Chosen Family – A case study in making the right choice

52 Ancestors

As a genealogist, I choose families to focus on from week to week or month to month. The length of time I spend on this chosen family depends on how fruitful my progress is or whether an idea pops into my head that I can’t let go lest I forget it later.  I’m random like that.  Sometimes I get frustrated enough with my own brick walls that I must distract myself with research on unrelated people.  I have a few of those, and sometimes friends ask for help.

Choosing a family to research

Several weeks ago a friend asked for my help with finding evidence to use for establishing a supplemental ancestor on her lineage society membership. To those who are not a member of a lineage society, a supplemental ancestor is a qualifying ancestor you record in addition to the initial ancestor whom you used to join that society.

Anyway, back to my friend’s chosen family. She believed that her ancestress, Emily F. Barnes, was a daughter of a man named Delaney Barnes.  Delaney was the son of John (we’ll refer to him as John “A” – there are A LOT of John’s in this story), a patriot who qualifies for entry into a lineage society.  She was having trouble finding appropriate evidence to support this relationship and she had some anomalies she could not explain.  So, in I dug.

Choosing the correct family to attribute to

Some people say it is a skill to solve research problems. But I believe it is a matter of paying attention to the small details.  It’s not magic either, sometimes it’s quite simple how we find leads to the records we seek.  And luck.  I find luck is most important, especially in Kentucky where many courthouses have burned, resulting in the loss of records.  And in the case of Emily, we are dealing with research on early frontier pioneers who were born before Kentucky kept vital records.

I tackled Emily the same way I tackle any of my early American subjects. My friend provided me with enough information to establish her whereabouts as a married adult: her husband’s name, their county of residence, and her birth date.  I was able to locate her in the census and she consistently lived in the same district in the same county over several censuses.  With similar information provided on Delaney Barnes, I located him as well with the same results.  However, he consistently lived in another district in the same county.  Then I notice two different Emily’s.  One lived near Delaney and never used a middle name or initial, the other was my friend’s Emily who always used F. or Francis, and lived next door to a man named John Barnes (1).  In the census prior to her marriage, she lived in the household of John (1) and Mary/Polly.  In a later census year, John (1) is presumed dead and his wife is living in the household of Emily F. She is identified as the mother-in-law of Emily’s husband.  Ah ha. “Details, details, details”, Bill Engvall, Blue Collar Comedy.

Anyway – short story. Additional records, cluster associations, and analysis confirm that there were definitely two Emily Barnes.  One was the daughter of Delaney who married and left Kentucky.  The second was Emily F. Barnes the wife of Asbury Lenox and daughter of John (1) and Mary/Polly (Godman) Barnes.  This latter Emily is the ancestress of my friend.

So who was John Barnes (1)? Delaney’s patriot father was John Barnes (A). Ugh…  Ok, how many men named John Barnes lived in this county?  Ooooo…three! Same exercise as with Emily. Collect records, analyze, sort. John (1) is too young to be John (A). John (2) consistently uses his middle initial “W”, always lives near Delany and John (A), and married a woman named Sally Godman (incidentally Mary’s widowed sister-in-law, and in the same year!) John (2) is further confirmed as the son of John (A) when (A) names one of his son’s, John W., in his will.

Sorting and analyzing using MS Excel. Using this tool is an easy way to see parallel timelines between several candidates. Even though I was trying to sort out the various John’s, I kept Delaney in there as a benchmark for cluster purposes. I used the same method to sort our records for Emily to support my suspicion that there were two different women named Emily Barnes.

And here is where luck comes into play. Being homebound, due to work schedule and COVID, it is not easy to travel to brick and mortar courthouses and historical society repositories.  But…the Barnes’ are numerous in that county (and the neighboring county) so there are a lot of people who descend from them who have done the research and already made these conclusions.  In the case of a cluster of families that include Barnes, Godman, and Lenox there are two or three pretty serious researchers. One of these researchers uploaded images of an unpublished research paper that is filed in hard copy at the County’s public library.  It is very good and very thorough research complete with excellent source citations.  I was able to find and validate some of the sources cited, to include the will of John Barns (B) – yes, this John signed his name Barns, not Barnes.  John (B) died in 1813, before John (A) died and before John (1) married Mary Godman. And as luck would have it, John (B) named his wife and children in his will. One of his sons he identifies as “John” and leaves his cooper implements to this son. John (1) was enumerated as a cooper in 1850.

Since there are only three John’s in this county (after the death of John [B] who left the Will) and only one of them was associated to a cooperage business, it is a reasonable conclusion to attribute Emily’s father, John (1), to parents John (B) and Hannah. And John (B) was also a patriot – so my friend gets her supplemental, just with a different family line than she originally thought.

Pictorial representation of the separate Barnes families in Harrison County, Kentucky who lived there between 1810 and 1880.

One thought on “Chosen Family – A case study in making the right choice

  1. Excellent. So many Barnes and Emily’s in one County could drive one to distraction. That cluster study business and good Census reports can be very useful. I would never have thought to notice the district in a county across many decades. A good distraction for you! Satisfying when it is successful! 👍


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