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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Single Woman vs. Married Woman

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

Levina or Lavina

Polly was born in Pittsylvania County around 1816. Per her mother Levina DOSS’s 1820 and 1830 census details she was the 6th of 7 children in the household.1,2 The censuses are the only documents I have seen with Polly’s mother’s name – Levina. No documents have been found for Polly’s mother’s name being spelled Lavina. I believe, that since Polly named a daughter “Lavina” after her mother, others have assume that her mother’s name was also spelled this way.

Roots in Pittsylvania County, Virginia

The DOSS family has strong roots in Halifax and Pittsylvania County, Virginia. In 1762 Levina’s grandfather James DOSS received a land grant for 272 acres in Halifax County, an area soon to become part of the newly created Pittsylvania County in 1767. This land grant was located on Valentines Creek of Staunton River and shared a line with land James DOSS already owned.3 The land granted to James DOSS was surveyed for him in 1755.4

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

Early Census Analysis

In 1820 Polly is the youngest female in Levina’s household. Other members are four brothers, an older sister, her mother, and most likely her grandmother Elizabeth DOSS née LESTER who was widowed in 1812.5

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

Can you tell that I love to do these?

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

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

Polly’s Siblings

Sib. 1: Thomas DOSS (abt.1801-1881) was born about 1801 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. He married(1) Elizabeth EADS (abt.1802-bet.1860-1867) on 6 March 1827 in Caswell County, North Carolina.4 He married(2) Martha Forbes GORDON (1824-1881) on 28 April 1867 in Chariton County, Missouri.5 Thomas died on 1 April 1881 in Chariton County and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in the same county.6
• Sib. 2: _____ (female) DOSS born bet. 1795-18047
• Sib. 3: _____ (male) DOSS born bet. 1804-18108
• Sib. 4: William DOSS (abt.1811-1888) was born about 1811 in Pittsylvania County. He married Elizabeth BARBER (abt.1814-1898) on 12 May 1828 in Pittsylvania County.9 William died on 22 November 1888 in Mason County, West Virginia.10
• Sib 5: Phillip Valorius “Phil” DOSS (abt.1814-aft.1880) was born about 1814 in Pittsylvania County. He married Elizabeth BAILESS (abt.1815-aft.1880) on 25 December 1835 in Campbell County, Virginia.11 Phillip died after 1880.
Subject of this post: Mary E. “Polly” DOSS born about 1816 in Pittsylvania County, died bef. 1892 in Mason County, West Virginia
• Sib. 7: Elizabeth “Betsy” DOSS born bet. 1821-1825. She married(1) John CLONCH (abt.1810-bet.1844-1847) on 15 February 1842 in Gallia County, Ohio.12 She married(2) John William STEED (abt.1806-aft.1880) on 26 October 1848 in Gallia County, Ohio.13 Betsy died after 1880.

DOSS Families Move to Mason County, (West) Virginia

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

William CLAUNCH (aka CLONCH), with whom Polly DOSS was living, was enumerated between her brothers William and Thomas in 1840 in Mason County.14 In William DOSS’s household was a young lady who fits the age group of their sister Elizabeth. None of the households had an older woman, and neither did their brother Phillip, who remained in Pittsylvania.15 It is believed that Levina DOSS died between 1830-1840.

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

Polly’s Life with William CLONCH

In 1850 Polly DOSS is seen in William CLONCH’s household with their four children enumerated with the DOSS surname.16 The fourth child, Jeremiah age 2, is believed to have died before the 1860 census as he is not listed in that census or later mentioned in the will of William CLONCH. Jeremiah was the name of William’s grandfather.

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

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

By 1860 Polly was no longer using her nickname and is seen as Mary CLAUNCH (CLONCH). She is in William’s household with their children John W., Alex, Luvina, Elizabeth, Thos. E., Joel and Charles H. Also in the household was John W. CLARK age 64 whose relationship to the family has not been determined.17

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

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

• John William CLONCH (1840-1919) was born in December 1840.18
•  Alexander CLONCH (1842-1910), husband of Tabitha Ann “Tobitha” COOLEY, was born on 2 March 1842.19
• Lavina Ann DOSS (1846-1945) was born about 18 March 1846.20,21,22 Note: Inconsistency concerning the date of birth is discussed in footnotes.
• Jeremiah DOSS (1847-1850) was born abt. 1847 and died bet. 1850-1860.23
• Elizabeth Jane “Betsy” CLONCH (1851-1899) born abt. 1851.24
• Joel CLONCH (1852-1910) was born abt. January 1854. 25
• Thomas Eli CLONCH (1852-1913) was born in November 1852.26
• Charles Henry CLONCH (1855-1925) was born in November 1855 (on 10 November 1855 per death record).27,28

The American Civil War period (4 Feb 1861-23 Jun 1865) brought changes for Mary E. DOSS and her family. Mary’s oldest son John William CLONCH married Sarah Jane FOSTER (1840- ) on 20 February 1862 in Gallia County, Ohio.29

Less than a year later the father of her children, William CLONCH, died on 20 January 1863.30 William had the foresight [or maybe Mary influenced him] to write a will leaving his land to Mary and her children.31

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

Life After William

I can’t imagine what Mary’s life would have been like if William had not left her the land that her children farmed. In 1863 Mary’s daughter Lavina Ann married James William PATTERSON (1836-1911) in Point Pleasant and her son Alexander married Mary Ellen LEMASTER (1847-1921) in Gallia County, Ohio.32,33 Alex’s marriage did not last as Mary Ellen was involved with her brother-in-law John whose marriage ended in divorce in 1864 when John and Mary Ellen moved in together. [A Little “Peyton Place” (Part II)]

By 1870 only three children were living at home with Mary: Joel, Elizabeth, and Charles Henry [who was mistakenly listed as Francis].34 Next door was her sister Elizabeth DOSS with her second husband John STEED. Mary’s daughter Lavina was living with her husband in the same district several households away.

1870censusclonch
1870 U.S. Federal Census > WV > Mason > Clendenen > Sheet No. 147B > HH#228-230 [ancestry.com]
John W. and Mary Ellen and children; Alexander and Mary Ellen’s sister Rebecca and children; and Thomas Eli, who was single, were not located in the 1870 census. John’s son Emanuel was born in February 1870 in Mason County per his death register entry which places him in the county in 1870.35 How could it be that Mary’s three sons were missed? Could they have been omitted when the census was copied? Are they on the original census?

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

A Divorce and Two Marriages

The 1880s began with a divorce and two marriages.

Alexander CLONCH finally divorced Mary Ellen LEMASTER in March 1880 in Mason County, West Virginia.36 I wonder if he might have taken advice from his mother. Mary may have wished that William had done the same with his wife Ann Eliza HILL so that she could marry the father of her children.

At about the same time, Charles Henry CLONCH married Nancy Susan WOODS (1864-1928) on 24 March 1880 in Gallia County, Ohio, and Thomas Eli CLONCH married Missouri Catherine SCHULTZ (1862-1942) on 14 May 1880 in Gallia County, Ohio.37,38

In 1880 Mary and all of her children except for John are enumerated on Sheet No. 245A+B in households 195-200 (Lavina), 197-202 (Alex), 198-203 (Thomas), 202-207 (Joel and Charles with their mother Mary) and 203-208 (Elizabeth Jane).39 Only Mary’s oldest son John W. CLONCH was in Cabell County with Alex’s ex-wife Mary Ellen LEMASTER with whom he now had seven children.40

1880censusclonch2
1880 U.S. Federal Census > WV > Mason > Clendennin > ED 93 Sheet 245B HH#202-207

Mary’s son Alexander married Tabitha Ann “Tobitha” COOLEY (1861-1913) on 19 August 1880 in Gallipolis, Gallia County, Ohio.41 He was the last of her children that she would see getting married.

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

Mary E. DOSS died before 1892 when her children are seen selling the land left to her in William CLONCH’s 1863 will to their sister Lavina.42 All of Mary’s children, except for young Jeremiah, survived her.

Joel who had remained single finally married in 1893 at the age of 41.43 John W. at long last married his Mary Ellen in 1895.44 Betsy who had a third child out of wedlock in 1884 married a man half her age in 1899 and disappeared [I have not been able to trace her after the marriage].45

Mary E. DOSS’s children continued “to be fruitful and multiplied” bringing the total grandchildren to 60. The youngest and last surviving died in 1994.46

Genealogy Sketch

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

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

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


  1. 1820 U.S. Federal Census (index and images), Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/7734/), citing Fourth Census of the United States, 1820 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication M33, 142 rolls, NARA Roll: M33_140, Virginia, Pittsylvania County, page 827, sheet 75 (76 stamped on next page), line 33, Levina Doss (accessed 3 July 2014). 
  2. 1830 U.S. Federal Census (index and images), Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/8058/), citing Fifth Census of the United States, 1830 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C. NARA microfilm publication M19, 201 rolls, Nara Roll M19_201, FHL Film: 0029680, Virginia, Pittsylvania County, page 348(double-page spread), line 18, Levina Doss (accessed 3 July 2014). 
  3. “Land Office/Northern Neck Patents & Grants” (index and images from microfilm), Library of Virginia Archives (https://lva-virginia.libguides.com/land-grants), Virginia State Land Office, Grants A-Z, 1-124, reels 42-190; Virginia State Land Office, Grants 125- , reels 369-. The collection is housed in the Archives at the Library of Virginia, Patents No.34, 1756-1765, (VOL.1, VOL.2, VOL.3, & VOL.4), page 1084, Reel 033_0572, James Doss land grant, 25 September 1762, 272 acres on Valentines Creek of Staunton River in Halifax County. (https://lva.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01LVA_INST/altrmk/alma990007479520205756 : accessed 28 June 2022) Note: incorrectly indexed as Boss. 
  4. 1827 marriage 
  5. 1867 marriage 
  6. 1881 death/burial 
  7. 1820 census analysis 
  8. 1820 census analysis 
  9. 1828 marriage 
  10. 1888 death 
  11. 1835 marriage 
  12. 1842 marriage 
  13. 1848 marriage 
  14. 1840 census for William Claunch and the Doss brothers, William and Thomas 
  15. 1840 census for Phillip 
  16. 1850 census 
  17. 1860 census 
  18. 1900 U.S. Federal Census (index and images), Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/7602/), citing Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication T623, 1854 rolls, Roll: 1756, FHL microfilm: 1241756, West Virginia, Cabell County, Barboursville, enumeration district 2, sheet 4B, lines 83-90, household 78-82, John W. Clonch (accessed 15 March 2019). 
  19. Clonch Family Cemetery, Mount Olive, Fayette County, West Virginia (photos of gravemarkers taken by Heather Manley-Duncan), gravemarker of Alex Clonch Mar 2, 1842 – June 3, 1910, and Tobitha Cooley His Wife Feb 11, 1861 – Dec. 16, 1913, photographed 31 May 2014. 
  20. WVCulture.org, West Virginia Deaths, 1804-1999, FHL microfilm 1983804, image 290, Certificate of Death 9284, Lavina Patterson b. 18 March 1838 (sic) d. 1 Aug 1945. (http://images.wvculture.org/1983804/0000290.gif : accessed 20 June 2022). 
  21. 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Roll T623_1765, FHL microfilm: 1241765, West Virginia, Mason County, Clendenin, enumeration district 50, sheet 14A, lines 9-14, household 230-231, Luvina Patterson (accessed 20 June 2022). 
  22. When Lavina died the family added several years to her age at death on her death records and in a newspaper article. She was tooted as the oldest person in Mason County when she died at the age of 109 years! An exaggeration of 10 years as she was not quite 100 at the time of her death. The 18 March 1838 date seen on her death certificate is incorrect and off by 8 years. Lavina Ann Doss consistently gave her true age on the census except in 1930. In 1900 she gave March 1846 as her month and year of birth. Her date of birth has been estimated at about 18 March 1846. 
  23. He was enumerated with his family on the 1850 census as a 2-year-old. No records of birth or death have been found. 
  24. She was seen in the census: 1850 age 9, 1860 age 15, and 1880 age 29. 
  25. He was seen in the census: 1860 age 6, 1870 age 14, 1880 age 25, 1900 age 46 born Jan 1854 (indexed as 1864 however calculation of age would be 1854), and 1910 age 60. 
  26. 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Roll T623_1765, FHL microfilm: 1241765, West Virginia, Mason County, Arbuckle, enumeration district 49, sheet 10B, lines 55-66, household 189-189, Thomas Clonch (accessed 7 February 2020). 
  27. WVculture.org, West Virginia Births, 1853-1930, FHL microfilm 1855007, image 129, Register of Births for Mason County, page 18 (double-page spread), line 3, Nov 1856, Charles Clonch. (http://images.wvculture.org/1855007/00129.jpg : accessed 20 June 2022). 
  28. “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” index and images, FamilySearch, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, citing digital images of originals housed at the Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio, Film 1992616, DGS 4001611, Deaths, file no. 11801-14700, 1925, image 2895 of 3251, Certificate of Death 14375, Charles Henry Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GPKX-K36?i=2894&cc=1307272 : accessed 7 February 2020). 
  29. 1862 marriage 
  30. WVCulture.org, West Virginia Deaths, 1804-1999, FHL microfilm 567384, image 168, Mason County Register of Deaths, 1862-1863, line 24, William Clonch, 20 Jan 1863, typhoid fever, parents not known, born Kanawha County, Va., gunsmith, consort of Mary Clonch. (http://images.wvculture.org/567384/00168.jpg : accessed 15 December 2009). 
  31. “West Virginia Will Books, 1756-1971” (database with images), FamilySearch (digital images of originals housed at local county courthouse in West Virginia), FHL Film #567420, Item 2; DGS 4715359; Mason Will book, v. 01A 1833-1875, image 104 of 165, page 166-167. Last will and testament of William Clonch. (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-18256-40179-14?cc=1909099&wc=10916722 : accessed 12 January 2019). Transcribed by Cathy Meder-Dempsey, 25 September 2011. 
  32. 1863 marriage 
  33. 1863 marriage 
  34. 1870 census 
  35. 1870 birth 
  36. 1880 divorce 
  37. 1880 marriage 
  38. 1880 marriage 
  39. 1880 census 
  40. 1880 census 
  41. 1880 marriage 
  42. “Mason County, West Virginia, County Clerk, Deed books, 1803-1901” (database with images), FamilySearch (Microfilm of original records at the Mason County Courthouse), Film 567368, DGS 8293095, Deed book, v. 53 1892-1893, image 160+162 of 382, pages 202-204. 1892 Heirs of William Clonch to Lovinia Patterson. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSR7-Z9XS-2?i=159&cat=76718 : accessed 12 January 2019). 
  43. 1893 marriage 
  44. 1895 marriage 
  45. 1899 marriage 
  46. 1994 death of Sylvia Virginia Clonch