Bracey-Blackridge area DNA mystery project

I’m working on solving some DNA mysteries that happened between 1864-1875. I’m looking for people who have taken an Ancestry.com DNA test with family tree roots in the Bracey-Blackridge area. All ethnicities. Family surnames will include, but are not limited to: Bennett, Boyd, Gray, Harper, Jones, Mabry, Mayo, Marks, Newman, Pearson, Thomas, Walker, Wright. There are many unknowns, as well as many cousin marriages. I’m helping a descendant of Missouri Jones and George Harper who has taken a DNA test on Ancestry.com. I want to ask each person if they match 1) myself, and/or 2) the descendant of Missouri and George Harper. Missouri’s mother was Jane Bennett Thomas, who was divorced but continued using her married name of Jones. George’s mother was Susan Harper. It appears both Missouri and George were born out of wedlock.

It is important for me to also know who is not related, but has taken a test. For example, I am a Jones descendant, through Alginon Gray. But I do not match Missouri Jones. This chart shows how I would not match Missouri genetically. I do not have any pink. :

There are many Jones and Thomas cousin marriages. So I will need help knowing people’s family lines before 1900. I will try the same approach I did to solve a DNA mystery on Fannie Gray’s husband’s side of the family, from 1918. There were several cousin and step-siblings in that project, as I know will be the case with this project. We will be comparing how people match George & Missouri’s descendants and how they match me. We have several unknown lines:

  1. Missouri’s father: paternal line (aqua on chart above)
  2. Missouri’s father: maternal line (brown on chart above)
  3. African American & Jane’s baby: male paternal line (orange on chart)
  4. African American & Jane’s baby: male maternal line (green on chart)
  5. George Harper’s mother: maternal line
  6. George Harper’s father: paternal line
  7. George Harper’s father: maternal line

First I will chart if people had a test, and if they match me or my grandparents. Also, if or how they match Missouri’s family. Then I will make a color-coded chart to show how closely people are related to Missouri’s family, based on centimorgan (cM) closeness.

The shapes were the paper trail. The colors were the DNA trail. If you are willing to message with me, my email address is: mecklenburgvagen@gmail.com

Previous post about this: https://mecklenburgvagenealogy.com/2020/02/16/jones-african-american-dna-mystery/

Patterns of Moving: Before Mecklenburg

Whenever I feel stuck researching my family history, I try to think about patterns. What is the normal pattern for this family? If they did something that breaks the normal pattern, why? What is the normal pattern for that time and place? One pattern I have noticed is that people moved in groups. They joined military units or were in the local militia together as neighbors. Moves often happened for economic reasons. People moved with close family and friends to a new place, the people they knew they could depend on for a new start.

I know about several early Mecklenburg families, but cannot personally document any of my ancestors born before 1800, or know where they lived before Mecklenburg- except for one line, and that is my Newman line. James B. Jones (Great Creek area) married Martha Newman. They raised 15 children! Martha’s death record said she was born in Orange, VA. At first, I thought that was a mistake because Martha’s father, Abner Newman was in a Mecklenburg unit during the War of 1812 and married in Brunswick County, Virginia in 1792. I kept searching for a some kind of connection to Orange County Virginia.  I discovered that when Martha’s father died she went to live with her grandfather in Orange. She, her mother, and siblings who had not yet married all moved to Orange.

Martha’s grandfather William Newman was born in Essex County, Virginia. He lived where the Occupacia Creek crosses Route 17, very close to the Rappahannock River. William Thomas lived between the Newmans and the Rappahannock River. The more I read the court books, the more I start to wonder about if several of my Mecklenburg ancestors lived in Essex first. William Newman’s next door neighbors were Walkers, Thomases, Joneses, Brookes, Moseleys, Kidds,  and Grays. (Even though I know my Grays immigrated from County Armagh, Ireland in 1838). I see all those family names as neighbors to the Newmans  for 100 years in Essex County.  Because farms were failing in Essex county during the 1750’s and 1760’s, some people started to move to Caroline County and Orange County.  William Newman worked for many years for John Baylor and his wife Frances Walker who had farms in both Caroline and Orange counties. Mrs. Baylor had a brother who settled in Brunswick County, Virginia. Three Walker brothers (whose father was born in Essex), married three of Martha’s sisters. (William Newman’s grandchildren.) I know that these are common British surnames, but I can’t help wondering when I see these families as next door neighbors in Essex for 100 years, and then see these same names as close neighbors in Eastern Mecklenburg. That’s a pattern I don’t plan to ignore or think of as just a coincidence. It is true that a lot of people migrated from Isle of Wight and Surry counties to Mecklenburg, but now I am studying the early Essex (Old Rappahannock County) migration route to Mecklenburg.

This map shows the path that my Newman family traveled from 17th century  Essex county, to 1810 in Mecklenburg. When I find more connections to colonial families or where families  were before they came to Mecklenburg, I will share them here.  On the map below, I have marked landmarks closest to where William Newman, then where his granddaughter Martha Newman lived. The route displayed is the current highway/ travel route.

Alvy Dortch left Mecklenburg for economic reasons

Alvin (Alvy) Dortch endured many tragedies and hardships. He was one of five children. His mother Sarah Poythress died when he was only age 9. His father and two other siblings died by the time he was age 14. He also suffered from severe depression. I assume Alvin’s older sister Martha was like a mother figure to him. Martha married John Vaughan and died about the time Alvy was being sued for debt. Maybe after she died, Alvy didn’t think there was any reason to stay in the area. Since he couldn’t farm, it was hard to remain in a predominately farming area and survive economically.

After his parent’s death, Alvy lived with Rebecca Stanley, who I believe was his aunt. (Rebecca’s maiden name was Poythress). His brother, Oliver Jasper Dortch (known as “O.J.”) was living with Dr. Riggan, who was a dentist. Dr. Riggan had three marriages without any children. I’ve been wondering if there’s any family relationship with Dr. Riggan or his second wife Eliza Hart. Or perhaps Dr. Riggan was simply generous and tried to help his neighbors out of financial difficulties.

Alvy was conscripted into the Confederate Army at about age 18, while he was visiting Petersburg. He was first made a guard at a hospital. After getting sick several times, he put in a request to be transferred to serve with a troop of men who he knew. He ended up being a prisoner, yet survivor, of Point Lookout.

His oldest daughter, Theresa, had a seizure by the fireplace. Her dress caught fire and she died in front of her two young children, Fanne and Maude (ages 5 & 2). This happened while the men of the area were out harvesting tobacco. That same day, Alvy took his granddaughters Fannie and Maude Gray home with him. He raised them as his own children. His youngest child, Millard Dortch, was two years younger than his granddaughter Maude Gray and four years older than his other granddaughter Fannie Gray.

Part of Sally Vick’s 1951 letter. Sally was daughter of Alvy & Tennessee Dortch

With his war wounds, Alvy was unable to farm.  So, he created a wagon train business carting goods from the farmers in Mecklenburg, Virginia, to markets in Petersburg. Virginia’s economy was in tatters for decades after the war. There was catastrophic economic damage from the economic “Panic of 1893”. 15,000 businesses and 500 banks in the U.S. failed. No one had money. Farms were failing from drought and farmers lost their lands.  During the country’s economic crisis, Alvy struggled to provide for his wife, eleven children and two grandchildren. He applied for a military pension but received a rejection letter. He borrowed money from Dr. Riggan, but couldn’t earn enough to pay back the last $120 of the loan before Dr. Riggan died. As executor, Dr. Riggan’s (third) wife called in his debts.  Alvy became insolvent.

During times of trial, we often want to be with someone who understands us. I believe that’s what led Alvy to move to Southampton County, Virginia. There, he lived near his friend,  Samuel J. Glover. I haven’t been able to figure out yet, if Alvy’s wife, Tennessee Glover, was related to his friend. Samuel and Alvy had been in the same military unit. After the war, Samuel Glover lived with a ‘Hart’ family that is possibly related to Eliza Hart, second wife of Dr. Riggan. After leaving Mecklenburg, all of Alvy’s adult children were working, trying to earn money where they could. His wife, Tennessee, and a few children temporarily moved to Petersburg to get jobs, while Alvy worked at various odd jobs. The whole family moved to Kankakee, IL (just south of Chicago) about 1903. The family worked in factories there, including the Paramount Knitting Company. Tennessee and Alvy ran a boarding house.  It was big enough to house their young adult children, 4 grandchildren and 3 boarders.  One boarder married Alvin’s daughter Martha.

Fannie Gray married George Stowe, had eleven children and remained in the Kankakee area most of her adult life. When Fannie was much older, her daughter Catherine started asking about where she was from, interested in knowing more about her family in Virginia. Fannie didn’t really remember or know. Catherine started writing letters, which were given to me when I started asking the same questions.

1942 Fannie Gray

Gray & Slayton: please help ID picture

Unknown Gray family picture, from Hazel King

I’m looking for the family of Lillie Slayton from Danville, Virginia to see if they recognize this picture. Hazel King shared a few Gray family pictures that were unlabelled, hoping some Gray kin could help her identify the people in them. So far the pictures have all been of children and grandchildren of John Gray and Sarah Jones. It took me 10 years to find someone from Frank Gray’s family to look at these pictures. This descendant positively identified this picture of Frank Gray’s house with his family out front (Pictured below. This house is no longer standing.) I believe these two pictures go together.

Frank Gray’s house and family, Alberta, Brunswick County, VA

Frank Gray was born in Mecklenburg, VA. He was raised on a farm on Hall Rd. He married Elizabeth “Bettie” Clary in Brunswick County in 1885. Soon after Frank’s parents died (late 1890’s), Frank and 5 siblings (all except Alginon and Nannie) moved their families to Danville, VA. In 1911, Frank’s wife Elizabeth “Bettie” Clary died. Six years later, Frank married Eula Bernard. Frank had 5 children from his marriage to Elizabeth, one of which was John Robert Gray. Eula had 2 children from her previous marriage to Adrian Jeffries. Frank and Eula moved their family from Danville to a farm near Alberta VA soon after their marriage, where Frank lived the remainder of his life.

John Robert Gray was born in Brunswick County, VA in 1886. He moved to Danville, then later to Brunswick with his family. He married Lillie Slayton in Brunswick in 1910. Lillie had a daughter named Gracie Bailey from a previous marriage. Lillie and John had 3 daughters: Donna, Leona and Odell. They attended Bethel Methodist church in Alberta. John died after 10 years of marriage, (March 1920), of flu followed by pneumonia. I saw two graves without tombstones in the cemetery on Frank Gray’s old farm. Frank Gray’s grand daughter, who was there at the funeral and burial, said Frank is buried in the cemetery on his farm. John preceded his father in death. I theorize that John and his father Frank Gray are the two burials beside each other without tombstones. After John died, Lillie and her children moved in with her sister Bessie, in Danville, VA. On the 1940 Census Lillie is living with her brother Thomas Slayton.

John Robert Gray was a tobacco farmer according to his death record. John was age 24, and Lillie was age 22 when they married in 1910. I’m wondering if this picture at the arbor was John Robert Gray with Lillie, and Lillie’s parents: Henry Washington Slayton and Eliza Jane Owen. I’m also wondering if this picture was taken about the time they married, since the families didn’t live near each other. Lillie was widowed young and moved away about 1920. That could be a reason why the Gray descendants I’ve corresponded or spoken with did not recognize the people pictured. Lillie’s parents and siblings lived many years in Danville. I’m not sure if this unlabelled Gray picture by the arbor was outside of Danville or Alberta. I asked Frank Gray’s grand daughter if she recognized the picture. She pointed to the younger man and said, “he looks like he’s part of Frank’s family, but I really don’t know anyone in this picture. I think this was long before my time”, which it was. If you know this Gray or Slayton family or might know of pictures you can compare this too, please let me know. Or if my idea is wrong, & you think this looks like different people please let me know.

Tobacco-Mecklenburg’s cash crop

Gray sisters: Martha Moseley, Dolly Taylor & Nannie Kidd (from Jim Kidd)

I love this picture of 3 sisters linked arm in arm. I think they look adorable! I like to imagine from the way they look here that they were friends, and stood by each other through both good times and tough times. This is the only picture I know of, with my Virginia family on a farm. Tobacco was a huge part of their life. Peanuts, squash and sweet potatoes were also important crops. There was often a huge kitchen garden for the family near the house. They ate what they grew. Obvious to farmers, but not so obvious to me who grew up in cities and rarely saw family vegetable gardens. This picture was probably taken in Mecklenburg about 110 years ago. In the late 1890s, Nannie Gray Kidd remained in Bracey, her siblings moved to Danville, VA. Martha and Dolly (pictured) lived in Danville at the time of this picture, but as they lived in the city; I’m assuming Martha and Dolly came to visit Nannie in Mecklenburg when this picture was taken in the early 1910’s.

2007 Lindbergh Tudor

Lindbergh Tudor told me his hair was always a mess as a young boy, even in school pictures. He explained there was usually sticky tar in his hair from working in the tobacco fields and it hurt to comb that out. He also designed his wagon to work well with transporting tobacco leaves. He made spaces between slats to hold tools, which was also a good width to tie tobacco leaves to the slats. I love the inventiveness of farmers! I really enjoy meeting farmers and asking about their farms’ history.

2004 Mary Walker & sister Pearl. Farmed tobacco in LaCrosse

Mary Walker told me that as a young girl, her large family lined up in the field. The youngest children held bundles of tobacco leaves together, while the older children tied the leaves together. Teenage siblings carried the tied stalks to the wagon. They all had various jobs. They also helped and worked together with their neighbors, who were often close relatives.

I was repeatedly told that picking off hornworms and tar that stuck to them, were their least favorite part of tobacco farming; that and being exasperated with the heat and humidity . Some people told me it was their job to squash & kill hornworms to save their family crops. Those are huge, fat, scary, gross looking bugs! I’m glad I’ve never had that job!

tobacco barn

Most people I’ve interviewed from Mecklenburg told me tobacco was their cash crop, and a big part of Mecklenburg’s history and economy. I’ve heard some tobacco was hung to dry, in taller barns. I found this shorter barn pictured above near Boydton. Growing up a city girl, I’d never seen a structure like this before. I took a picture to show people and ask what it was used for. I was told the tobacco was cured differently with this type of barn. Sort of smoked dry to cure it before a lot of the crop was lost to humidity. People told me this was where Brunswick stew was big. The curing process took several days and lots of hands. People camped around the barn during this harvest and enjoyed Brunswick stew.

I’ve been asking everyone I meet for interviews about their chores when they were children. Everyone tells me farming was hard and exhausting work, even at a young age. But it was necessary for survival, to have enough food to eat, and keep the farms running. There was no big equipment, they farmed (and often still farm) with simple tools “the old fashioned way”. Not many had tractors, because they couldn’t afford it. Everyone had to work long hours with shovels, hoes, resourcefulness and as a team effort. People told me they understood why a lot of their kids and grand kids didn’t want to continue farming. They could get more money and have their finances more secure with other types of jobs. Old farms, older farming methods, and their stories are starting to disappear. So I want to preserve and share as many stories and pictures as I can find.

Do you have pictures or stories about your family farming? What were your family’s cash crops? Comment below, even if not from Mecklenburg. If you have a Mecklenburg related farming picture you’re willing to share, please let me know! I’d love to post it on this site.

tobacco barn for hanging tobacco (Brunswick VA 2006)

Seeking Mecklenburg wedding pictures and stories

I love listening to peoples’ stories. My favorite stories are love stories. And my all time favorite stories are about people who faced enormous challenges and stayed together despite the odds. When they weren’t sure how to get enough money for a Sunday pair of shoes for all of their children, and then grasshoppers or hail storms destroyed their crops. How did they overcome hardships like this? What did they do when life felt so difficult? Many older people I’ve interviewed have no idea how their parents met. It seems it was an intrusive or too personal question?

These are 3 wedding pictures I know of, from Mecklenburg, VA. Nannie Gray and Jimmy Kidd. The 6 men picture is Nannie’s brothers and brother in laws, for Alginon Gray’s wedding. (upper right) The picture on the far right is Jimmy’s brother Samuel Kidd married to Lorena Ridout. (picture from Nancy Johnson).

Do you have a wedding picture? Do you know how they met? If not a wedding picture, any picture? Do you know about the bride’s dress? Was it just a new dress that could be worn on Sundays or special occasions to be practical? Do you know if they married at home or at church? How was the day celebrated? What food was served? Who was invited? What kinds of gifts were given? Did the groom wear a ring? Did your family have any wedding traditions? I’m looking for stories of any ethnicity, any religion (or not religious), any people who at some point lived in Mecklenburg, VA. These stories will post in June.

Please send submissions to: mecklenburgvagen@gmail.com