What’s in a maiden name? When cousins marry

In my previous post I covered the importance of accurately recording maiden names.  And this post is just one illustration of how important and/or interesting such information can be.

As I’ve mentioned in a few posts, the Sheffey family in Virginia was a tightly knit family group.  This is all the more impressive as it was certainly an extremely large family from the 1870s onwards. It was not unknown for cousins from different branches of the Virginian family to marry one another .  Or marry their extended relations within the Byrd, Hill and Carpenter families.

One such instance is my great-aunt Callie Sheffey who married William Turner.  Turner was actually a cousin, the son of Katherine Sheffey who married Robert Turner.  In other words, Callie’s mother-in-law was a Sheffey cousin from another branch of the Sheffey family tree. And herein is the basis of an interesting tale which illustrates just how strong the Sheffey family bonds were across decades.

It’s a story that goes back before the end of slavery.  Katherine was the daughter of Godfrey Taylor Sheffey and Angeline Ward. The records don’t tell us what became of Godfrey, where he was born (other than Virginia) or who his parents were. What we do know for certain is that Angeline and her children were moved from Wytheville, Virginia to Alabama. History would indicate they were the slaves of Dr Lawrence Brengler Sheffey, who moved from Virginia to Alabama in the same time period, presumably taking Angelina and her children with him.  So far, the records show he was the only white Sheffey from the Virginian Sheffey’s to move from Virginia to Alabama at this time.

At the end of the civil war, Angeline returned to Wytheville.  Many of her children returned with her, with some electing to remain in Alabama. Katherine was one of the children who returned to Wytheville with her mother. I can only imagine the joy that was felt within the family when those who were taken from them came back to them. Indeed, within a generation, these two family lines were united with the marriage of Callie to William.

These Turners and Sheffeys are related twice-over through marriage: one through Katherine Sheffey’s marriage to Robert Turner and again through Callie Sheffey’s marriage to their son, Wiliam.  Without the proper recording of both women’s maiden names, this family connection would have been either lost or overlooked.

A second instance involves the Sheffey and Byrd families.

Lena (or Senah – the joys of Census Records!) Sheffey married Dennis Byrd.  One of their sons, Stephen Byrd, married Josephine “Josie” Sheffey.  Josephine was a cousin form a different Sheffey branch than Lena/Senah’s.  This is another instance of a man with a mother and wife from two different branches of the same family. This would occur more than once between the Sheffeys and the Byrds and their mutual cousins the Carpenters. And again, these connections were possible through the careful recording of maiden names.

As a side note, these dynamics makes the information recorded in Census records even more interesting.  It brings Census data to life.  Looking upon list after list of names, I’ve seen generations of Carpenters, Sheffeys, Byrds and Hills living near to one another. What looks like a mere list of names actually demonstrates close familial bonds. It’s another small way of bringing history to life. It’s something I find absolutely fascinating.  And, considering few of my ancestors left any manner of written record, this is as close as I’m likely to get to their unwritten histories.

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