Unraveling the Mystery of George W. Dempsey, son of Seaton Y. Dempsey and Clementine Gowing (part 1)

I have a theory I’m working on. It might not be very smart of me to share it here, but I see no other way to get others involved in helping me solve this mystery.

I know what happens when the wrong information is posted on the internet. People believe it, re-post it, and, suddenly, it becomes an accepted but unproven fact. The ancestor or relative’s story is changed as people go click-happy accepting hints.

In this first of two parts, a bit of background information will be shared on the person of interest.

Who was George W. Dempsey (b. abt. 1831)?

George W. DEMPSEY was the oldest child of my 3rd great-grandparents Seaton Y. DEMPSEY and Clementine M. GOWING who married 3 January 1829 in Amherst County, Virginia.1 Seaton, per the census, was the head of a household in 1830 with a young man, likely his younger brother Wesley, and a young woman, his wife Clementine.2 The young married couple didn’t yet have children. By 1840 they had three children including George who was less than 10 years old and over five.3 In 1850 George was still living at home and 19 years old.4 No birth records were found for Amherst County at this time and George’s birth has been estimated at about 1831.

On 20 December 1852, George married Rhoda A. STATON in Amherst County.5 Less than a year later, on 19 November 1853, their son Andrew Seaton DEMPSEY was born.6 Sometime after Andrew’s birth, Seaton Y. DEMPSEY’s family moved to the Fayetteville Township area of Fayette County, (West) Virginia. George and Rhoda were in his father’s household in 1860 with their son “Ceton A.” listed as age 5.7 If other children had been born to the couple before 1860, they did not survive. George’s oldest sister Geneva Elizabeth DEMPSEY remained in Amherst County and his brother William S. DEMPSEY, the second oldest son, had married and remained in Rockbridge County.

On 23 May 1862, during the Civil War, George W. DEMPSEY was arrested by Lt. Col. Henry W. BRAZEE of the 9th Virginia Volunteers. George, age 31 years, was described as 5 feet 9 1/2 inches, light complexion, dark hair, blue eyes, and long sprouts (whiskers). He said he had done nothing to cause the arrest.8

A year later George and Rhoda’s son Robert L. DEMPSEY was born in March 1863.9 Four years later, George and Rhoda had a daughter on 11 May 1867 in Fayetteville Township.10 She was named Polina E. and would go by Bettie and Lina in later years. In 1870 the little family was found in the census in Fayetteville Township: George A. (sic), Rhoda, Andrew S., Robert L., and Pertina E.11

On 29 December 1874, Andrew S. DEMPSEY, son of Geo. W. and R. A. DEMPSEY, married in Fayetteville. The marriage register entry does not indicate if the parents were living or deceased.12

There is the possibility that George was the man mentioned in a document dated 8 March 1876 when a contract with one Geo. W. DEMPSEY for road work on Arbuckle road in Fayette County was annulled.

I’ve researched all three DEMPSEY lines who lived in Fayette County at this time. There was a younger George Washington DEMPSEY, son of John W. DEMPSEY and Amelia RIDDLE, born in December 1851 who would have also been old enough to be the man mentioned in the record above. I cannot at this time say if this contract was for George b. 1831 or George b. 1851. I had planned on sharing the images and transcription of the document but decided against it. Anyone interested in the document can view it at the link in the citation.13

George W. DEMPSEY and his wife were not found in the 1880 census. Therefore, there is a decade from 1870 to 1880 in which their whereabouts are unknown.

The death of George W. DEMPSEY

George W. DEMPSEY did not die on 16 November 1879 and he was not buried in Hampton National Cemetery in Hampton, Virginia, in grave number 5369.

1880 U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedule. Image courtesy of Ancestry.com

The man buried in Hampton National Cemetery served as a volunteer in Company K of Regiment 8 of New Jersey.14, 15 He was a 70 years old widower and had been a resident of the National Soldiers Home for 5 years16. He was born about 1809 and over 20 years older than George W. DEMPSEY of Fayette County. Records found for this man’s death have been erroneously attached to George W. DEMPSEY, son of Seaton Y. and Clementine.

I learned the date of death was wrong, i.e. not for George W. DEMPSEY of Virginia, by viewing the documents. This is why we should always view the available images and not rely on the index. If only an index is offered, it is wise to review the source information to learn if the records are available in image form on the same site or on another.

With the confusion concerning George’s death in 1879 out of the way, what happened to him? Where was he in 1880?

The Children of George W. DEMPSEY and Rhoda A. STATON from 1880 until…

In 1880, two of the three known children of George W. DEMPSEY and Rhoda A. STATON were found in the census. They lived about 165 miles apart. That may not seem like much in our days but in 1880 this was not a quick drive on the interstate.

Andrew Seaton DEMPSEY (1853-1924) was 27 years old, married with two children, and living in Fayetteville17 where the family had been since coming from Amherst County around 1855.18

Andrew would remain in Fayetteville and raise a family of nine children. No death record has been found but his tombstone in Huse Memorial Park indicates he died in 1924.

The whereabouts of Robert L. DEMPSEY (1863-aft. 1930) in 1880 is unknown. Robert married Mary Frances DARR in Kanawha County in 1892. None of the records found name his parents and a record of death is missing. Robert and his wife gave their children unusual middle names which strongly support his being George’s son. His oldest son was named Paul Seaton, his youngest son Edgar Younger (the assumed middle name of his great-grandfather Seaton Y. DEMPSEY), and his son Robert Darr was given his mother’s maiden name.

Polina Elizabeth DEMPSEY (1867-1941) was 13 years old in 1880, a servant living in Pedlar District of Amherst County with a MASON household.19

Bettie, as she was more often known, lived in Rockbridge County, Virginia, from at least 1884 when her first daughter was born in Cornwall.20 Bettie had eight children before marrying William W. SORRELS in 1916. Her 1941 death certificate gives her mother’s name as Rhoda STATON and her father’s name as not known.21

What Happened to George W. DEMPSEY?

With two of the three children of George and Rhoda accounted for in the 1880 census, several questions remain. Where were George, Rhoda, and Robert in 1880? Why was their 13-year-old daughter found in Amherst? Were both George and Rhoda still living, only one of them living, or neither?

Assuming George W. DEMPSEY was living in 1880, where might he have gone? Could he have started a new family? Have descendants of his known and maybe unknown children had their DNA tested?

The second part of this post will be published in two weeks’ time as next Sunday’s post will be My Ancestor Score as of Valentine’s Day 2021.

© 2021, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

 


  1. Register of marriages, Amherst County, Virginia, 1763-1853 (browse-only images), FamilySearch, citing microfilm of original records at the Virginia State Library in Richmond, Virginia, DGS 7578824, Film 30273, image 589 of 786, Date: 1829 Jan 3; Name of husband: Dempsey, Seaton Y.; Name of wife: Gowing, Clementina; Security and witnesses: Landon S. Gowing, Philip Smith Sr., Ro. Tinsley. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99XF-N8WJ : accessed 6 February 2021). 
  2. 1830 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Fifth Census of the United States, 1830 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C. NARA microfilm publication M19, 201 rolls, Roll: 194; History Library Film: 0029673, Virginia, Amherst, page 519, line 1, Seaton Y. Dempsey household. The official enumeration day of the 1830 census was 1 June 1830. (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 February 2013). 
  3. 1840 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Sixth Census of the United States, 1840 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication M704, 580 rolls, Roll: 550, Family History Library Film: 0029683, Virginia, Amherst, Page: 214, line 28, Seaton Dempsey. The official enumeration day of the 1840 census was 1 June 1840. (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 19 February 2013). 
  4. 1850 U.S. Federal Census (index and images), Ancestry, citing Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication M432, 1009 rolls, Roll: 933, Virginia, Amherst County, Eastern District, page: 76a (stamped), lines 1-9, HH #40-40, Dempsey. The official enumeration day of the 1850 census was 1 June 1850. (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 13 February 2013). 
  5. Register of marriages, Amherst County, Virginia, 1763-1853, image 784 of 786, left page, 5th entry from bottom, Geo W Dempsey and Rhoda A. Staton married 20 Dec 1852. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9XF-NZMP?i=783 : accessed 21 January 2021). 
  6. Audrey Blankenship Gill, photographer, photo of a grave marker in Huse Memorial Park, Fayetteville, Fayette County, West Virginia, taken on 3 April 2007. Inscription: Dempsey, Andrew Seaton Nov. 19, 1853-Mar. 12, 1928 and Dempsey, Caroline Burgess June 12, 1852-May 10, 1933. 
  7. 1860 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Eighth Census of the United States, 1860 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls, Roll: M653, Family History Library Film: 805344, West Virginia, Fayette County, District 2, page No. 142, lines 28-37, HH #1352-687 and #1353-688, Dempsey households. The official enumeration day of the 1860 census was 1 June 1860. (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 19 February 2013). 
  8. “United States Union Provost Marshal Files of Individual Civilians, 1861-1866,” images, FamilySearch, citing NARA microfilm publication M345 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), Dej-Den > image 856-858 of 1785. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939X-XF9K-8P?cc=1834304&wc=M6Y2-LP8%3A162217301 : 22 May 2014). 
  9. Month and year of birth from the 1900 census. I have not found records supporting his middle name being Luther as seen on many family trees. A son’s delayed birth certificate and a daughter’s obituary name the father as Robert Lee DEMPSEY. 
  10.  “West Virginia Births, 1853-1930,” database, FamilySearch, citing Fayetteville Twp, Fayette, West Virginia, United States, county courthouses, West Virginia; FHL microfilm 584,755,  line31, Polina E Dempsey, May 1867, image on WVCulture (http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_view2.aspx?FilmNumber=584755&ImageNumber=13 : accessed 6 February 2021) 
  11. 1870 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Ninth Census of the United States, 1870 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication T132, 13 rolls, Roll: M593_1686, Family History Library Film: 553185, West Virginia, Fayette County, Fayetteville, page 113A, line 40, and page 113B, lines 1-4, HH #9-9, Dempsey George A (sic). The official enumeration day of the 1870 census was 1 June 1870. (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 19 February 2013). 
  12. West Virginia Marriages, 1780-1970 (database index, FamilySearch, database images <I>West Virginia Division of Culture and History</I>), 29 Dec 1874, Fayetteville, Fayette County, West Virginia, Andrew S. Dempsey, 21y, single, born Fayette, residing Fayette, s/o Geo W. and R. A. Dempsey, Caroline Burgess, 21y, single, born Fayette, residing Fayette, d/o Andrew and ~ Burgess. (http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_view.aspx?Id=12086567&Type=Marriage : accessed 2 February 2021). 
  13. Loose papers, ca. 1787-1875 (1901), (browse-only images), FamilySearch, citing microfilm of original records at the West Virginia University Library in Morgantown, West Virginia. Contains original deeds, guardianship, wills, road records, and other types of documents that were recorded before the courts. DGS 7616766, Film 186347, Loose papers (boxes 1-2), env. ?-1 to ?-3 (no dates), env. 1787-1, 1824-1, 1841-1, 1851-1 to 1869-3, image 498 (lower right) and 499 (upper right) of 584. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9VT-QCR9?cat=302047 : accessed 5 February 2021). 
  14. U.S., National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962. Ancestry.com. (database online) citing Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, Record Group 92. The National Archives at College Park, College Park, Maryland. (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2590/images/40479_1521003239_0476-03252?treeid=&personid=&hintid=&usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true&_ga=2.250633295.855475264.1612270652-785982050.1593849185&pId=2196090 : accessed 3 February 2021) 
  15. The National Cemetery Administration; Hampton National Cemetery, Burial Register, 1833-1935. Ancestry.com (online database), U.S., Burial Registers, Military Posts and National Cemeteries, 1862-1960 citing Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Quartermaster General. (09/18/1947–08/01/1962). Burial Registers of Military Post and National Cemeteries, compiled ca. 1862–ca. 1960. ARC ID: 4478151. Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, Record Group 92. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/3135/images/B0121384-00171?usePUB=true&_phsrc=Wbz35595&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&pId=496218 : accessed 3 February 2021) 
  16. U.S., Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885. Ancestry.com (online database) citing National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Non-population Census Schedules for Virginia, 1850-1880; Archive Collection: T1132; Archive Roll Number: 18; Census Year: 1879; Census Place: Hampton National Soldiers Home, Elizabeth City, Virginia; Page: 471. (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8756/images/VAT1132_18-0312?usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true&pId=2170177 : accessed 3 February 2021) 
  17. 1880 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Tenth Census of the United States, 1880 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication T9, 1,454 rolls, Roll: 1402, West Virginia, Fayette County, Fayetteville, Enumeration District 27, page 31B, lines 17-20, HH #339, Andrew S Dempsey. The official enumeration day of the 1880 census was 1 June 1880. (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 6 February 2021). 
  18. Seaton’s youngest child was born in Amherst in 1853. His brother Wilson was in Fayette County for the birth of a slave named Orange on 11 June 1855. Wilson’s residence at the time was listed as Amherst. He may have set up temporary housekeeping in Fayette with Mary, the mother of Orange, and preparing for the permanent move from Amherst to Fayette with his second wife and children from both marriages. 
  19. 1880 Census, Roll: 1353; Virginia, Amherst County, Pedlar, Enumeration District 20, page 238D, line 22, HH #27-27, Marvel Mason. The official enumeration day of the 1880 census was 1 June 1880. (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 6 February 2021). 
  20. “Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014,” (index and images), <i>Ancestry</i>, citing Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia, State file no. 23586, Registration area no. 815B, Registered no. 9. Nanny Dempsey, female, white, age 64, born 10 May 1884, died 20 Oct 1948 in Vesuvius, Rockbridge, Virginia, registration date 3 Nov 1948, mother Betty Dempsey. (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 January 2016). 
  21. Ibid., State file no. 25092, Registration area no. 815A, Registered no. 9. Betty P Dempsey Sorrels, female, white, age 71, born 11 May 1870, died 8 Sep 1941 in Rockbridge, Virginia, registration date 9 Nov 1941, mother Rhoda Staton, spouse W W Sorrels. (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 January 2016). 

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.

22 thoughts on “Unraveling the Mystery of George W. Dempsey, son of Seaton Y. Dempsey and Clementine Gowing (part 1)”

  1. i was going to ask about the DNA before I came to that part. Have you ever tried to isolate a branch through DNA? I imagine that is SO time-consuming and difficult.
    Sometimes it’s neat when our ancestors were arrested because we get a physical description ;). Otherwise, it’s usually only military records, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been paying special attention to any and all matches who might come from either of my Dempsey lines. The particular group of matches I discovered all descend from one woman who was born in 1880 AFTER the census. Yes, DNA is time-consuming and, at times, mind-boggling. And my greatest wish is that Ancestry would include a chromosome browser because I don’t think this can be solved without one. But I did make some nice discoveries while researching the ancestor of these matches. Thanks, Luanne.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yea, you’re probably right! We’ll just keep on chasin’ ’em, no matter what it takes and have fun along the way. I’m chasing one of Cheryl’s ancestors right now that will be the subject of my next post and I found something interesting I never saw before, so there are those moments when you get rewarded when you least expect it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d be checking probate records in West Virginia given that their 13 year old was a servant back in Amherst County. However, if her mother had died and she wasn’t fond of a possible stepmother, that might have caused her to live elsewhere. I’m looking forward to the next part of this series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve looked at nearly all court records available to the public on FamilySearch for Dempsey individuals at this time. And I continue to check on collections that are no longer “locked.” Thank you, Linda, for the suggestion. I will be checking again — I wish WV had chancery records online like Virginia. And, yes, I even checked there.

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  3. Well dang…I just spent last 20 minutes leaving a reply but apparently I wasn’t signed in…and when I signed it all that information disappeared. So…in short….I’ve got a big pile of notes on George W Dempsey (brother to my Seaton B Dempsey) which I need to get back to. However, the George W that I’m tracking was married 12/1/1874 to Mary “Burgifo” (I think this should be “Burges”) in Fayette County. Then in 1880 they are in Fayetteville with Mother-In-Law Susan B urges 61 and Bro-In-Law Allen age 24, with George age 30, Mary age 31, and 3 children. Also found them in 1900 Census….however, could be that I’ m off on the wrong track…so have to go back and re-track my “thinking”. I’m in the middle of tax returns today, but will try to find my notes and get back to my Dempsey Files this week. As usual…your details are fantastic!!! Sharen Durler Pflughoeft

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry you got bumped off, Sharen. Yes, I have your George W. Dempsey married to Mary Jane Burgess. I found Washington as his middle name on the 1946 death certificate of his son Samuel Henry Dempsey. I keep everything in one GEDCOM file for quick and easy access. Lots was done years ago so I am always cleaning up and adding. Do you know if your George was responsible for the Poor Farm around 1872? I just found records and need to continue back to find out if this was George b. 1831 or your George b. 1851. Thank you, Sharen.

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      1. Cathy….nothing in my notes about Poor Farm 1872 and doesn’t look possible for my George b-1851. I’ll keep on looking. I have a lot of notes on George b-1831…but need to organize them…perfect “to do” for a snowy and cold day!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The Poor Farm might be something to look into but would take time as the mentions are in the order books (if I remember correctly) and they are browse only. Maybe one day I’ll start at the beginning and read all of the entries and note them for the Fayette County residents. Maybe. Thanks, Sharen.

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