen with Polly’s mother’s name – Levina. No documents have been found for Polly’s mother’s name being spelled Lavina. I believe, that since Polly named a daughter “Lavina” after her mother, others have assume that her mother’s name was also spelled this way.

Roots in Pittsylvania County, Virginia

The Doss family has strong roots in Halifax and Pittsylvania County, Virginia. In 1755 Levina’s grandfather James DOSS received a land grant for 272 acres in Halifax County, an area soon to become part of the newly created Pittsylvania County in 1767. This land grant was located adjacent to Beechtree Creek and Staunton River.

Pittsylvania County lies in south midland Virginia, bordering on the North Carolina line. Bordering counties are Bedford (northwest), Campbell (northeast), Halifax (east), Caswell in North Carolina (southeast), Rockingham in North Carolina (southwest), Henry (west/southwest), and Franklin (west/northwest). The neighboring counties are important as we find marriages of Polly’s brothers, Thomas DOSS in Caswell in 1827 and Phillip DOSS in Campbell in 1835.

Early Census Analysis

In 1820 Polly is the youngest female in Levina’s household. Other members are four brothers, an older sister, her mother, and most likely her grandmother Elizabeth DOSS née LESTER who was widowed in 1812.

1820 U.S. Federal Census > VA > Pittsylvania [ancestry.com]
1820 U.S. Federal Census
Pittsylvania County, Virginia
Enumeration Date: August 7, 1820
Levina Doss
Free White Persons – Males – Under 10: 2 (William b. abt. 1811 & Phillip b. abt. 1814)
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15: 1 (unknown son b. bet. 1804-1810)
Note: no males 16-18 yo (therefore Thomas was 19 & under 26 yo)
Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25: 1 (Thomas b. abt. 1801)
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 1 (Mary E. b. abt. 1816)
Free White Persons – Females – 16 thru 25: 1 (unknown daughter born bet. 1795-1804)
Free White Persons – Females – 26 thru 44: 1 (Levina b. abt. 1775)
Free White Persons – Females – 45 and over : 1 (poss. mother Elizabeth b. abt. 1750)
Number of Persons – Engaged in Agriculture: 2
Free White Persons – Under 16: 4
Free White Persons – Over 25: 2
Total Free White Persons: 8
Total All Persons – White, Slaves, Colored, Other: 8

Can you tell that I love to do these?

By 1830 Polly and her younger sister Elizabeth were the only children living with their mother Levina. Next door was Polly’s brother William and her uncle Eben ANGEL, a Baptist minister and husband of Levina’s sister Elizabeth.

1830 U.S. Federal Census > VA > Pittsylvania [ancestry.com]
1830 U.S. Federal Census
Pittsylvania County, Virginia
Page No. 348
Levina Doss
Free White Persons – Females – 5 thru 9: 1 (Elizabeth bet. 1821-1825)
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 14: 1 (Mary E. b. abt. 1816)
Free White Persons – Females – 50 thru 59: 1 (Levina, b. 1771-1775)
Free White Persons – Under 20: 2
Total Free White Persons: 3
Total – All Persons (Free White, Slaves, Free Colored): 3

Polly’s Siblings

  • Sib 1: Thomas DOSS (abt.1801-1881) born about 1801 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. He married(1) Elizabeth EADS (abt.1802-bet.1860-1867) on 6 March 1827 in Caswell County, North Carolina. He married(2) Martha Forbes GORDON (1824-1881) on 28 April 1867 in Chariton County, Missouri. Thomas died on 1 April 1881 in Chariton County and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in same county.
  • Sib. 2: [–?–] (female) DOSS born bet. 1795-1804
  • Sib. 3: [–?–] (male) DOSS born bet. 1804-1810
  • Sib. 4: William DOSS (abt.1811-1888) born about 1811 in Pittsylvania County. He married Elizabeth BARBER (abt.1814-1898) on 12 May 1828 in Pittsylvania County. William died 22 November 1888 in Mason County, West Virginia.
  • Sib 5: Phillip Valorius “Phil” DOSS (abt.1814-aft.1880) born about 1814 in Pittsylvania County. He married Elizabeth BAILESS (abt.1815-aft.1880) on 25 December 1835 in Campbell County, Virginia. Phillip died after 1880.
  • Mary E. “Polly” DOSS born about 1816 in Pittsylvania County, died bef. 1892 in Mason County, West Virginia
  • Sib. 7: Elizabeth “Betsy” DOSS born bet. 1821-1825. She married(1) John CLONCH (abt.1810-bet.1844-1847) on 15 February 1842 in Gallia County, Ohio. She married(2) John William STEED (abt.1806-aft.1880) on 26 October 1848 in Gallia County, Ohio. Betsy died after 1880.

DOSS Families Move to Mason County, (West) Virginia

In the 1830s Polly and her siblings, with the exception of Phillip, moved to Mason County in what would later become West Virginia. The DOSS siblings were a tight bunch. It is not known if their mother Levina was still living and made the move with the group or if she had died and the children moved on.

William CLAUNCH (aka CLONCH), with whom Polly DOSS was living, was enumerated between her brothers William and Thomas in 1840 in Mason County. In William DOSS’s household was a young lady who fits the age group for their sister Elizabeth. None of the households had an older woman, and neither did their brother Phillip, who remained in Pittsylvania. It is believed that Levina DOSS died between 1830-1840.

1840 U.S. Federal Census > (W)VA > Mason > page 214 [ancestry.com : accessed 3 July 2014]
1840 U.S. Federal Census
Mason County, (West) Virginia
Page 214
Thomas Doss
Free White Persons – Males – Under 5: 3 (Philip, Charles & unknown)
Free White Persons – Males – 15 thru 19: 1 (too old to be a son from this marriage)
Free White Persons – Males – 30 thru 39: 1 (Thomas)
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 14: 1 (Judah)
Free White Persons – Females – 30 thru 39: 1 (Elizabeth)
Persons Employed in Agriculture: 1
No. White Persons over 20 Who Cannot Read and Write: 2
Free White Persons – Under 20: 5
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 2
Total Free White Persons: 7
Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves: 7
William Claunch
Free White Persons – Males – 30 thru 39: 1 (William)
Free White Persons – Females – 5 thru 9: 1 (Mariah J.)
Free White Persons – Females – 20 thru 29: 1 (Polly)
Persons Employed in Agriculture: 1
No. White Persons over 20 Who Cannot Read and Write: 2
Free White Persons – Under 20: 1
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 2
Total Free White Persons: 3
Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves: 3
William Doss
Free White Persons – Males – Under 5: 1 (James)
Free White Persons – Males – 5 thru 9: 2 (William & unknown)
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 14: 1 (John)
Free White Persons – Males – 20 thru 29: 1 (could this be John Clonch?)
Free White Persons – Males – 30 thru 39: 1 (William)
Free White Persons – Females – 15 thru 19: 1 (sister Elizabeth)
Free White Persons – Females – 20 thru 29: 1 (wife Betsy)
Persons Employed in Agriculture: 1
No. White Persons over 20 Who Cannot Read and Write: 2
Free White Persons – Under 20: 5
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 3
Total Free White Persons: 8
Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves: 8

Polly’s Life with William CLONCH

In 1850 Polly DOSS is seen in William CLONCH’s household with their four children who are seen with the DOSS surname. The fourth child, Jeremiah age 2, is believed to have died before the 1860 census as he is not listed in that census or later mentioned in the will of William CLONCH. Jeremiah was the name of William’s grandfather.

1850 U.S. Federal Census > VA > Mason > 38th District > Sheet No. 422A HH#842-853; online https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0959unix#page/n368/mode/1up : accessed 27 March 2014

During the 1850s Polly’s oldest brother Thomas moved with his family to Chariton County, Missouri. Her brother William and sister Elizabeth remained in Mason County.

By 1860 Polly was no longer using her nickname and is seen as Mary CLAUNCH (CLONCH). She is in William’s household with their children John W., Alex, Luvina, Elizabeth, Thos. E., Joel and Charles H. Also in the household was John W. CLARK age 64 whose relationship to the family has not been determined.

1860 U.S. Federal Census > VA > Mason > District 2 > Page 46 > HH#345-316; online https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu1361unix#page/n434/mode/1up : accessed 27 March 2014

Mary E. DOSS and her partner William CLONCH had four children before and four after the 1850 census. They are listed here with the surnames they were known to have used in later years.

  • John William CLONCH (1840-1919) born in December 1840
  • Alexander CLONCH (1842-1910) born 2 March 1842
  • Lavina Ann DOSS (1846-1945) born about 18 March 1846
  • Jeremiah DOSS born about 1847, died bet. 1850-1860
  • Elizabeth Jane “Betsy” CLONCH (1851-aft.1899) born about 1851
  • Joel CLONCH (1852-aft.1910) born in January 1852
  • Thomas Eli CLONCH (1852-1913) born in November 1852
  • Charles Henry CLONCH (1855-1925) born on 10 November 1855

The American Civil War period (4 Feb 1861-23 Jun 1865) brought changes for Mary E. DOSS and her family. Mary’s oldest son John William CLONCH married Sarah Jane FOSTER (1840- ) on 20 February 1862 in Gallia County, Ohio.

Less than a year later the father of her children, William CLONCH, died on 20 January 1863. William had the foresight [or maybe Mary influenced him] to write a will leaving his land to Mary and her children.

[Source: West Virginia Will Books, 1756-1971; Mason Will book, v. 01A 1833-1875; Page 166-167 (image 104); online https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-18256-40179-14?cc=1909099&wc=10916722%5D
There was a bit of trouble caused by his will. Mary’s step-daughter Mariah Jane also brought forward a will which was not admitted as the last will and testament. The will found in the Will Book is not an original, only a copy. William left his mark on the will and Matthias Long must have been the person who wrote the will for William. On the 1840 and 1850 censuses both adults in the household of William CLONCH could not read and write.

Life After William

I can’t imagine what Mary’s life would have been like if William had not left her the land that her children farmed. In 1863 Mary’s daughter Lavina Ann married James William PATTERSON (1836-1911) in Point Pleasant and her son Alexander married Mary Ellen LEMASTER (1847-1921) in Gallia County, Ohio. Alex’s marriage did not last as Mary Ellen was involved with her brother-in-law John whose marriage ended in divorce in 1864 when John and Mary Ellen moved in together. [A Little “Peyton Place” (Part II)]

By 1870 only three children were living at home with Mary: Joel, Elizabeth, and Charles Henry [who was mistakenly listed as Francis]. Next door was her sister Elizabeth DOSS with her second husband John STEED. Mary’s daughter Lavina was living with her husband in the same district several households away.

1870 U.S. Federal Census > WV > Mason > Clendenen > Sheet No. 147B > HH#228-230 [ancestry.com]
John W. and Mary Ellen and children; Alexander and Mary Ellen’s sister Rebecca and children; and Thomas Eli, who was single, were not located in the 1870 census. John’s son Emanuel was born in February 1870 in Mason County per his death register entry which places him in the county in 1870. How could it be that Mary’s three sons were missed? Could they have been omitted when the census was copied? Are they on the original census?

Life may appear to have been quiet during the 1870s for Mary and her family. There were no marriages but thirteen grandchildren were born. Her daughter Elizabeth Jane “Betsy” had two children out of wedlock. Alexander [who was still legally married to Mary Ellen] fathered two more children with Rebecca LEMASTER. John fathered five children with Mary Ellen. Only Lavina’s four children born in the 1870s were legitimate.

A Divorce and Two Marriages

The 1880s began with a divorce and two marriages.

Alexander CLONCH finally divorced Mary Ellen LEMASTER in March 1880 in Mason County, West Virginia. I wonder if he might have taken advice from his mother. Mary may have wished that William had done the same with his wife Ann Eliza HILL so that she could marry the father of her children.

At about the same time, Charles Henry CLONCH married Nancy Susan WOODS (1864-1928) on 24 March 1880 in Gallia County, Ohio, and Thomas Eli CLONCH married Missouri Catherine SCHULTZ (1862-1942) on 14 May 1880 in Gallia County, Ohio.

In 1880 Mary and all of her children except for John are enumerated on Sheet No. 245A+B in households #195-200 (Lavina), #197-202 (Alex), #198-203 (Thomas), #202-207 (Joel and Charles with their mother Mary) and #203-208 (Elizabeth Jane). Only Mary’s oldest son John W. CLONCH was in Cabell County with Alex’s ex-wife Mary Ellen LEMASTER with whom he now had seven children.

1880 U.S. Federal Census > WV > Mason > Clendennin > ED 93 Sheet 245B HH#202-207 [ancestry.com]
Mary’s son Alexander married Tabitha Ann “Tobitha” COOLEY (1861-1913) on 19 August 1880 in Gallipolis, Gallia County, Ohio. He was the last of her children that she would see getting married.

As harsh as life could be for single women, they ironically possessed more rights than those who married. A single woman had her own legal identity, could enter into contracts and own property, allowing her to have some say over certain matters in her life.Read more : http://www.ehow.com/info_10071412_life-like-single-women-1800s.html

Mary E. DOSS died before 1892 when her children are seen selling the land left to her in William CLONCH’s 1863 will to their sister Lavina. All of Mary’s children, except for young Jeremiah, survived her.

Joel who had remained single finally married in 1893 at the age of 41. John W. at long last married his Mary Ellen in 1895. Betsy who had a third child out of wedlock in 1884 married a man half her age in 1899 and disappeared [I have not been able to trace her after the marriage].

Mary E. DOSS’s children continued “to be fruitful and multiplied” bringing the total grandchildren to 60. The youngest and last surviving died in 1994.

Genealogy Sketch

Name:  Mary E. “Polly” DOSS
Parents: Levina DOSS and unknown father
Spouse: William CLONCH
Children: John W., Alexander, Lavinia Ann, Jeremiah, Elizabeth Jane, Joel, Thomas Eli, Charles Henry
Whereabouts: Pittsylvania County, VA and Mason County, WV
Relationship to Cathy Meder-Dempsey: 3rd great-grandmother

1. Mary E. “Polly” DOSS
2. Alexander CLONCH
3. Rebecca Jane CLONCH
4. Myrtle Hazel ROOP
5. Fred Roosevelt DEMPSEY
6. Cathy Meder-Dempsey

© 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.

19 thoughts on “52 Ancestors: #27 Mary E. “Polly” DOSS ~ An Unwed Mother, Not a Spinster”

  1. Those “ticked” censuses drive me nuts! I don’t have the patience to sit down and figure them out like you do. But your post is very pertinent as a couple days ago I discovered my 3-g-grandpa, who I had always assumed was the oldest child, had an older sister according to one of those “ticks” in an 1840 census.


    1. It’s not alway easy to interpret the “ticks” in the pre-1850 census. Congratulations on discovering that your 3-g-grandpa had an older sister. If she fits in the time period for the parents’ marriage this may help with your research. You can search for a marriage bet. 1840-1850 for a lady with the surname. She may even show up on the 1850 in the immediate area of the family. If she lived long enough to leave a death record with parents’ names then you are home free. Good luck!


      1. Yes. Well. I’m trying to get back into genealogy research, let alone posting. Very busy summer, but worthwhile as making memories with living relatives.


  2. Please contact me. Have been looking for parents of Elizabeth (Bettie) Frances Doss, born Chariton Co., Mo in 1864. Parents from Virginia. In 1870 census she’s with John Hambrick/Hamrick family in Mason Co. WV. In 1880. she’s listed as a servant. in Robert Dabney’s household in Mason Co. (John Hambrick dies & his widow, Lucretia Pickens married Robert Dabney.), After that, Bettie married Andrew Lambert & lived in Mason Co. till death.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First I want to thank you for this guideline! Genealogy is my obsession so I know the countless hours, days, weeks, months and possibly years that went into your research. Bravo! I have spent the last 3 years researching my mother in laws maternal ancestry. I am still not finished with her family but I just could not hold off any longer researching my own. My great grandfather George W Dunlap married Alexander & Tobitha’s daughter Frances Clonch. Their grand daughter Helen Lorriena Dunlap was my mother. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

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