52 Ancestors: #52 Levina DOSS – Another Unmarried Mother and How She Helped Me Bring This Challenge Finale to an End with a Bang!

“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 #52 in Amy Johnson Crow’s Challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

I’d apologize for the long title but I couldn’t resist! Thank you, Amy Johnson Crow, for a wonderful journey. To all my readers, thank you for coming back time and time again. After reading the last entry for this year, I’d appreciate it if you would please leave a comment letting me know what you liked, disliked, loved or even hated about this challenge. Thank you and Happy New Year!

52 Ancestors: #52 Levina DOSS – Another Unmarried Mother and
How She Helped Me Bring This Challenge Finale to an End with a Bang!

One unmarried mother in my family tree would be easy to take. But two is a bit harder especially since they were mother and daughter. In July I wrote about my 3rd great-grandmother Mary E. “Polly” DOSS being a single mother. Her mother, my 4th great-grandmother, Levina DOSS was also a single mother.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Accessed online: https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/File:Vapittsylvania.jpg

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

Pittsylvania County lies in south midland Virginia, bordering on the North Carolina line. Bordering counties are Bedford (northwest), Campbell (northeast), Halifax (east), Caswell in North Carolina (southeast), Rockingham in North Carolina (southwest), Henry (west/southwest), and Franklin (west/northwest).

Parents and Siblings of Levina DOSS

My 4th great-grandmother Levina DOSS was born between 1771-1775 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, to James DOSS Jr. and his wife Elizabeth1. James was born about 1742 in Amelia County, he married Elizabeth about 1771 and died 1812 in Pittsylvania. Levina had 5 known siblings:

Sib 1: Elizabeth DOSS (1772-1830) born about 1772. Elizabeth DOSS married Ebenezer ANGEL (1769-1850) on 15 December 1794 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. She died between 1830-1840.
Sib 2: Phillip Valorius DOSS (1775-1814) born about 1775. Phillip married Rhoda Elizabeth THURMAN (1787-1850) about 1804 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. He died before 14 June 1814 (date his widow Rhoda was mentioned in court records). Descendants of this line might be interested in some old photos that Vickie Beard Thompson posted on her blog I Dig My Roots and Branches.
Sib 3: Mary Ann DOSS (1780- ) born about 1780 [I am not very comfortable with this estimate considering her marriage in 1811]. She married(1) Preston DUDLEY (1773-1816) on 2 January 1811 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. She may have married(2) James BELL about 1820.
Sib 4: William DOSS (1785-1820) born about 1785. William married Martha CREWS (1789- ) on 29 April 1812 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.2 He died before 1820.
Sib 5: Edward DOSS (1795-1850) born about 1795. Edward married Nancy MITCHELL (1803-1860) on 19 December 1822 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. He died before 1850.

The 1790, 1800, and 1810 census of Pittsylvania County are lost but a substitute is available. The loss is unfortunate and the substitute is wonderful but doesn’t do for me what the 1810 census would have done. I was hoping to see what the household of James DOSS looked like in 1810 and if his daughter Levina had her own household or was living in her father’s home with her three children.

Levina’s father James DOSS Jr. died about 1812 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

Levina’s Life as a Mother

In 1820 Levina DOSS was living in Pittsylvania County most likely on or near the land granted to her grandfather in 1755. She was an unmarried mother and the head of a household that included her four sons, two daughters, and most likely her mother Elizabeth who was widowed about 1812.

1820 U.S. Federal Census > VA > Pittsylvania (ancestry.com)

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

By 1830 Levina had given birth to another daughter she named after her mother. Young Elizabeth and my 3rd great-grandmother Mary E. were the only children still living at home. Next door was Levina’s son William with his wife and young son. Also next door was her brother-in-law Eben ANGEL, a Baptist minister, with his wife, Levina’s sister Elizabeth and their children.

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

As can be seen in the above listing Levina’s mother, or the older woman who had been seen in her household in 1820, was no longer with her. Let’s take a look at another person who was very close to Levina on this census.

1830 U.S. Federal Census > VA > Pittsylvania (ancestry.com)

1830 United States Federal Census
Pittsylvania County, Virginia
Name: Bettsy Doss
Free White Persons – Females – Under 5: 2 (unknown)
Free White Persons – Females – 30 thru 39: 1 (unknown)
Free White Persons – Females – 70 thru 79: 1 (“Bettsy” widow of James DOSS)
Free White Persons – Under 20: 2
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 1
Total Free White Persons: 4

If the lady who was the head of household was also the older female then her age was 70 and under 80 years and could have been Levina’s widowed mother. Who was the younger lady living with Elizabeth in 1830? Was she a granddaughter with two small children? She couldn’t have been a daughter-in-law with such young children as Phillip and William died before 1820 and Edward was living in Campbell County.

Levina DOSS and her mother Elizabeth both died between 1830 and 1840.

Levina’s Children

In the 1830s Levina’s children Thomas, William, Polly, and Elizabeth 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 before the children moved. Only her son Phillip remained in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

Child 1: Thomas DOSS (abt.1801-1881) born about 1801 in Pittsylvania County. He married(1) Elizabeth EADS (abt.1802-bet.1860-1867) on 6 March 1827 in Caswell County, North Carolina. He married(2) Martha Forbes GORDON (1824-1881) on 28 April 1867* in Chariton County, Missouri. Thomas died on 1 April 1881 in Chariton County and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in same county. *The index of the marriage record at ancestry.com and at familysearch.org both have 8 February 1867 as the date of marriage. Ancestry.com has the image of the pages of the marriage record. These clearly show that they married on 28 April 1867.
Child 2: [–?–] (female) DOSS born bet. 1795-1804
Child  3: [–?–] (male) DOSS born bet. 1804-1810
Child  4: William DOSS (abt.1811-1888) born about 1811 in Pittsylvania County. He married Elizabeth BARBER (abt.1814-1898) on 12 May 1828 in Pittsylvania County. It is possible that his wife died as he married again on 28 December 1837 in Mason County to Elizabeth HENRY.3 William died 22 November 1888 in Mason County, West Virginia.4
Child 5: Phillip Valorius “Phil” DOSS (abt.1814-aft.1880) born about 1814 in Pittsylvania County. He married Elizabeth BAILESS (abt.1815-aft.1880) on 25 December 1835 in Campbell County, Virginia. Phillip died after 1880.
Child 6: Mary E. “Polly” DOSS born about 1816 in Pittsylvania County, died bef. 1892 in Mason County, West Virginia. She never married but had eight children with William CLONCH.
Child 7: Elizabeth “Betsy” DOSS born bet. 1821-1825. She married(1) John CLONCH (abt.1810-bet.1844-1847) on 15 February 1842 in Gallia County, Ohio. She married(2) John William STEED (abt.1806-aft.1880) on 26 October 1848 in Gallia County, Ohio. Betsy died after 1880.5

The only documentation I have found for Levina are the two census listings in which she was named as the head of a household. None of her children’s marriage records have the name of their mother listed. No death records were found for her children. All of her known children died after 1880 and before 1900.

Credits and a New Cousin

While preparing to write this last blog post for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge I learned Libbie Griffin started up the Doss Family Association in 1994 for the purpose of sharing information among all Doss descendants. She should be credited for researching and compiling genealogical information was published in their newsletter The Doss Connection. In our world of social media today it is so easy to find other researchers but what do you do when the person has “retired” her hobby? If I can find my ancestors shouldn’t I be able to find Libbie? In the days prior to Facebook, Twitter, etc. we used the messages boards and mailing lists. I searched through them until I found the most recent email address.

A Christmas Present and the Grand Finale

Saturday before Christmas I got an early present. Libbie replied to my email and told me about a bundle she found which included depositions that proved many connections in the Virginia Doss families.

“On one trip to Richmond for research I discovered that the information I needed to find the original papers was in Lynchburg, more than 100 miles away.  I went there and obtained the detailed title of the case and case number.  When I returned to Richmond the next day with that information I was handed a bundle of papers that had not been opened since a string was tied around them nearly 200 years earlier….I can’t tell you how excited I was!”

Reading this gave me goosebumps. Isn’t it the dream of all genealogists to find the mother lode? She told me she had written an entire issue of The Doss Connection about the find with transcripts of the important documents. She offered to scan and email it to me. YES! Thank you very much! She also wrote, “It felt wonderful to be reminded of that ‘find’.”

The Doss Connection, Vol. 2 No. 1 July 1996, bottom of page 2. Used with permission of Libbie Griffith.

What Libbie found was a bundle that has not been scanned and therefore is not available in the Library of Virginia‘s collection of Chancery Records which are online. The case details of the bundle are indexed online here. In the issue of the newsletter Libbie sent to me, pages 2-12, 17-18, and 22 were filled with information on the case and the families involved. A plat drawing of the land in question was included:

The Doss Connection, Vol. 2 No. 1 July 1996, bottom of page 4. Used with permission of Libbie Griffith.

Although I would love to share all of the information found in this issue of The Doss Connection I have chosen to only share excerpts, with Libbie’s permission, concerning my 4th great-grandmother Levina Doss. First, the deposition given by Levina, spelled Lavina in this excerpt, and second, the deposition of her mother Elizabeth. Words in brackets are Libbie’s and some punctuation and spelling corrections were made for easier reading but doesn’t change the meaning:

The Testimony of Lavina Doss
Deposition taken in Pittsylvania Co., Va., 7 May 1817: Lavina Doss … deposeth and sayeth that in the last sickness of her Grandfather, James Doss Senr. & but a Short time before his death, he sent for her Father James Doss Junr to come & see him, accordingly he went & this deponant went with him & we both went together, into the room where my Grandfather lay alone. He spoke to my father & said I am glad to see you Jamey, I have been uneasy & have sent for you to have some talk with you about our affairs. I am about soon to leave you my son & want you to have your rite. I know that I am owing you money that ought to have been paid before now but it was not in my power to do it, but I have now directed my Ext [Executor] to pay you without putting you to any trouble about it. As to the land, it is yours. It was gave to you & I wish you to have it for you have an undoubted rite to it & cannot be kept out of it after my death, your uncle Edward Nicks, gave you the land by Deed of Gift & I have no Claim to it any longer than I live; altho I have directed the land to [defer?, unclear] other ways than I ought to have done, it is not intended to keep you out of your Rite, but only to try to keep peace a little longer over my old head, for I wish to leave my family in peace & I know you will get the land after my death — altho it may put you to the trouble of goin’ or sending for the deed of gift, which I did no want you to have the trouble of. But for the sake of peace in my family, I could not help doing as I have, you know when I agreed to give you up the land below the Shop branch, what an oneasiness [uneasiness] & interruptions it made in my family, till you consented for the business to rest as it was till my death.

This deponent further sayeth that in the life time of the said James Doss Senr. he frequently said that the land belonged to his son James Doss Junr. after his death, that it was gave to him by uncle Edward Nicks and that he held no claim to it any longer than life. This deponent further states that her grandfather James Doss senr. dec’d., put her father James Doss Junr. into possession of the said land below the Shope branch, as above mentioned, & her father began to run a fence on the said land, but was stopped at the request of his father, on account of the disturbance & uneasiness it made in his family, but told my father, James Doss Junr. he would get the whole of the said land after his death. [signed: Lavina (X) Doss, her mark]

Notes (by Libbie): We should keep in mind that Lavina had something of a vested interest in the outcome of this case, and might have stressed her father’s right in the land a bit overmuch. In addition to providing us with an account of James Sr.’s last day, and his love for and concern for his family, Lavina’s testimony also tells what we had previously suspected: that although Lavina had 5 or 6 children, she never married. More on her family appears later in this issue.”

The Testimony of Elizabeth Doss
“Pittsylvania County, 27 September, 1816 [omitting the beginning]…. the tract of land in the bill mentioned was in the possession of my husband James Doss Junr. at the time of his death but was afterward sold (sometime in the year of 1812) at publick sale to the hightest bidder, subject to my dower, by the defendant Samuel Pannill, under a deed of trust executed by my said husband James Doss Junr. to the said Samuel Pannill to secure the payment of a debt due from my husband….to David Pannill’s Estate … neither the said complainant [Nathan Thurman] nor any other person forbid the sale, but since the sale the said Complainant Nathan Thurmon [sic] hath applied to this Respondent to purchase the dower land she holds in her possession & having thus fully answered this Respondant prayes to be hence  dismissed with her Costs. [signed: Elizabeth (X) Doss, her mark]

Note (by Libbie): Elizabeth was taxed for 56 acres until 1827, when this land was taken by the county (see Pittsylvania Co. Deed Bk. 28, p. 121). She and her children and grandchildren may have continued to live there afterward.”

This post was ready for publication before I heard from Libbie. I did not want to change what was written and have added footnotes to items which have additional remarks or information.

I’m going to let Libbie have the final word.

“I’m sure you can imagine it how hard it was for me to keep from cheering loudly in the hushed halls of the Virginia State Library when I cut that string and read those old documents!  A similar experience led me to the answers I needed about my own Doss family.  It’s amazing what’s there to find if we look long enough.”

Genealogy Sketch

Name: Levina DOSS
Parents: James DOSS Jr. and his wife Elizabeth
Spouse: not applicable
Children: Thomas, William, Phillip Valorius, Mary E. “Polly”, and Elizabeth “Betty”
Surnames: Doss, Clonch, Roop, Dempsey, Eads, Rodman, Barber, Bailess, Steed
Relationship to Cathy Meder-Dempsey:
4th Great-grandmother

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

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






  1. The wife of James DOSS Jr. is seen in many family trees as Elizabeth LESTER. Libbie Griffin gives strong evidence that she was the daughter of Thomas LESTER, however stressed that the maiden name is unproved. “Thomas LESTER purchased the land of George Wilcocks, adjacent to James Doss Sr., in 1779 (Pittsylvania Deed Bk. 5, p. 137). Lester was dead by March 1789 when his widow Lithe (probably Elizabeth’s step-mother) married John Ballinger. In 1824 Elizabeth Doss and John and Anna Lester sold what appears to be the same land to Asa Craddock (Pitts. Co. Deed Bk. 26, p. 224). This suggests that she was the sister of either John Lester or his wife Ann Minter Lester. Lester’s lived near (adjoining?) James Doss Jr.” [Source: Libbie Griffin, The Doss Connection, Vol. 2. No. 1, page 8] 
  2. Ibid. 
  3.  The death record of William DOSS’s daughter Sarah Jane NEVILLE shows her mother was Elizabeth HENRY. Therefore all children seen with William and Elizabeth in 1850 were from his 2nd marriage except for sons John 22 and William 14. 
  4.  According to Libbie’s article, William DOSS died 21 November 1888. His death record names “Lavina” as his mother, father unknown, and indicates he was born in 1812. [Source: Libbie Griffin, The Doss Connection, Vol. 2. No. 1, page 17] 
  5. Libbie believed Levina’s youngest daughter seen in the 1830 census may have died young. She may not have had all the information on marriages of DOSS individuals in Mason County, West Virginia, and Gallia County, Ohio, where many residents of Mason married. It is my belief Elizabeth was this young daughter, named after her grandmother, and she came to Mason County with her brothers and sister in the 1830s, most likely before December 1837 when brother William married Elizabeth HENRY.