A New Milestone for Opening Doors in Brick Walls

It’s been an amazing journey – this blogging thing. I’d been doing family history research for about twenty years when I took up Amy Johnson Crow’s challenge to write about my ancestors.

It took me until week 3 to decide to start a blog. I already had a name I’d been using for my online family tree and for my Facebook page.

I don’t know how many pages of material all of my blog posts cover. This is post #559. Ninety thousand visitors have dropped in and viewed my posts over 168,000 times during these five years.

Although the majority of my articles have been about my children’s ancestors, visitors to my blog have been more interested in other content.

All-Time Top 10 Posts and Pages

6 AncestryDNA Notes for Easier Comparison – October 2016

How I Got My MISSING AncestryDNA Circles Back – April 2018

Dear Cousin ~ We Have a DNA Match, Now What? – March 2018

How I Use and Manage AncestryDNA Notes – October 2016

James SIMS (1754-1845) Pioneer of Nicholas County, West Virginia – written in 2002 and at home on my blog since 2014

Old Photographs Saved From Trash Can – since April 2015, a page linking all posts from the series by the same name

Step by Step Guide to Accessing Browse-only Records on FamilySearch – July 2017

The Ancestors, a page linking all of my children’s ancestor posts written in the past five years, mainly for the 52 Ancestors series

52 Ancestors: #47 Johnny CASH’s 1C5R ~ Kesiah LIVELY – November 2014

About Cathy Meder-Dempsey, my “about page” last update in November 2017. Maybe I should refresh it a bit.

My Least Viewed Post

This young man was featured in Old Photographs Saved From Trash Can ~ #36 Otterbein E. PADDACK 1874-1942 on New Year’s Eve 2015 and has gotten the least amount of views of all of my posts. A grand total of 47 views compared to the 1,649 to 2,798 for the top 10 above. With a name like Otterbein Paddack, no wonder he hasn’t been Googled.

Search Terms

What brings traffic to my blog if they didn’t drop in by clicking a link shared on social media? Search terms are no longer a precise way of determining what people are searching for as they are often encrypted on the search engines. But the ones which do make the list are fun to look at.

The top search term over the years has been the blog name followed by Johnny Cash family tree. Number 3 was Verwurelter. If you don’t know what Verwurelter are then take a moment to read the only recipe post I’ve written: Family Tradition: Berliner and Verwurelter.

Luxembourg and German towns names, as well as all those surnames of ancestors, have drawn readers to my blog. One search might not have helped the person interested in a dempsey in prison in beckley wv. It makes me want to do the same search just to find out if there was a Dempsey in prison in Beckley. I’m always willing to solve a puzzle.

The person who visited looking for a naughty 50-something mother in the countryside was probably not very impressed when the search criteria turned up: 52 Ancestors: #50 My Naughty Mr. and Mrs. DEMPSEY.

Setting Goals for Year 6

As I mentioned in my first post in 2019, I’m taking things as they come this year. I’ll be working on whatever needs to be researched, reviewed, or updated. No resolutions and no promises.

Not all of my time is spent researching and writing for my blog. Three years ago the president of my genealogy society, Luxracines, asked if I would be interested in joining the committee. It’s not much work, he said.  It was more time consuming than I had thought but I will be offering my candidature for another three years when our annual meeting is held in March.

Along with spending time with family and friends, I also have a retired husband who wants to share his passion for cycling with me. He keeps me healthy since research and blogging are sedentary tasks. Riding 5,300 kilometers (3,293 miles) last year took 210 hours and that doesn’t include preparations time and after ride clean-up.  And I get my eight hours of sleep at night.

And now it’s time to light the candles.

Happy 5th Blogiversary to Opening Doors in Brick Walls. Thanks to all of you for making this such an enjoyable journey. © 2019, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

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I No Longer Need that Lookup, Folks!

A little over a week ago a Facebook friend, the descendant of a half-sibling of my 2nd great-grandfather’s half-sister (let that sink in), shared a post I wrote in 2014.

52 Ancestors: #26 William Clonch abt. 1807-1863

Note: As of 13 January 2019, the 2014 post has been updated with sources and images. 

My 3rd great-grandfather William CLONCH was a challenge to research. Ralph Hayes worked on the CLONCH families years before I did and posted his finding on the CLAUNCH surname mailing list on Rootsweb as well as in other forums popular over 17 years ago. Most of the descendants of William’s father Dennis CLAUNCH use the CLONCH spelling. Dennis had brothers whose descendants go by CLAUNCH.

William CLONCH never married my 3rd great-grandmother Mary E. “Polly” DOSS. He left land to her and her children in his will in 1863. In 2011 after FamilySearch added the collection of West Virginia Will Books, 1756-1971, I went in and found his will and transcribed it. It was only then that I actually saw the words he had written, naming her children with the DOSS surname.

In my 2014 post, the transcriptions were included for the will and three other records produced at the time the will was ordered to be recorded.

I wrote further in the post:

The land left to Mary E. DOSS and her children by William was sold by his heirs in 1892 to Louvenia PATTERSON, seen as Loving Ann DOSS in the will:

In Mason County deed book 53, page 202, dated 29 April 1892, John W. and wife Mary E. Clonch, Alexander and wife Bertha (sic, Tobitha), Charles and wife Mary, Thomas and wife Missouri, Joel and wife Betsy, heirs of William Clonch to Louvenia Patterson all of the Mason County, West Virginia, property in Clendenin District, Mason County, West Virginia. According to these records, William Clonch is the father of the Doss children. Note: I don’t have images of or a true transcript of this record. A look-up would be appreciated. 

When my Facebook friend shared the link to William’s post, one of her friends made a comment about the missing record. This lead me to take a new look at FamilySearch‘s catalog to see if land records for Mason County, West Virginia, might have been added since the last time I checked.

I No Longer Need that Lookup, Folks!

Last year while working on my Rewriting the Biography of James SIMS 1754-1845 series, I found tax records for the area he lived. And it seemed each time I went in to look for something another collection had the camera icon indicating the digital images were available. If the counties of Kanawha, Nicholas, and Fayette where the SIMS families lived were going online then wouldn’t the rest of the West Virginia counties also be updated?

I went to the catalog and searched for Mason County, West Virginia, and began looking at the list of records. I opened up Land and Property and found Deed books, 1803-1901. These are browse-only records and include the grantor and grantee indexes as well as the deed books for 1803 to 1901.

I went straight for the record I’d requested over four years ago. It was there in Deed Book 53, on pages 202 through 204 – but I won’t be sharing an image or transcription in this post.

The deed books have an index at the front and I noticed there was another record for a CLONCH individual, my Alexander CLONCH, the son of the above mentioned William. When I read the record I knew I had to take a closer look at the grantor and grantee indexes. I found, in all, five deeds dealing with the land left to the children of William CLONCH. Transcriptions will be shared in a separate post next week.

Folks, pass the word around to check the FamilySearch catalog. They may have collections of interest to you with the camera icon instead of the camera with a key (indicating restrictions) or the microfilm icon.

Clonch cousins, sorry for keeping you hanging. If you can’t wait until next week, go to the catalog, and do the searches I did. Happy huntings!

© 2019, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

Returning to Blogging in the New Year – Refreshed and Excited

The definition of taking a break is interrupting one’s activity briefly. When I went into hiatus the end of October I didn’t expect it to be over two months before I would come back to blogging.

I was touched by the people who reached out to me while I was missing in action. Several messaged me directly to find out if all was well. From my young 3C1R Luella who I’ve known nearly two decades to my #1 reader/commenter/blogger Amy to my follower from Brazil whose ancestors lived in the same village as my ancestors.

All were worried. They didn’t know I’d fallen into a rabbit hole, spinning down winding double helix strands carrying our DNA. It took me a while to gain my orientation and find the even more twisted ladder out of the hole.

Who’s Fault Was It?

 

Blaine T. Bettinger shared my post How DNA Results Helped Discover Luxembourg Emigrants in the Facebook group Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques.

Great blog post about how the DNA Match Labeling extension for Chrome helped solve a genealogical mystery! Genetic networks and clustering tools are the future of DNA evidence!

I had no idea I was even on Blaine’s radar and it explained a spike in traffic on my blog during the week following the post. Being noticed by Blaine was fantastic.

Even more incredible was the help I received from a member of the Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques group.  Jonathan Brecher sent a message offering to run a Shared Clustering tool he has developed on the AncestryDNA test I manage to help me tickle out the maternal matches.

Shared Clustering

As mentioned in the above post [over two months ago] maternal matches are few and far between as that side of my family tree is Luxembourgish with a few branches which reach into France and Germany during the periods of time when the area belonged to Luxembourg.

Jonathan’s tool is not yet available to the public. He sent a CSV file with the heat map of my matches and a list of the clusters in text format. He paid special attention to my starred matches as these were the ones I had already been able to identify as maternal.

The heat map generated 66 clusters. Four of these are for maternal matches while 61 are for paternal. One cluster remains unknown at this time but looks more paternal than maternal.

The number of matches in each cluster varies greatly. There are a dozen clusters with only 2-10 matches, 33 between 11-100, 11 between 101-200, 4 between 201-400, 5 between 401-500, and one with 705!

I pinned down the fourth maternal cluster this past week – when I was supposed to be working on this post. I felt the pull of that rabbit hole, again, and checked each match and their trees until I found the connection. They descend from immigrants, two BAUSTERT brothers who were great-grandsons of my 5th great-grandparents Matthias SCHRAMEN and Anna Barbara LEIBRICH (BURG) of Ferschweiler, Eifelkreis Bitburg-Prüm, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. Did the Baustert brothers know their 1C1R Nicholas SCHRAMEN had emigrated about 20 years earlier and originally settled in Iowa where they were also found?

What I’ve Been Working On

As the CSV file Jonathan sent included my notes, the paternal clusters were easily identified as coming from one of the four paternal grandparents’ branches. Some could even be associated with specific branches of a grandparent’s ancestral line.

I’ve been amending my notes on AncestryDNA to reflect the cluster number as well as a surname and possible generation. The cluster numbers are only for reference and make it easier to sort them on the AncestryDNA page using the Chrome extension AncestryDNA Helper or in Genome Mate Pro when sorting the MRCA (most recent common ancestors) notes.

Cluster 40 with 13 matches is labeled GROELINGER-MERGEN(6) as the MRCA have been identified as my 4th great-grandparents (6 generations back) Johann GROELINGER and Anna Maria Benedikta MERGEN. Six of the 13 matches have been identified as descendants of this couple. I’ve sent messages and am waiting for replies.

Once the notes have been fixed on AncestryDNA, I move all matches for a cluster over to Genome Mate Pro (GMP) using another Chrome extension, Pedigree Thief (collects the match information, notes, and the shared matches). When the matches are in GMP, I begin adding the matches’ trees once again with the Pedigree Thief which reads the pedigree view of the tree and converts it to an Ahnentafel chart. GMP has a very steep learning curve and I’m still trying to assimilate and grasp the abilities of the program.

I’ve developed a routine and am slowly getting matches which have been associated with a cluster entered into GMP. Nearly half of the clusters, the smallest, have been added. The larger clusters remain to be done and I’ll be spacing them out a bit. And of course, as new matches are found on Gedmatch Genesis, FTDNA, and MyHeritage they are also added to Genome Mate Pro.

I still feel the pull of the rabbit hole but I won’t let it get in the way of my returning to a regular blogging schedule.


© 2019, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

2018 A Year in Review and What’s Coming in 2019

I had great plans for 2018.  I finished up the last three sets of 4th great-grandparents’ posts which I had started in 2017 under the 52 Ancestors banner. I continued to do my monthly posts for The Slave Name Roll Project up until my much-needed break in October.

I took on the huge project of analyzing the census record of my 5th great-grandfather James SIMS and each of his sixteen children. The project became Rewriting the Biography, an ongoing theme for the rough draft notes of a new/updated biography of my 5th great-grandfather James SIMS (1754-1845) of Nicholas County.

I’ll continue the theme during 2019 although likely not regularly. I have not even begun to work with the huge collection of books and papers which were sent to me several years ago by Rose Mary Sims Rudy.

Posts in 2018

I wrote only 50 posts during 2018, down from 88 in 2017 and 129 in 2016. An average of about a post a week. This did not, however, have a negative effect on the stats for the year.

Total Views Increased During 2018

Traffic on my blog since I began blogging in 2014.

25,584 viewers visited my blog during 2018, a little over 5,000 more than in 2017. Total views were 44,453 up from 36,782 in 2017. Followers have increased from 397 in 2017 to 463 at the end of 2018.

Graph of 2018 by months

Views by months show a constant above 3,000 viewers per month except for November and December when I was on my break. The three best months were March, August, and October when sharing of posts in social media brought extra traffic.

Top 10 Countries in 2018

The USA remained in 1st place in 2018. Canada took 2nd place (up from 4th) and Germany remained in 3rd place.  The United Kingdom jumped up from 7th to 4th place. Luxembourg which had been 2nd every year since I began blogging in 2014 dropped down to 5th place in 2018. Australia remained in 6th place. Brazil moved back down to 7th compared to 5th in 2017 but the number of viewers is still amazing. France remained in 8th place. Ireland is new to the top 10 list of countries at 9th place pushing Belgium down to 10th place. The Netherlands is up and coming, doubling views from 2017 to 2018, but missed tying up with Belgium by 9 views.

Top 10 Posts for 2018

#1. Dear Cousin- We Have a DNA Match, Now What?
#2. How I Got My MISSING AncestryDNA Circles Back
#3. Rocking the Shared Matches on AncestryDNA
#4. How DNA Results Helped Discover Luxembourg Emigrants
#5. A Visit to the Kreisarchiv Bitburg-Prüm in Germany
#6. The Tragic Death of Phebe Sims

#7. Slave Name Roll Project: RELEASING: Jordan, Winny, and Thomas

#8. SOLVED – The Mystery of James C. Crouse Sr.’s Grave Marker

#9. Jordan N. PETERS’ War of 1812 Pension File is Online!

#10. Slave Name Roll Project: RELEASING: Hannah

It wasn’t surprising to see DNA as the subject of the top 4 posts from 2018. I was happy to see at #5 a post I wrote about visiting a German archive with my genealogy society, Luxracines. I’m especially proud of #6. My first attempt at storytelling based on facts:  a fictional version of the last day in the life of my 5th great-grandmother Phebe SIMS along with the coroner’s report which gave me a glimpse into the day. And as in previous years, two of my Slave Name Roll Project posts made the top 10. The list was rounded out with a solved mystery and an 1812 pension file.

What’s Coming in 2019?

Should I set goals for genealogy research in 2019? I think not. I’m going to take it as it comes, working on whatever needs to be researched, reviewed, or updated. No resolutions and no promises except first up will be a post on why I’ve been missing in action since end October.

Happy New Year to all my readers!

Thank you to all of my readers and followers for making 2018 a great year! I loved seeing traffic to my blog even when I was not blogging during the past two months.

Happy New Year 2019 and, as always, may you find new keys to open the doors in your brick walls!

© 2019, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

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How DNA Results Helped Discover Luxembourg Emigrants

Earlier this year I wrote about my 4th great-grandparents Jacob FRISCH and Regina HUBERTY in 52 Ancestors: #45 Missing Parish Records in Mamer Leave Unanswered Questions. As the title suggests there were things which were left unresolved in the article. No trace was found of their son Franciscus “Franz” FRISCH  born in 1796 after the 1849 census nor of their son Nicolaus FRISCH born in 1798 after his birth. Franz married and had a family as seen in the census but Nicolaus was completely off the radar.

One of Franz’s sons, Peter John FRISCH was known to have come to America in 1854 as seen in Sandra L. Hammes’ From Luxembourg to La Crosse And Beyond 1851-1910, however, I did not find a birth record to connect him to his parents Franz and Magdalena.

Last month I found a DNA match with a FRISCH ancestor in her family tree. This post is about how I discovered the match, which new website I used to confirm relationships, and how both helped me to prove the missing brothers of my 3rd great-grandmother Elisabeta FRISCH emigrated from Luxembourg to America on the ship Pauline which departed from Le Havre, France and arrived in the port of New York in May 1854.

“New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891,” (database with images), FamilySearch (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), NARA microfilm publication M237, 140 – 23 May 1854-11 Jun 1854 > images 131 thru 134 of 651. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939V-55J8-K?cc=1849782&wc=MX62-X3X%3A165779201 : accessed 12 October 2018).

DNA Match Labeling

It all began in mid-September when Blaine Bettinger announced his Chrome extension DNA Match Labeling was now available in the Chrome Web Store. This extension lets you use eight colored dots to label your AncestryDNA matches. Michael John Neill wrote an interesting post Label Your AncestryDNA Matches stressing the necessity of giving thought to how to use these on the thousands of matches we have. I decided to use them to label ONLY the paternal matches of the test results I manage.

Different tools used to sort and analyze matches on AncestryDNA

An example of several matches which have been labeled with the red dot:

Matches labeled with the red dot for the line back to William A. W. DEMPSEY

Why not the maternal matches? Our mother is Luxembourgish and all of her ancestors were from Luxembourg or the surrounding regions of Germany, France, and Belgium which were once part of Luxembourg. Compared to the number of paternal matches, the maternal ones are few and far between. The top maternal match is a 4C1R (4th cousin once removed) on page 3 (50 matches per page) with 44 cMs. Since there are so few at this time, I’m using Ancestry’s star feature for maternal matches because it lets me pull up all of these matches and sort them by date or relationship. The colored dots, which I am saving for paternal matches, are only visual aids and cannot be sorted.

Kate, a new match, starred to indicate possible Luxembourg ancestry and Shared DNA amount information open in black box.

While starring the matches, I checked the Shared Matches of the highest maternal cousin and found a new match with a great-grandmother named Anna Katrina FRISCH. Unfortunately, there were no dates and places of birth, marriage, and death in the tree and no parents for this FRISCH young lady.

Kate’s privatized Ancestry tree with the in common with surname: FRISCH.

The new match, Kate in honor of her great-grandmother, is a Shared Match of Mary, a 4C1R who descends through my 4th great-grandparents Jacob FRISCH and Regina HUBERTY. Mary had first gotten in touch with me in 2009. We have been in touch about the DNA match but she has not uploaded to GEDMATCH. This is important to note as shared matches do not necessarily share the DNA on the same segment of a chromosome. The only way to determine this is to do a comparison using a chromosome browser which at this time is not available on Ancestry.

Building Kate’s Family Tree

Building out a DNA match’s family tree is like playing connect the dots. The first run through is all about piecing together hints and bits of information for a temporary tree which can later, if it turns out to be the correct family, be filled out with care and sourced.

I found Joe and Anna DAVIS in Sanborn County, Dakota Territory, in 1885 with a daughter named Lena. I continued to find them in the same county in the state of South Dakota from 1900 to 1930. These helped me to determine I was on the right track and these were Kate‘s great-grandparents. Anna K. as she was seen in the census was born in Iowa with parents born in Germany. This is in conflict with my FRISCH family being from Luxembourg.

Working backwards I searched for Anna K. FRISCH born about 1861 in Iowa and found a promising family group. John and Lena FRISCH in Johnson County, Iowa. They had a Catherine born about 1858 and a Kate born about 1859. In 1860 and in 1880 the father John was seen as born in Luxembourg while in 1870 Holland was listed. The most interesting census listing was the 1860 where the young family was in the household of Francis FRISH (sic), a 60 years old farmer born in Luxembourg. Was this Franz who I had not been able to locate after the 1849 Luxembourg census? When did Franz and his son Jean come to America? Perhaps at the same time as Peter John FRISCH mentioned in the La Crosse book?

A search for a passenger list with FRISCH individuals who arrived in America in the 1850s turned up the list featured at the beginning of this post. Two family groups with the surname FRISCH were on the Pauline in May 1854: François, Pierre, Jean, and Angelique as well as Nicolaus, Catherine, Paul, Canada (sic), Marie, and Catherine. Had I found both of my 3rd great-grandmother Elisabetha FRISCH’s brothers?

Members of my genealogy society Luxracines have been working on a project to index the marriages from the 10-year tables of the civil records of the Luxembourg municipalities and former municipalities for the years 1797 to 1923. Using this new online database (available to members only)  I found Nicolaus FRISCH married Catherine WESTER in Reckange-sur-Mess in 1825. I searched the birth and death records in Reckange and found nine children, five of whom died by 1853 leaving four living: Paul, Jeanette, Maria, and Katharina. All names with the exception of Jeanette (Canada on the list) matched the passenger list.

What about Franz FRISCH? Where was his wife? I found she’d died in 1850 in Capellen. Their oldest son Franz was found marrying in 1851 in Steinsel to Margaretha REUTER. [This is a recent find and I have not spent much time searching for more information on this couple and their children, if they had any.] 

This left two unmarried sons, Pierre and Jean, whose names matched those on the passenger list. But who was Angelique? Pierre married Angelique TRINKES on 4 September 1856 in Dubuque, Iowa, according to the La Crosse book. No marriage record has been found to confirm this date and place. Is it possible she came over with the FRISCH families or did Pierre marry her before their arrival in America?

Matricula Online

Not all of the dots have been connected. The church records are missing on FamilySearch for the parish of Mamer and the affiliated villages. A family register for the parish of Mamer was found on FamilySearch over two years ago when I worked on Elisabeta FRISCH’s family. Would I ever be able to find records to confirm the information in the handwritten register?

This past July the Catholic church records for Luxembourg went online on Matricula Online. Included in this new database are Mamer’s missing church records. The baptismal record of Petrus FRISCH, son of Franz FRISCH and Magdalena MORRET was found on Matricula Online. He was born 25 May 1830 in Capellen.  This is not the date found in the La Crosse book (29 Oct 1832), in the Mamer register (25 March 1830), or on the 1849 census (30 May 1830). I can only hope Peter married his first wife Angelique in Luxembourg as the record would include his correct date of birth. But I feel confident the Pierre seen on the passenger list with François is Petrus found in the baptismal record and Peter who lived in La Crosse County.

The Incomplete Story

Franz and his brother Nicolaus came with their families to America in May 1854. By 1860, everyone was in Jackson County, Iowa. Franz’s son John had married Lena WEBER and was the father of two young girls. Peter had married Angeline TRINKES and did not have children. Nicolaus was with his wife Catherine, son Paul, and daughter Maria. Their daughter Jeanette had married Jean FORRET. They had two children as well as Jean’s mother and two siblings in their household. Nicolaus’ daughter Catherine is the only person from the passenger list who has not been located.

Nicolaus died in 1862 leaving everything to his son Paul. His widow Catherine died in 1872. Franz died in 1867. John was widowed in 1877 and followed his brother to La Crosse County, Wisconsin, after the 1880 census.

Now that I know there are descendants of my 3rd great-grandmother Elisabeta’s brothers living in America, I will continue to fill in the family tree and check for new DNA matches. I looked for Jeanette’s married name and found two matches! Messages have been sent. I can’t wait to see these on my chromosome map.

© 2018, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

Jordan N. PETERS’ War of 1812 Pension File is Online!

In 1977 – let that sink in – over 40 years ago – Paula Kelley Ward obtained Jordan N. PETERS’ complete War of 1812 file from the National Archives and Records Administration. She transcribed and typed all the documents in the file. The complete transcription and the full story contained in the records came to nearly 50 typewritten pages. With information gleaned from his War of 1812 records, Paula wrote “Jordan’s Story” which can be found online.1

Over four years ago I wrote 52 Ancestors: #24 Jordan N. PETERS 1796-1890  — War of 1812 Pensioner. Paula, who is my fourth cousin through Jordan and my fourth cousin once removed through his father Zachariah (she also descends through Jordan’s brother Willis) kindly allowed me to use documents and excerpts of “Jordan’s Story” in my post.

War of 1812 Contributor

Ever since I read Paula’s version of my 3rd great-grandfather Jordan N. PETERS’ story, I wanted to see the pension file. I’ve waited and waited for the pension file to be scanned and made available online. I even made a small donation to the project in hopes of speeding it up. Today I checked Fold3 and found Jordan’s file is finally ready to view. All 218 pages! It took me an hour and a half to download the images. If there is a way to download the entire package in one go, I could not find it.

Many of my cousins who descend from Jordan N. PETERS have been waiting for the file to be made available and I didn’t want to hold this back. Of course, Paula was the first person I got in touch and she is as excited as I am.

If you are waiting for your ancestor’s file, they are still working on the P surnames. For the state of Virginia, they are up to the surname Phillips. Keep checking back as new records are added.

© 2018, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.


  1.  Paula Kelley Ward, “Jordan’s Story”, Wherever We Wander pgs. 24-29; compiled, designed, and edited by Carolyn Hale Bruce; cover designed by Charles Randolph Bruce. All stories in this book are copyrighted, 2005, by their authors and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author(s), except for brief quotes in reviews or for publicity purposes.
    [Source: Floyd County, Virginia Mailing List Web Site maintained by Rena Worthen; online http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~barbs/]
    Jordan’s Story – page 24
    Jordan’s Story – page 25
    Jordan’s Story – page 26
    Jordan’s Story – page 27
    Jordan’s Story – page 28
    Jordan’s Story – page 29 

Lëtz Research – When A Record Doesn’t Want to be Found

Why Lëtz Research? Luxembourg is known as Lëtzebuerg by Luxembourgers (Lëtzebuerger) and this is about genealogy research in/for Luxembourg. So instead of Let’s Research…

Lëtz Research!

Genealogists who have Luxembourg ancestry are fortunate in that FamilySearch has the digital images online of civil records, church records, census records, and notarial records. Nearly all of these are image-only, i.e. have not been indexed and are browse-only.

Birth, marriage, and death records found in the civil records collection are the first and easiest to research. Although volunteers are working on them, only a little more than 100,000 of these records have been indexed. The birth and death records have four records per image while the marriage records have two records per image. There are 716,518 images. Let’s assume an average of three records per image = over two million records which need to be indexed.

There’s no need to wait until indexing is finished. Even if the collections have not been digitally indexed, there are internal indexes which can be used to find records. This is the case for most collections no matter where the location. For example, will books in U.S. counties usually have an index at the front or back of the book. Clerks did not have search engines back when…so they created a list of names so they wouldn’t have to page through registers.

Index for Year

For Luxembourg after the civil records were produced the town secretary made an alphabetical index at year’s end and included it in the registers (birth, marriage, and death) at the end of the year’s records. These are most helpful when you know the date and place of an event.

Tables Décennales

If a family lived in a town for a long period of time and had, let’s say, a dozen children there is an easier way to search for the births records.

To further simplify a search, the clerks also created lists at the end of a ten-year period called tables décennales (TD). They begin in 1803. Created in alphabetical order they are arranged in order: birth, marriage, and death for the periods 1803-1812, 1813-1822, 1823-1832, etc. to 1922 the last publicly available year. The lists include the name of the person as well as the date of the event. Marriages are in alphabetical order by the surname of the groom only.

Like the yearly index which was done at the end of the year, the ten-year index was created at the end of the ten-year period. One peculiarity of both the one-year and the ten-year indexes is that they were usually used the French version of the person’s first name. Peter’s birth record may have been created for Peter while the index has the name as Pierre (Katharina=Catherine). Most names are similar in German and French, however, there are some names which can cause a bit of head scratching. For example, Stephan (German) and Etienne (French) or Wilhelm/Guillaume. This is further complicated by the old handwriting they used.

As with all indexing, there is the possibility of a mix-up in names or dates in the ten-year lists. Some may not be in perfect alphabetical order. When I’m searching for a name in the tables décennales, I always take this into consideration.

When an Index Isn’t Good Enough

Recently while working on my post, Retraction of Allegations Made Against Maisy Vesque (1913-1969), another peculiarity of the tables décennales was brought to my attention. Something we should all be aware of with any index (handwritten or digital) we are working with – an omission! We may all know this but do we always remember this may be the case?

Tables décennales for Rumelange in 1903-1912

I had checked the tables décennales for the birth of Maisy VESQUE around 1913 in Rumelange as this was the town her father lived and worked in when he married her mother in 1910. I checked 1903-1912 and 1913-1922 as I had only an estimated birth in 1913. Maisy, as I well knew, is a nickname so I was looking for any female child with the surname VESQUE. None were found. (see image above for 1903-1912)1

With A Little Help from a Friend

In my retraction post, I included a plea for help. My friend Linda K., who has come to my rescue several times, took the bait. She emailed me the date of birth and birth name. I immediately checked the TD (tables décennales) to see why I had missed it. It had been omitted from the list (see image above) but was found on the 1912 birth records’ index (below).

1912 Index of births in Rumelange

The record for Maria Margaretha VESQUE was easily found with the record number 107 found in the index.2 The birth record3 also included the date and place of death of the child as well as the record number in the margin which would make it easy to locate the death record – if it did not fall under the 100-year law for civil records.

1912 Birth Record No. 107 for Maria Margaretha Vesque

A closer look at the document made me wonder if the clerk might have NOT completely filled out the record at the time the father came to report the birth and sign the record. Information appears to have been pencilled in and written over.

The lesson I learned was to check the yearly indexes even when a record is not indexed in the ten-year index as an omission is possible. The title of this post: When a record doesn’t want to be found could also read When we don’t do a thorough search to find a record. Sometimes we need to try harder to find them or admit we need help and ask for it.

© 2018, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.


  1.  “Luxembourg, Registres d’état civil, 1796-1941,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L97V-9BCK?cc=1709358&wc=9RTB-ZN1%3A130319501%2C130692102 : accessed 26 September 2018), Rumelange > Tables décennales 1883-1922 > image 109 of 220; Archives nationales de Luxembourg (National Archives), Luxembourg. 
  2. Ibid., (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-897V-9YM9?cc=1709358&wc=9RTB-ZNL%3A130319501%2C130499501 : accessed 26 June 2018), Rumelange > Naissances 1898-1912 > image 786 of 789; Archives nationales de Luxembourg (National Archives), Luxembourg. 
  3.  Ibid., (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-897V-956R?cc=1709358&wc=9RTB-ZNL%3A130319501%2C130499501 : accessed 26 June 2018), Rumelange > Naissances 1898-1912 > image 763 of 789; Archives nationales de Luxembourg (National Archives), Luxembourg. 

Slave Name Roll Project: RELEASING: Alfred

In 1840 Elizabeth Squires’ (1746-1840) last will and testament written in 1830 was the first will in Will Book 1 of Braxton County with the names of enslaved persons. I shared it in Slave Name Roll Project: RELEASING: Sarah and Benjamin back on the 1st of July. Her two youngest sons also lived in Braxton County and owned slaves whose names were mentioned in their wills.

The Squires family is not related to me. After releasing Sarah and Benjamin I had planned on continuing with the enslaved persons of her sons. However, while researching my own family tree, I found documents for two of my ancestors who had enslaved persons. I released the people’s names in Slave Name Roll Project: RELEASING: Nan and Slave Name Roll Project: RELEASING: Shocoe, Neaten, and Nicholas. Now it is time to get back to the Squires family and the slaves found in documents they produced.

Elizabeth’s youngest son Elijah Squires (1787-1858) wrote his last will and testament on 29 April 1858. It was recorded a little more than 4 months later on 7 September 1858.1

Last Will and Testament of Elijah Squires of Braxton County, (West) Virginia

Braxton County Will Book 2, Page 186

I, Elijah Squires of the County of Braxton and State of Virginia do make and publish this my last will and testament, hereby revoking and making void all former wills by me at any time heretofore made.
First. I direct that all my debts and funeral expenses be paid as soon after my death as possible out of the first money that shall come into the hands of my executor.
2nd. I give unto my wife Elizabeth, to hold during her lifetime the following described tracts of land: to wit: one tract Beginning at a beech corner to Robert Farrar and running thence due west to a chestnutoak corner to the home place thence S12E180 poles to a white oak thence a straight line to the beginning containing about 68 acres more or less and including the dwelling house. Also one other tract of 48 acres adjoining on the north side of the above described tract and being the same which was conveyed to me by Nicholas Gibson, and further the said Elizabeth is to have, hold and possess the residue of the home farm except about 38 acres which will be bequeathed to Elijah H. Squires, untill my youngest child is of age, with this provise that if either of the three youngest children should marry before the youngest one is of the age of 21 then such married one shall be entitled to 48 acres of the same to be laid off at one side or end so as to average with the balance of the tract or when one of said children arrives to the age of 21 years whether married or not shall be entitled to a like quantity laid off on the same principal.
I further will and bequeathe to the said Elizabeth the following personal property to wit: one grey mare and the young dun mare and three milks cows and also four of my young cattle such as she may choose to select, and also one third of my sheep of the average of the flock.
I also bequeath to her one waggon and harness for three horses, and one hill side plough and one wind mill. She is allso to have all the household and kitchen furniture if she chooses.
3rd. I give and bequeath to the heirs of my son Taylor Squires decd. a tract of about 30 acres of land adjoining a tract of 100 acres which I formerly gave to him, and bounded as follows, towit: beginning at a sour gum corner to said 100 acre tract and running thence in a line of the same S8E150 poles to a stake, thence N35E100 poles to a stake on a line of tract of land which Asa Squires is to have, thence in said line N49 1/2W104 poles to the beginning.
4th. I give and bequeath to my son Asa Squires for and during his natural life and at his deceace to the heirs of his body, the following described tract of land on Salt Lick creek, and bounded as follows, to wit. beginning at a stake which will be corner to Elijah H. Squires on a line of a 100 acre Survey which was made for Nicholas Gibson and Elijah Squires and running Thence S39E81 poles to a stake on the Hobson line. Thence in said line S35W180 poles to a stake N49 1/2W155 poles to a sour gum corner to Taylor Squires heirs, N33E14 poles to a Sycamore, N65E crossing said creek to a line of land sold by Wm Sisk to Jesse Farrar. Thence down the creek and with lines of said Farrar to where Farrars line will cross a line running due North from the rock corner in the field, thence with said due North line to said Elijah H. Squires line and in the same to the beginning estimated to contain 160 acres.
5th. I give and bequeath to my son James Squires the following described tract of land on Salt Lick Creek to be laid off as follows, beginning at a beech corner to a 700 acre Survey made for said Gibson & Squires and running thence in a line of the same N39W to the Sugar Camp hollow, thence up said hollow to where line to the said creek will include 125 acres by running up said creek with the meanders to the beginning.
6th. I give and bequeath to my son Elijah

Braxton County Will Book 2, Page 187

H. Squires the following described tract of land including his place of residence and bounded as follows to wit: Beginning at a blackoak corner to Robert Farrar and running thence S 8 1/2W200 poles to a stake thence N7E38 poles to a blackoak corner to the home tract, thence S70 1/2E115 poles to a stake on a line of the said 700 acre survey. Thence N13E196 poles to a stake on a line of Wm Hutchison, and in the same S80W100 poles to a beech corner to same, thence with Robert Farrars lines to the beginning supposed to contain 150 acres.
7th. I give and bequeath unto my daughter Mary Hire the tract of land on which she now resides laying on Elk River and known as the Wm Harris tract, and I also bequeath unto her all the land I own adjoining the said Harris tract.
8th. I give and bequeath to my daughter Margaret E. Morrison 125 acres of the following described tract of land to be laid of below and adjoining James Squires, beginning at a stake corner to Asa and E. H. Squires and running thence N13E196 poles to Wm Hutchison line, thence in the same N80E100 poles crossing Salt Lick Creek and Hughes fork to a Sycamore, thence down said fork to its mouth, thence up said creek with its meanders to James Squires corner and with one of his lines to his corner in Sugar Camp hollow, then down said hollow to another of his corners on a line of said 700 acre survey, thence in the last mentioned line to the beginning.
9th. I give and bequeath to my daughter Caroline M. Murphey or the heirs of her body all the residue of my lands not disposed of and particularly described by this will and if after the portions heretofore and hereafter to be named in this will shall be surveyed out, there should not be enough left to make an average share then she is to have enough of the proceed of my personal property to place her on an equal footing with the balance of my heirs.
10th. I give and bequeath unto my three youngest children Franklin F. Squires, Lydia Ann Squires and Elizabeth J. Squires the residue of the home farm not directly willed to my wife or to Elijah H. Squires to be equall divided amongst them amounting to about 48 acres each and at the death of their mother that portion of the land in which she had a life estate is also to be equally divided between the said Franklin F. Squires, Lydia Ann Squires and Elizabeth J. Squires, and I hereby bequeath the same unto them or their heirs, but their right of possession not to commence untill the life estate of their mother shall cease.
11th. I will and direct that all my personal property except my negro man Alfred and one colt which has not been disposed of by this will be valued by Harvey Hire and William Sisk or some other two disinterested (marked out) discreet (written above) men and after so valued to be divided as equal as possible amongst all my heirs according to valuation, the colt above excepted I give to my son Franklin.
12th. I will and direct that my negro man Alfred shall belong equally to my wife Elizabeth and children so that they will all be equally bound to maintain him if it should so happen that before he dies he should not be able to maintain himself, but he is to be at liberty to choose with which of them he will stay or his time may be divided amongst them by agreement but he must earn his living so long as he is able.
13th. I do hereby make and ordain my wife Elizabeth Executrix of this my last will

Braxton County Will Book 2, Page 188

and testament. In witness whereof I, Elijah Squires the testator, have to this will written on one sheet of paper, set my hand and seal this 29. day of April in the year of our Lord 1858.

Elijah Squires *seal*

Signed sealed and delivered in the presence
of us, who have subscribed in the presence
of each other
Attest.  Harvey F. Hyer
. . . . . . . Wm Sisk
. . . . . . . Wm P. Haymond

At a County Court held in and for the County of Braxton at the courthouse of said County on Tuesday the 7th day of September 1858.
The last will and testament of Elijah Squires deceased was proved by the oaths of Wm P Haymond & Harvey F. Hyer witnesses thereto & is ordered to be recorded.

Teste Jno. P. Byrne clk

The U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedule

In 1850 Elijah Squires was listed on the slave schedule of Braxton County, Virginia (now West Virginia) with one black male who was 30 years old. This young man was the only enslaved person noted for Elijah.

Alfred, per the above will, was given the choice of who he wanted to stay with after Elijah’s death. In 1860 the slave schedule does not include the names of Elijah’s widow or any of his children mentioned in the will. Only one Squires is listed, Asa, the brother of Elijah. He did not have a male slave around 40 years old in 1860.

Speculation on the identity of Alfred

What happened to Alfred after the death of Elijah Squires? Did he have a family and are there living descendants who are looking for him?

A chapter entitled “Tragedies” in John Davison Sutton’s  History of Braxton County and central West Virginia includes this short statement on page 307:

Alfred Squires, a colored man, inmate of the county infirmary, was burned to death about 1902. He was alone at the time and was lying in bed smoking. The bed caught fire and he was too aged and infirm to help himself, and perished in the flames. 

I was unable to find a death record for a man named Alfred Squires. However, the 18702 and 18803 census turned up an Alfred Cox with his wife Mary Jane. He was the only black in the county of Braxton with the first name Alfred. His age matches the age seen on the 1850 slave schedule for the enslaved male seen for Elijah Squires. There were no children in the households in 1870 or 1880.

I located a death record for Alfred Cox who died in an accident on 3 October 1896 at the age of 81.4 The informant for the death was Wm. McCoy, superintendent. The circumstances of the accident which caused the death are not mentioned in the entry on the death register.

In 1900 one William M. McCoy was the head of a household marked off as the county poor farm.5 The McCoy household included persons who were identified as inmates of the poor house. Could this be the county infirmary mentioned in the Braxton history? Could the estimated year of death of Alfred Squires be off by about six years?

Were Alfred Cox and Alfred Squires the same person? Did Alfred, the enslaved man of Elijah Squires, use the surname Cox? Hopefully the information found and mentioned in this post will help others who are researching the persons named.

Elijah Squires’ brother Asa also left a last will and testament in Braxton County. It will be shared in next month’s post.

True's statementFollowing my three-part series on the slaves of my 5th great grandfather James Sims during Black History Month in February 2015 I made a commitment to write a post on a monthly basis until I’ve RELEASED all of the names of slaves owned by my ancestors or owned by persons I’ve researched who were relatives or neighbors of my ancestors.

These posts are part of the Slave Name Roll Project (About the Project) administered by Schalene Jennings Dagutis who also blogs at Tangled Roots and Trees.

© 2018, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.


  1.   “West Virginia Will Books, 1756-1971,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:9392-HYGF-Y?cc=1909099&wc=Q8BW-M6S%3A179688701%2C179735201 : accessed June 2018), Braxton > Will book, v. 002 1854-1861 > image 114-115 of 180; county courthouses, West Virginia. 
  2.  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_1685; FHL Film: 553184; West Virginia, Braxton County, Franklin, image 32 of 32, Page No. 32, Sheet No. 429B, Lines 20-21, HH #213-213, Alfred Cox household. (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed accessed 30 September 2018). 
  3.  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: 1400; West Virginia, Braxton County, Holly, image 16 of 43, Enumeration District No. 7, Page No. 16, Sheet No. 413D, Lines 31-32, HH #144-144, Alfred Cox household. (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed accessed 30 September 2018). 
  4.  West Virginia Vital Research Records (index and images), West Virginia Division of Culture and History (online searchable database and digital images of selected birth, death and marriage records), FHL microfilm 572,705; Alfred Cox, 03 Oct 1896; citing Braxton Co., West Virginia, County Records, county courthouses, West Virginia. (http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_view.aspx?Id=4568794&Type=Death : accessed 30 September 2018). 
  5.  1900 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration,Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication T623, 1854 rolls, FHL microfilm: 1241756; West Virginia, Braxton County, Otter, image 40 of 68, Enumeration District No. 7, Sheet No. 20B, Lines 65-78, HH #347-347, William M. McCoy household (county poor farm). (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 September 2018). 

Retraction of Allegations Made Against Maisy Vesque (1913-1969)

Since first hearing this family tradition I’ve thought there was a murder mystery in my maternal family tree. And I’ve wanted to get to the bottom of it for the longest time. Records are not publicly available for the recent time period the supposed crime was committed. This post is meant to clear the name of my first cousin twice removed Maisy VESQUE.

Over three years ago I wrote about my great-great-grandparents Jean FRANTZ (1837-1929) and Marie MAJERUS (1850-1931) in 52 Ancestors: #25 The Old Homestead: From Weaving Linen to Farming in Mamer.

Jean and Marie were the parents of ten children, two of whom died as babies. Their sixth child, daughter Paulina FRANTZ (1880-1966) married Johann Peter François VESQUE in 1910. They had only one known child, a daughter named Maisy who was born about 1913.

I have not been able to locate a birth record for her. Mamer where her mother was from, Contern where her father was from, and Rumelange where her father was living in 1910 when they married were searched to no avail. [Any help would be appreciated!]

UPDATE (26 September 2018): My friend Linda K. who has helped me out several times with finding records in Luxembourg, found Maisy’s birth record. She was born on 7 August 1912 in Rumelange. Her birth name was Maria Margaretha.1 Why I missed this record will be shared in my next post.

Maisy VESQUE (1913-1969) (left) and her first cousin Margot HILBERT (1915-2007) (right) ~ photo taken on 29 December 1921.

A family tradition told by my grandmother was that Maisy served time in prison for killing a man.

I believed the story must be true since it was told by my grandmother who was her first cousin and four years older than Maisy. However each time I searched the newspapers on eluxemburgensia, the Luxembourg National Library’s portal for their project to digitize Luxembourg periodicals, I came up empty. I had no idea when this event took place. I assumed Maisy would have to be an adult to serve time, i.e. between 1931-1969: from the age of 18 to the time of her death.

Recently I found a DNA match on MyHeritage whose most recent common ancestors (MRCA) to with my brother whose test I manage are Jean Baptiste MAJERUS and Catharina CORNELY, the grandparents of Marie MAJERUS, Maisy’s maternal grandmother.

In my first message to the match, I included the link to my article on the CORNELY-MAJERUS couple. Maisy’s story, although only a one-liner in another post, attracted the match’s attention since she has a family tradition that her great-grandfather may have been murdered while on a trip to Luxembourg. Neither of us had further information.

Maisy and the match’s great-grandfather’s wife were first cousins twice removed but Maisy was born after the husband’s death. The timeline doesn’t match up. Still, my curiosity was piqued. Once again I searched for any mention of Maisy VESQUE in the Luxembourg newspapers. An article, in a newspaper which was only recently added to the eluxemburgensia collection, was found about an incident which likely started the embellished family tradition.2

L’indépendance luxembourgeoise (30 Dec 1933)

Translation of the French text:

Publication: L’indépendance luxembourgeoise
Published: 30 December 1933
Title: Chronique Locale
Towards the health home. – Yesterday, around 16 hours, a young person, named Maisy Vesque, 21, of Oetrange, came to the home of Mr. Robert Leesch, dentist, in Liberty Avenue. Without saying a word, she shot twice at the dentist’s assistant who opened the door. However, he was not hit. The municipal police were immediately requested, and the strange visitor took two more shots, which also failed. Since she was obviously a madwoman, the police immediately directed her to the health center in Ettelbruck.

Maisy was about twenty years old at the time. Whatever led her to take a gun to the dentist’s home and fire four shots is not mentioned in the article. I was relieved to learn she did not harm or kill anyone. The health center she was taken to in Ettelbruck was the neuro-psychiatric hospital. How long she remained there as an inmate or if she stood trial for her acts is not known.

Maisy VESQUE (1913-1969)

Maisy never married and had no children. At the time of her death, she was a resident of Oetrange where her parents had made their home since their marriage and where she had been living at the time of the event. Her mother had been deceased a little over two years and her father five years when she passed away.

UPDATE (26 September 2018): The birth record found by Linda K. included the date and place of death in the margin. Maisy died on 24 April 1969 in Ettelbruck.

Pauline and Franz had one daughter Maisy who served time in prison for killing a man and never married.

I wrote this line in June 2015 and it is now time to retract the statement. There is no evidence to date which shows Maisy served time or killed a man. She attempted to do harm to the dentist or his assistant and then the police for an unknown reason. She may have been an inmate of the psychiatric ward but there is no proof she was in prison.

As genealogists and family historians, we can pass on the family traditions but whenever possible they should be proven when records are available. In this case, my grandmother is no longer alive to give me more information. I should have questioned her when she casually told me Maisy had been locked up for killing a man. Maybe she hadn’t meant prison and I was the one who unknowingly touched up the story.

© 2018, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.


  1.  Luxembourg, Registres d’état civil, 1662-1941 (images), FamilySearch (original records at Luxembourg National Archives, Plateau du Saint-Esprit, Luxembourg), Rumelange > Naissances 1898-1912 > image 763 of 789. 1912 Birth Record No. 107 (includes annotation of 1969 death in margin). (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-897V-956R?cc=1709358&wc=9RTB-ZNL%3A130319501%2C130499501 : accessed 26 September 2018). 
  2.  L’indépendance luxembourgeoise (1871-1934), (imprimeur- éditeur Joseph Beffort (1845-1923) et de ses successeurs), digitized by the Bibliothèque nationale de Luxembourg, http://www.eluxemburgensia.lu, Saturday 30 and Sunday 31 December 1933, No. 354 and 355, page 2, column 4, Chronique Locale (http://www.eluxemburgensia.lu/webclient/DeliveryManager?application=DIRECTLINK&custom_att_2=simple_viewer&pid=3345739&search_terms=vesque#panel:pp|issue:3345739|article:DTL48|query:vesque : accessed 21 September 2018). 

Rewriting the Biography: The Livelihood of James SIMS (1754-1845)

After working on the census records of James SIMS and his sixteen children I’m taking a break from researching this family. But before we put them to bed for a while, I would like to share information from a post I wrote in 2015 as a guest blogger on Mark Smith’s blog Hampshire County Long Rifles. 

When Mark requested permission to re-post the biography of James SIMS I’d written in 2002 on his blog, I came up with a different idea. I suggested writing a shorter piece on James SIMS and his sons’ work as gunsmiths. It was a wonderful opportunity to focus on an aspect of my ancestor’s life which I knew little about. The original post can be found here: James Sims (1754-1845), Gunsmith of Nicholas County

The Livelihood of James SIMS (1754-1845)

Several articles written between 1883 and 1983 tell of my 5th great-grandfather James SIMS being a gunsmith and blacksmith, however, I would like to begin with an interesting document found which gives another source of income.

The Kanawha Wilderness

Jeff Prechtel Art & Illustration – used with permission.

In the early days when James SIMS lived in the wilderness of western Virginia, the county court of Kanawha offered a bounty for scalps of wolves. On 8 June 1802, James SIMS and his son William SIMS were seen on a list of men who received $2.50 for each wolf-scalp presented.1 These payments were part of the routine work of the Kanawha County court as seen in the record book of the period.

Record Book of Kanawha County, Virginia

There is no mention of how the wolves were killed – by using pits or snares or by gun or other methods. However, Mrs. Ruberta Malva “Bertie” SIMMS WICKER (1871-1971), a daughter of Miletus SIMMS (1832-1927), wrote a three-page letter to Rev. Shirley DONNELLY in 1969, which included the following:2

His (Miletus’) grandfather, William Sims, was a fine gunsmith and lived at the mouth of Little Elk, now Swiss, W. Va. There the family built a log cabin that was two stories high. It had a little ladder arrangement in one corner, where they could climb up to shoot at the wolves which prowled through there at that time. I remember the house very well as I am now 97 years old.

James SIMS gives a new rifle gun to a substitute

Jeff Prechtel Art & Illustration – used with permission.

In 1835 James SIMS was 80 years old. He sent this statement (letter of reply) to the Pension Bureau following questions of the authenticity of his claim of being a veteran of the Revolution. James states he gave a new rifle gun and $500 in continental money to one William NOLL whom he hired as a substitute, most likely about 1775 as James was born in 1754 and was about twenty or twenty-one at the time.

Was NOLL the name he meant to give in the statement? Could the substitute have been a NALL or NALLE?  Perhaps his uncle William NALLE or a NALLE cousin? Was the new rifle given to the substitute one of the first James manufactured as a young man?3

MRIN02312 James Sims RW 27 croppedJames Sims Pensioner Servd 9 mo. Receives $30 pension. I the undersigned James Sims in pursuance of the requisites of the Secretary of the War gives the following narrative of my services as a Soldier in the War of the Revolution & statement of my age to-wit. I am in my 79th year of age. I am a native of Culpepper County & lived in that county during the War of the Revolution. In my nieneteenth or twentieth year of age (I cant tell in what year) I was drafted for 3 mo. & marched from Cupepper Country under Capt. John Tutt (don’t recollect the names of his subaltern officers) Capt Tutts company was attached to a Regt commanded by Col Jno. Slaughter which went from Culpepper. The Regt. Marched to Norfolk. Can’t recollect the names of any towns through which we marched on going to Norfolk. We were discharged at Norfolk in time to get home before the three months expired. In less than one year after the preceding term, (I cant tell in what year) I was drafted again for 3 mo. And hired a substitute whose name was William Noll (?) gave him $500 in continental money and a new rifle gun. In the year in which Cornwallis was captured at Yorktown I was drafted again for 3 mo. Set out from Culpepper under a Capt. whose name I have forgotten. We were preparing to set out on the march for nearly one week, when the news of Cornwallis’ defeat was received & we were ordered to return home & done so, having been in service this latter term about one week – I was a Sergeant & they ended my services — Saml Price wrote my Declaration to whom I gave this same narrative of my service. That I now give. I agreed to give him $20 if he brought me my money In witness of all which I hereto subscribe my name. Jany 10, 1835
His
James      X      Sims
Mark

The original Revolutionary War application papers were sent to W. G. Singleton, U.S. District Attorney, at Winchester, Virginia, on 13 March 1835. Upon examination of his claim by the U.S. District Attorney, James SIMS’ name was dropped from the pension rolls on 21 March 1835 as it was shown he did not render the alleged service.

Although James SIMS’ service during the Revolutionary War was not accepted as proof for a pension, the Daughters of the American Revolution have accepted his “providing supplies” and approved him as a Revolutionary War patriot. Were the supplies he provided arms of his own making?

Memoirs of Col. Campbell

Col. Edward Campbell, the son of John Campbell and Nancy Hughes, was born in 1800 and acquired the basics of an education from his parents. Shortly after the formation of Nicholas County in 1818, he was appointed justice of the peace and traveled throughout the county performing legal services for many of the outlying settlers who found it inconvenient if not impossible to make the long trip into Summersville. Campbell possessed an extraordinary memory for names and facts about the earliest inhabitants of Nicholas County, and some sixty years following his days as a traveling justice, he wrote down his reminiscences of the early settlers and the way in which they lived. Campbell’s memoirs have always been held in high esteem by historians, and where validation is possible he has seldom been found in error in any of his remarks. They were published in the Chronicle in 1883.4

As James SIMS had died only 35 years before Col. Campbell’s memoirs were published, one can imagine they had known each other well enough for the Colonel to write the following without embellishing.5

Going up Gauley River to the mouth of Little Elk, which empties into the river two miles above the ford, we come to the settlement made by J. Windsor. James Sims also made a small improvement at this place. He came from Jackson’s River in Bath County, Virginia. He was a gunsmith and blacksmith, and did but little farming. He had a large family of children, both male and female. Mr. Sims also brought the first darkies that were ever seen in these parts. He had two sons that were also gunsmiths and made the best of rifle guns. As these guns were much in demand with the increasing settlers they did a lucrative business. They both married young, and settled near their father and did some farming in addition to their work on guns. James lived to see his family settled here and elsewhere. His sons, William and Martin, remained here until they were old men and died leaving large families. James Sims was said to be 90 years old when he died.

An old plug horse and a muzzle-loading rifle

In 1926 J.T. Peters and H.B. Carden, authors of History of Fayette County, West Virginia, wrote that William SIMS, one of the older sons of James SIMS, was a gunsmith of wide fame. They also related a story likely heard from James’ great-grandson Miletus SIMS who was living at the time.6

James Sims, great-grandfather of Miletus Sims (who is now living at Swiss and is 94 years of age), came from Culpepper county, Virginia, in 1795, and bought a 600-acre tract of land from Morris and Jones for which he paid on (sic, one) old plug horse and a muzzle-loading rifle. This tract of land was partly in Nicholas and partly in Fayette county.

No court record of the above transaction has been found. The only land James acquired and retained until his death was the 123 acres of land on Gauley conveyed to him by John JONES for the sum of five shilling on 8 April 1800.7

1800 Land Deed John and Frances Jones to James Sims

Descendants who owned Sims guns

After Indians were driven away from the Kanawha valley about 1794, gunsmiths and hunters were still in demand in this region because of the abundance of wolves, bears and other wild beasts.

Among the gunsmiths and hunters of the period were James Sims of Gauley river and his son, William. 

And so begins newspaper reporter William H. Maginnis’ article written for The Charleston Gazette in 1947.8 Several descendants of James SIMS who owned rifles were interviewed by the reporter.

No known gun made by James had preserved according to Maginnis although several made by his son William, who learned the trade and took over the business from his father, were known to exist and were owned by the following descendants. [Note: Near the turn of the twentieth century several lines down from James SIMS began using SIMMS, with a double M, instead of SIMS for their surname.]

Agnes Eugenia “Jean” SIMMS (1897-1965), the 2nd great-granddaughter of James through his son Charles and the 3rd great-granddaughter of James through his son William, is seen here holding a rifle and a toothpuller made by her ancestor William.

Newspaperarchive.com : accessed 15 February 2006

Mayme Hazel SIMMS (1897-1984), a great-granddaughter of James through his son Charles, got her gun from her father Aaron Floyd SIMMS (1862-1940).

Cecil Ray SIMMS (1897-1979) also owned a Sims gun. Like Mrs. WHITE he was descended twice from James SIMS, a great-grandson through son Charles and a 3rd great-grandson through son William.

The Hughes family on Bell Creek near Swiss also owned one of these family treasures. James SIMS had two daughters who married HUGHES men but only the male descendants of Peggy who married Matthew HUGHES remained in the Swiss area.

Jeff Prechtel Art & Illustration – used with permission.

Mr. Maginnis thought it probable that James SIMS, a native of Culpeper County, may have learned the blacksmith and gunsmith trades before 1780 in Falmouth or Fredericksburg, both in Stafford County, Virginia. Fredericksburg was a center of the iron industry in colonial times.

The reporter also spoke with Eugene Norton SIMMS (1864-?) before his death. Eugene’s father Miletus SIMS (1831-1927), who was about 14 years old when his great-grandfather James SIMS died, described him as “a physical giant, fair of complexion, a great hunter and woodsman and inclined to thrift. He built the best house on Gauley in those days – two story, hewn oak logs and a massive chimney.” 

Sims rifle compared to Honaker and Carper rifles

Rev. Clarence Shirley Donnelly (1895-1982) wrote a well-known column in the Beckley Post-Herald titled “Yesterday and Today.” Several of his columns mentioned James SIMS, his descendants, and his enslaved people.  One of these compared the SIMS rifle with several other fine rifles produced by well-known gunmakers in the area.

His rifles became noted and won an enviable reputation. Some years ago, one of these guns was shown to me but they now have all but disappeared from local circles. The Simms rifle ranked with the fine rifles produced in Raleigh County by James A. Honaker, J. B. Honaker, Joseph Carper, and Samuel Carper, as well as the Henderson rifles of Summers County and the Miller rifles of Monroe County.

Rev. Donnelly wrote of Nicolas County being the early stomping ground of the SIMS family and that James brought enslaved persons and the tools of his blacksmith and gunsmith trades with him when he came with his large family to the area before the county was formed from Kanawha County.9

A plug horse and a flintlock rifle

Lela Wolfe Prewitt who compiled genealogy information on the SIMS families of Culpeper County, Virginia, included an interesting family tradition in her work. It tells of James SIMS, learning of the illness of his dear cousin Frances SIMS, wife of Joshua MORRIS, going to Kanawha Valley about 1796.10

Following her death (Phebe), James Sims married Nancy (sic, Elizabeth) Cotton. Soon after this marriage, he went to Kanawha Valley to visit a cousin and also visited the Henry Morris home on Peter’s Creek. Henry tried to persuade him to buy near him, but James being a great hunter, said, “No, this section is too thickly settled.” So Henry took him on a hunting expedition down Peter’s Creek, out across the Little Elk Mountain and started down Little Elk Creek where they found signs of bear, deer and wild turkey. James Sims then said, “Henry, if I can buy land on this creek, I’ll be your neighbor soon.” The land belonged to John Jones who lived at what is now Pratt. He had married a Morris and had purchased thousands of acres of land. He at once went to see Mr. Jones and they soon agreed on a price for 500 acres on Little Elk Creek: a plug horse and a flint lock rifle. As soon as he could make arrangements, he moved his family there.”

Frances SIMS was the daughter of Thomas SIMS Jr. and Mary NALLE. The statement of Frances and James being cousins should not be misconstrued as they were not cousins through their paternal SIMS side. Frances and James were first cousins through their maternal lines – Mary NALLE being a sister of James’ mother Agatha NALLE. After proper analysis, this part of the story appears believable.

However, once again the old plug horse and rifle are seen as part of the land deal.  Since the 1926 telling, the acreage has decreased from 600 to 500 acres in this version but is still four times the amount of land seen on the 1800 deed. Did the story originate in 1800 when James bought the land? Did he offer a horse and rifle instead of hard cash for the land he bought from JONES? Or did Melitus SIMS elaborate on stories told by his father William Jr. or his grandfather William Sr.?

Others who mentioned rifle making

In the late 1970s, George R. Penick Jr. noted that James SIMS moved to Bath County, Virginia, about 1787 where he engaged in rifle making.11

In 1983 James P. Whisker, author of several books on gunsmiths, wrote he had never seen a Sims rifle but heard of them through Rev. Donnelly’s writings.12

Mountain rifle made by William SIMS

Rose Mary Sims Rudy related the following to me in 2002 about a gun known to be in the possession of a descendant in 1993.

I used to correspond with a “relative” who has since died (1998). He sent me this photograph of the “Mountain Rifle that William (Billy Gunsmith) Sims made.” It was in his possession at the time the photo was made in 1993. We talked just before he died and he was giving it to his son!! He was responsible for securing a grave marker for our ancestor James – the date was assumed to be 1838. In correspondence he stated “his great uncle Eugene Simms reported that James was still drawing his RW pension when he died.” He says that the Mountain Rifle has been in the family for many years passed to him by his grandfather and father. William Sims is written on the barrel. His father once told him of a wild hog chasing him up a tree and his brother coming to his rescue with this gun.

1993 photo courtesy of Rose Mary Sims Rudy

Once again a story passed down in the family is in error. James SIMS was not drawing a pension for military service during the Revolutionary War. However much the stories differ from the records found, the rifle theme seems to be consistent from as early as 1883 when Col. Campbell wrote:

He was a gunsmith and blacksmith, and did but little farming.

Occupations on the census

Col. Campbell was a witness from the time James SIMS and his son William SIMS lived while the other persons who wrote about them were not and relied on information passed on to them.

Another source which comes to mind which includes occupations would be the census.

1850 U.S. Federal Census of Nicholas County, Virginia for William Sims, a gunsmith

William SIMS Sr. lived long enough to be enumerated on the 1850 census where his occupation was listed as Gun Smith.13 Previously in 1820 and 1840 when professions were included on the census, he was seen as engaging in manufacturing. His brother Martin SIMS supposedly set up a gun and blacksmith shop with him in Summersville. I have not found the source of this statement or been able to confirm it. In 1820 Martin was seen as engaging in manufacturing on the census while in 1840 and 1850 his employment was farming. Their father James probably turned the business over to William, and perhaps Martin, by 1820 as James was seen employed in agriculture in 1820 and 1840.

Tools of trade in an inventory?

What other documentation would possibly prove the occupations of my 5th great-grandfather James SIMS? An inventory of his estate might include the tools of his trade.

In the Order Book 1844-1871 of Nicholas County, I found entries concerning the appraisers of the estate of the deceased James SIMS as well as an entry made when the appraisement and bill of sale of his estate were presented to the court and ordered to be recorded. Where were they recorded? They were not found in Will Book 1. The book is incomplete. There is a gap between the terms of April 1844 and November 1865 with only one entry for October 1856. Two decades of records which should have been recorded in the will book are missing.

I questioned other researchers familiar with Nicholas County earlier this year. One person who had visited the courthouse said at least two will books are missing and the clerks are unsure of what happened to these books.

James SIMS earned his living as a blacksmith, gunsmith, and farmer as seen in the records, the memoirs of a witness from his time period, and the stories passed down through the family. He also supplemented his income by collecting a bounty for a wolf-scalp. Was this the only time he collected a bounty? Being a great hunter, he likely also secured the necessities of life by hunting game and selling hides.

Regarding the artwork featured in this post

After I wrote the original post for Mark Smith in 2015, he gifted me the original sketches he had commissioned from his artist friend Jeff Prechtel to illustrate the article. Written permission was obtained earlier this year from Jeff Prechtel to use the images of the original sketches.

© 2018, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

Rewriting the Biography: The Livelihood of James SIMS (1754-1845)

  1.  Kanawha County, West Virginia, County Court Record Book, 1788-1803 (images), FamilySearch (Salt Lake City, Utah : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1967), FHL Film 530753, DGS 8218841, image 218 of 291, p 395. 1802 James Sims and William Sims on wolf-scalp bounty list. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSG6-X9SZ-Q?i=217&cat=55519 : accessed 13 September 2018). 
  2. Rev. Shirley Donnelly, “Yesterday And Today – Hinton Woman, 97, Writes Well, Spells,” Beckley Post-Herald, Thursday, 9 January 1969, p 4. 
  3.  U.S. Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900 (index and images), Ancestry (Original data: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15. NARA microfilm publication M804, 2,670 rolls. National Archives, Washington, D.C.), image 243 of 1164. Pension Application File SR19464 for James Sims. (www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 October 2011). 
  4. Edward Campbell, “Early Settlers of Nicholas County, Virginia,” Nicholas County, (West) Virginia Records of the Pioneers 1818-1860, Upper Glade, West Virginia, Webster County Historical Society, Inc., 1985., p 54. 
  5. Ibid., p 63. 
  6. J.T. Peters and H.B. Carden, History of Fayette County, published by the Fayette County Historical Society, Inc., 1926, p 610. 
  7.  Kanawha County (West Virginia), County Clerk, Record of deeds, 1790-1946 (images), FamilySearch, (126 microfilm reels of original records at the Kanawha County courthouse, Charleston, West Virginia), Deed books, v. A-B 1790-1804, image 206 of 468, Deed Book A, p 91. 1800 Land Deed John and Frances Jones to James Sims. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSG6-FSQG-6?i=205&cat=56556 : accessed 6 February 2018). 
  8. William H. Maginnis, “Guns Made by Pioneer on Gauley River, Mute Testimonials of Settlers’ Lives” (The Charleston Gazette, Sunday, 10 August 1947 p. 20). (Newspaperarchive.com : accessed 15 February 2006). 
  9. Rev. Shirley Donnelly, “Nicholas County Had Fine Gunsmith, Too,” Beckley Post Herald, 24 September 1965, page 4. 
  10. Lela Wolfe Prewitt, “James Sims of Culpeper, Fayette & Nicholas Cos., (West) Virginia,” Ancestors & Descendants of Thomas Sims of Culpeper County, Virgina Edmund Butler of Virginia and Kentucky with Allied Families & Other Culpeper Data, compiled and published by Lela Wolfe Prewitt, Fairfield, Iowa, 1972, p. 156. 
  11. George R. Penick Jr., comp., The Penick Papers (a Sims family compilation) (compiled in 1978-1980). 
  12. James P. Whisker, Gunsmiths of West Virginia, 1983, page 105. 
  13.  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 M432_963, Virginia, Nicholas County, District 43, sheet 360A, lines 33-35, HH #272-272, William Sims household. (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 April 2018).