William Holloway, Martha Branson & Phebe Crispin: A genealogical game of hide and seek

My maternal Quaker Holloway family has begun to rival my maternal Quaker Harlan/Harling family, my paternal and maternal Quaker White family, and my paternal and maternal Ulster Scots and Scottish Stuart/Stewart family in terms of size and importance. These four families are enormous. Together, they connect me to a mind-blowing number of Americans from all walks of life.  The sheer number of DNA cousins I have through these four families makes my head spin at times.

The Moses Williams Project (https://genealogyadventures.net/2017/05/16/the-moses-williams-family-tree-project-update-1) has brought my Holloway line back into sharp relief. I think I have identified a Holloway granddaughter of Moses Williams, Sr  in Edgefield County, South Carolina. The sticking point is this woman’s mulatto father, Harry Holloway, born around 1797 in Edgefield. I know there is a blood connection between this Harry and my mulatto 4x great grandfather, Edward “Ned” Holloway. They are either brothers or first cousins. Additional DNA triangulation work needs to be done to nail down the relationship between these two men.


Holloway family crest

Harry is of particular interest for another reason. His descendants are matching descendants of Moses Williams through the Williams line. Initial DNA segmentation work is showing cMs in the 3.2 to 3.5 region.  Along with other DNA variables too complicated to outline here, the common ancestor is looking like Moses.  Specifically speaking, that common ancestor is beginning to look like one of Moses’s unknown 40 daughters, five of whom have already been identified. Finding a sixth daughter would be awesome. Not to mention that if Harry and Ned are indeed brothers, this would mean that Ned Holloway would also be a descendant of Moses through this same daughter. You can see why sorting through the DNA triangulation process to understand this match is so important.

However, in order to solve the mystery of identifying another unknown daughter of Moses, we must begin to solve the question of Harry Holloway’s paternity. Which means returning back to my Quaker Holloway research. DNA triangulation has already identified the white Holloway man who fathered Ned Holloway. While Ned’s father, William Holloway (1765–1838) wasn’t a Quaker himself, he is a descendant of the Quaker Holloway family. So it’s once more into the breach where Holloway genealogy research is concerned.

The image above is from a book myself and the Genealogy Adventures research team have found to be invaluable. So far, we’ve worked our way through two-thirds of the lineages outlined in the book. As it so happens, I accidentally opened the book to a section the team had already worked through. It’s a section that has a family group filled with brick walls.  These brick walls all had to do with the children of William Holloway and his two wives: Martha Branson and Phebe Crispin.

To begin, I always find it impressive, no, awe-inspiring, that antiquarian researchers could compile lineage research with none of the modern research tools we take for granted today. Olin Holloway, for instance, relied on sending countless letters to Holloway family members.  This formed the backbone of his research.  Added to which, he visited various repositories to search through records, compiled data from numerous Holloway family bibles from the various branches of the family, and interviewed kin when and where he could. While there are wee errors here and there in the book, or differences in name spellings, the work he compiled is very accurate.  Digitized records have proven it. So my hat is off to this cousin for this important work on the Holloway family.

However, like the main Harlan family book, The Genealogy of the Harlan Family, by Alpheus Harlan, there are some 18th and early 19th Century family lines who ceased to be Quakers…and seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. For those of you who are not familiar with Quaker records, the Quakers kept meticulous and thorough records. These records largely have to do with Quaker Monthly Meetings. Think of these meetings as community administrative records.

Such records include details about:

  • Births, deaths, and marriages within the community;
  • Genealogical information: names of parents, siblings, children, and spouses;
  • Information about where a member of the community was living, and when they lived there;
  • Removals to other Quaker communities: A member, and his or her family, required a certificate from the leaders of their old community when they were planning to remove themselves to a new community.  Think of this as a kind of letter of introduction. These certificates are invaluable. They provide dates, names, and locations; and
  • Removals from the Quaker faith. This gives the date an ancestor or kinsman or woman was removed from their Quaker community. Broadly speaking, this could be from bad behaviour, lapse in attending the monthly meetings, marrying outside the faith without permission, or being married by a non-Quaker minister.

These records are a goldmine of family history and genealogical information.

The first time the research team came across William Holloway, Martha Branson, and Phebe Crispin, we added the information above into the family tree and moved on. At the time, we felt that if Olin Holloway couldn’t pick up their trail, the chances were high that we wouldn’t be able to either. When I accidentally opened up the book to this page, it was kind of providential.  This time around, I wanted to see what I could find.

This seemed like a providential moment for a few reasons. One reason I am going to share is pretty straightforward.  Having worked our way through two-thirds of this book, the research team and I knew where other family groups at a similar generational level had initially moved to:  Ohio. Columbiana County and Mahoning County, Ohio to be precise. So it made sense to look in these two counties to pick up William’s trail.

And I found him.

However,  I found him in a completely different part of Ohio from his Holloway cousins. I found him and his family in Clark and Guernsey Counties, Ohio. His journey goes something like this:



William and Phebe with children in 1820. Source: 1820 U S Census; Census Place: Madison, Clark, Ohio; Page: 8; NARA Roll: M33_88; Image: 23



William and Phebe with children in 1830. Source: 1830; Census Place: Madison, Clark, Ohio; Series: M19; Roll: 128; Page: 92; Family History Library Film: 0337939



William and Phebe with children in 1840. Source: 1840; Census Place: Madison, Clark, Ohio; Roll: 383; Page: 54; Family History Library Film: 0020161

Finding Additional Records

While the census returns were an exciting discovery, they by no means proved that the William Holloway living in Clark County, Ohio was one in the same as the William Holloway who married Martha Branson and Phebe Crispin; the man who was outlined in Olin’s lineage book. However, I knew where to look to seal the deal now that I was researching in Clark County, Ohio. This lead to the first of a series of marriage and death records that provided additional proof: marriage and death records.


This marriage certificate proved that William had moved to Ohio, the place where he and Phebe had married.  Source: Ancestry.com. Ohio, County Marriages, 1774-1993 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.

Locating his Will and probate records was another key find:


This 1839 Will, filed in Clark County, Ohio, clinched that this was indeed the correct William Holloway outlined in Olin’s book. Source: Record of Wills, 1819-1902; Probate Place: Clark, Ohio. Please click for larger image

This 1839 Will raised as many questions as it answered.  Isn’t that always the way when it comes to genealogy?

The children cited in this Will were by his second wife, Phebe Crispin.  I was able to pick up the trail for most of the children he had with Phebe. I have been able to trace these children’s descendants to the present day.

None of his children by his first wife, Martha, were mentioned. Not only that, neither I nor the research team, can find any definitive trace of the children William had with Martha. Where were they?  It was back to the Quaker records for William:


William’s birth as recorded at the Shrewsbury Monthly Meting in Monmouth County, NJ. Source: Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Record of Marriage Certificates; Collection: Quaker Meeting Records; Call Number: MR Ph:584

Not that we had any doubts, this record confirmed the names of William’s parents, his date of birth, and his place of birth.


William’s removal record. Source: Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Certificates of Removal (Issued), 1783-1927; Collection: Quaker Meeting Records; Call Number: MR Ph:584

Transcription of the removal record:

Springfield Monthly Meeting –

From the Monthly Meeting of Friends at Upper Springfield in New Jersey held the 9th of the Seventh Month 1788 to the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Crooked Run, Virginia. dear Friends, application being made to us for a Certificate on behalf of Elizabeth Holloway, wife of George Holloway, and their children who have removed to live within the (undecipherable) of your Meeting there may certify that on inquiry it appears she was a good degree of a sober life, conversation and sometimes attended our religious meetings.  The children (to whit) William, Mary, Sarah, George & Thomas being in their minority, have a right of membership with us; as such we recommend them to your christian care and oversight & subscribe ourselves, your friends, brethren, and sisters (undecipherable) in on behalf of said Meeting. Signed

So what does this tell us? As of 1788, a young William left Monmouth County, New Jersey for Crooked Run Meeting House in Virginia with his mother and siblings. Crooked Run was a vital clue.  Numerous Holloway cousins of William had left Pennsylvania and New Jersey for the same place.

Thanks to Olin’s lineage book, I knew the 3 places associated with the Crooked Run Meeting House where William’s cousins were living.  It didn’t take long to pick up his trail in Lynchburg, Virginia.


William’s 1812 petition to the Crooked Run Meeting to remove himself and his family to the Fairfield Meeting House in Ohio. Source: Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Minutes, 1788-1789;Collection: Baltimore Yearly Meeting Minutes; Call Number: RG2/B/C761 1.4 Please click for larger image

So, William and Phebe (Martha had died by 1808) were still very much Quakers in 1812. This record confirms it, as well as where they moved to from Virginia.

A few things still remain unclear. We have yet to find a marriage document for William and his first wife, Martha. Nor have we discovered a death record for her.  Both are unusual for Quaker records. However, we know that both events occurred in Virginia. And we roughly know where in Virginia. So we have some good parameters to work with to locate these records.

The children William had with Martha are playing a good game of hide and seek. These kids are stubbornly remaining hidden.  However, we have three solid places to seek them out in Virginia:  Lynchburg, Warren, and Frederick, Virginia. The problem is there are many Holloways with the same names born around the same time as these children living in the same three places. It is a slow, methodical, and meticulous task of ruling out those we know aren’t matches to the children we are seeking in order to focus on the candidates we believe will ultimately be these missing children. Did they remain in Virginia?  Or did they move to Ohio as their father, half-siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins did? And did they remain Quakers? And why was there no mention of these children, or their children, in William’s Will? This strikes me as unusual.  Was there a falling out within this family?

There is a last question regarding William and Phebe.  It appears that they ceased to be Quakers. We have yet to find any Quaker Meeting records for them, or their children, in Fairfield County, Ohio, which is where they moved to in 1812.  Thus far, it doesn’t appear that their children remained Quakers. William and Phebe’s children have every kind of record you would expect to document their existence – every kind of record save Quaker records. What happened?  That too remains a mystery.

For now, we’re happy to have broken through some brick walls for this family group…and add to Olin Holloway’s amazing research.

Throwing the gates open: Doing a broad family name search on ancestry websites

Most of my family research activity is quite specific. I tend to spend a great deal of time tracking down specifics about an individual or a particular family group. My time is usually spent tracking down individual dates and county of birth, dates and county of deaths, marriage dates, maiden names of mothers, etc. However, just to shake things up from time to time, I’ll do a general search using the broadest search terms available.

Armed with an increasing list of mothers’ maiden names, I’ve started to do broad searches on marriages between two family groups. So how does this work? Page 1 in the document below is an example.

While Ancestry.com is an amazing resource for intricate and detailed searches, I find (for me) that Familysearch.org is an amazing resource for broad searches.

The surname Byrd/Bird was a name which cropped up in connection with the Sheffeys in Wythe and Smyth Counties in Virginia. I had spotted a few marriages between the two families from the 1870s through to the turn of the 20th Century. So I was naturally curious to see how many marriages occurred between the two families.

I decided to search for all the individuals born in Virginia with the surname Sheffey (no first names are used in this kind of search) who had a spouse with the surname Byrd (again, no first names used). The record shown above gives a glimpse (death certificates and baptism records provided more). You’ll also see that alternate spellings for each surname are returned in the search results (Sheffy, Bird, etc). Each record that this search returned also gave details about parents – Page 2 in the document above shows the mother of Dennis Byrd (Josephine Sheffey’s husband) was a Sheffey.

I could (and have) made the search even broader at times by omitting the state of birth. And the results were no less illuminating…showing direct marriages between the Sheffeys and Byrds between 1920 and 1935 occurring in Delware, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland. And, as to be expected, there were also marriages between both families via their shared Richardson, Hill and Carpenter cousins.

It’s a brilliant family history exercise to do – but definitely one where you have quite a bit of time to process the results! The results from this search kept me busy updating the family tree for the best part of a week!

Genealogy challenges: Part 2 – The Turners of Charles County, Maryland

My Turner lineage has been one of the most difficult and troublesome to trace. Of the eight families my research has primarily concentrated on, I’ve gained the least ground with this one.  Common names and scant citation in official documents have all played a part in making this a difficult family to research.

My great-grandfather, Daniel Patrick Turner (1879 – 1929), was a harbinger for what was to come. I naively believed that there couldn’t be very Maryland-born, African-American men with the name Daniel Patrick Turner during my great-grandfather’s lifetime. Had I been searching for an Irishman with that name it would have been a different story.  An African-American?  It had to be a cinch.   Wrong! A search on Familysearch.org and Ancestry.com returned an impressive list of African American men bearing the names Daniel Turner and Daniel Patrick Turner.

An inspired moment led me to search for his marriage record to Beatrice Josey.  Hers was a more distinctive name and that hunched paid off. I found Daniel and, more importantly, I found his year of birth, his parents’ names and his place of birth. I also found his death certificate which again listed his year of birth, Maryland as the place of his birth and his parents’ names.  At this point I believed I had enough information to sink my teeth into some deeper research.

Census data could only be found if I searched for both Daniel Turner and his wife Beatrice. The result of this meant I could only find him via his wife Beatrice.  To-date, I have been unable to find him in census records prior to his marriage – with one exception. There are simply too many Maryland-born, African-American Daniel Turner’s born in or reasonably around 1879 to be certain that I’m looking at the correct one in the records.

The exception is the 1910 Census where he’s living with his sister Matilda (Turner) Jackson. And this I found when doing a Census search for his sister.  Matilda Turner, being a relatively distinctive name, was easy to trace.

Born in 1879, it should be possible to find Daniel in the 1880 and 1900 Census records.  So far, he’s proven elusive.

I also haven’t been able to determine Daniel’s county of birth, which is another issue.  Knowing the county of his birth would provide a narrower parameter in which to search. His son, my maternal grandfather, is recorded as being born in La Plata, Maryland. Daniel, however, doesn’t appear to have any association with La Plata. So this, it appears, would be a dead end in terms of this line of enquiry.

Daniel’s father, Patrick Turner (b. 1842), would prove to be even more elusive. Patrick Turner appears in the 1870 Census with a wife, Caroline, and not my great-grandfather’s mother, Amelia Burch.  He was resident in Charles County, Maryland. A search of 1880 records unearthed nothing. He simply wasn’t in the records.  I’ve had all manner of enlightened moments in terms of searching for him in the official records. Thinking Daniel Patrick Turner might have been named for his father, I tried searching for a Daniel Patrick Turner born in Maryland in 1842 – with no results. I’ve tried every variation of ‘Patrick Turner’ I could think of: Patrick, Paddy, Pad, Pat, etc – and again, nothing.  He simply vanishes by the time of the 1880 Census.  He may have died before the 1880 Census.  However, his death ought to have been recorded.  African-American deaths were officially recorded at this time so I couldn’t imagine why his wouldn’t.

A search for marriage records to either Amelia Burch or second wife Caroline also drew blanks. I couldn’t find a marriage record for either wife.

The last role of the dice with regards to Patrick Turner was a possible relocation.  At some point between 1910 and 1920, Daniel Turner and his family moved from Maryland to Washington D.C.  My rationale was the son may have followed the father to Washington D.C. – or vice versa.  However, again, a search of Washington D.C. census returns turned up nothing for Patrick Turner.

Every avenue of research continues to draw a blank.

I’ve done some preliminary research on African-American Turners in Charles County, Maryland. Generally, the Turners of Charles County fall into a few camps.  These are family groups who lived in Nanjemoy, Port Tobacco, Bryantown and Newtown.

Map of Charles County, Maryland

Map of Charles County, Maryland

Interestingly, La Plata is located between Bryantown and Nanjemoy.  Newtown is just to the south of La Plata. So while it would appear that my grandfather and his family were amongst a handful of African-American Turners in La Plata, they weren’t too far from the extended Turner family.   This at least is something. It places my grandfather, his sisters and his mother into a (very, very) general Turner family context in Maryland. However, it doesn’t answer the questions around Daniel Turner or Patrick Turner and who, exactly, they were related to in Charles County.

I haven’t raised the white flag of surrender on the African-American Turners of Charles County, Maryland just yet. I’ve left this to simmer quietly on a back burner.  My hope is that a Turner researching the same family line will get in touch with at least one or two missing pieces to aide in the research.  If the information can’t be found in official records, I hope it will become available in someone else’s family tree.

This is one reason – and an important one in my book – why more African Americans should take the leap and begin tracing their ancestral history. Online family trees can, and do, provide invaluable information.  They are an important resource, especially when there are gaps in the official records.

Genealogy challenges: Part 1 – General overview

The vast majority of my posts have been about successes in tracing my ancestors and their kin and surprise discoveries along the way.  Today it’s about the other side of the coin.  For in tracing family history, there are failures, dead-ends and moments of absolute frustration.

I’ll be covering this side of genealogical research in the next couple of posts. I’ll be concentrating on a specific family and highlighting the challenges and issues which has made tracing them a veritable mission impossible.

When researching family history, there will be a minimum of 8 families to tackle. For example, this is mine:

On my father’s side of the family:
1:  My paternal grandfather:  Sheffey (Wythe & Smyth Counties, Virginia)

2:  My paternal grandmother: Roane (Henrico County, VA)

And then:

My Paternal Sheffey grandfather
His father – will be a Sheffey, so this doesn’t count as it’s the same family.

3. His mother – my paternal great-grandmother: White (Wythe County, Virginia)

My Paternal Roane grandmother
Her father will be a Roane, so this doesn’t count as it’s the same family.

4. Her mother – my paternal great-grandmother: Bates (Henrico County, Virginia)

On my mother’s side of the family:
5:  My maternal grandfather:  Turner (Charles County & La Plata, Maryland)

6:  My maternal grandmother: Matthews (part of her extended family has the surname Mathis) (Wise, Edgefield, South Carolina)

And then:

My maternal Turner grandfather
His father – will be a Turner, so this doesn’t count as it’s the same family.

7. His mother – my maternal great-grandmother: Josey (Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina)

My maternal Matthews grandmother
Her father will be a Matthews, so this doesn’t count as it’s the same family.

8. Her mother – my maternal great-grandmother: Harling (Blocker Township, Edgefield, South Carolina)

These are the eight families that the majority of my research is based upon.

Or looking at it another way….

My immediate family tree

My immediate family tree

Of these eight families, the following have been relatively straightforward to research:  Sheffey, Roane, Josey and Harling. The Sheffey and Roane are well-documented families. I’ve also been fortunate that there are a number of African-American Roane’s and Sheffey’s tracing their family’s history and sharing information via services like Ancestry.com.  Meeting these newly found extended family members, and sharing information online, has helped all of us on our respective genealogy adventures.

The Harlings and Joseys have also been relatively straightforward to research. They are distinctive family names – which always helps – and, like the Sheffeys and Roanes, were close-knit form the end of the Civil War through to the early 1900’s. They also tended to stay in the area they were born.

The White, Turner and Matthews/Mathis families have posed all manner of challenges. I’ll cover the respective challenges each family poses in the next couple of posts.