We all have a long lost ancestor who haunts us. The one that follows me, and taunts me from the great beyond, is my fifth great-grandfather, William Conner.
I have known people who knew people who knew him. So I know he was real. I know I have the right William starting in 1804. But he was born in 1767. Somewhere. To someone.
The mocking begins with his birthplace. There are a plethora of sources that say he was born in North Carolina, including his own Census record from 18601. It seems so promising, but don’t get even a little bit excited for me. There are an equal number of records that state that he was born in Virginia. And yes, that includes his only other detailed Census record from 18502 when he was living in Cabell County, Virginia. His children’s Census records from later years state their father’s birthplace as North Carolina, Virginia and even West Virginia — which didn’t become a state until shortly before William died.
I do know a few things about him with some certainty. He was married to Susannah Kendall in Patrick County, Virginia on the 7th of April in 18043. I know I have the right William because thankfully, he stayed married to Susannah into old age. Their first three children, according to those children, were born in Virginia. If I had to guess, James, Andrew and Lucinda were most likely born somewhere near Patrick County. He went on to have five more children, some in Kentucky, some in Cabell County.
So it seems hopeful that the spirit of William Conner left me this little genealogical treat to go on. He got married in Virginia. This is a fact supported by some good, old-fashioned primary evidence. Unfortunately, Patrick County, one of my only clues, lies right on the border of guess where?…North Carolina.
This is also the first official document where someone who I know is my William appears. He’s already 37 at this point. He’s practically lived an entire lifetime already. Surely he’s been married at least once at this point. Maybe had kids. Maybe was born in Virginia. Maybe North Carolina. Definitely has left no clues of who his parents are.
SO many questions when someone is this old when you first find them. And SO many William Conners. SO many lost records. SO many dead ends.
His weird migration west to Clark County, Kentucky around 1810 and then back east to Cabell County, Virginia — which later became West Virginia — doesn’t help much either. I have a will4 which kindly names all of his children and even a few grandchildren, but no death record — still no parents. Biologically speaking, someone has to have parents so there’s another option…
“Um, hi dad…” It’s DNA time, genetic ghostbusting, but William continues to rattle his chains even when I have secured his Y-DNA Haplogroup — R-M269. The most common in Western Europe! Perfect! I held so much hope for DNA. Answers. I was buying answers! But our particular little ragtag sub-set of Conners is a band of misfits with no known origins and surnames far beyond Conner. My closest match, at 1-step, also knows nothing of her Conner gentleman’s parentage.
None of this will stop me from digging through dusty court records, trolling tax records and creeping around the Conner DNA project from time to time. I am still working in the dark, but I will continue to knocking on all the genealogical doors, hoping for a treat.
Who haunts you?
1 1860 US Census, Cabell, VA, p 176, hh#1192
2 1850 US Census, Cabell, VA, p 43A, hh#589
3 Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940, Ancestry.com
4 West Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1724-1985