The Ghost of William Conner

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

What’s the Deal with Duels?

I always knew Alexander Hamilton died at the hands of Aaron Burr in their infamous duel, but I had no idea that duels were so all-the-rage. It makes our current political landscape seem kind of tame.

So I was tickled to find a dueling scallywag of my very own — my first cousin, seven times removed, John G. Jackson. He was the grandson of my seventh great-grandparents, John Jackson and Elizabeth Cummins. The very same couple who were also the great-grandparents of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, my second cousin, six times removed — practically my BFF!

Back to John. John G. Jackson was a State Legislator in West Virginia, a US Congressman, a Federal Judge, and apparently a very busy gentleman.1 He was also the brother-in-law of President James Madison. Basically, it sounds like he did okay for himself most of the time.

As we have learned from that popular Broadway musical, duels were cool. Everyone who was anyone was dueling. During a disagreement with a group of Federalists — led by none other than Aaron Burr2 — words were exchanged between Mr. Jackson and Joseph Pearson, a Congressman from North Carolina. The words escalated into articles and editorials on the subject of their disagreement, which continued to fan the flames. Letters were exchanged and then two quiet months passed with no word from either.

Then, in late October of 1809, Pearson arrived in Clarksburg, West Virginia with his friend, Major James Stephenson. The next day, on October 22, Pearson sent word to Jackson that he received his letter and found his reply unsatisfactory and authorized Major Stephenson to arrange a duel. [Editorial note: Just imagine it. Duels over saying mean and derogatory things. We’d have one every. Single. Day. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat…a duelers dream come true.]

Back to the duel. Jackson accepted. James Pindall, agreed to serve as Jackson’s second. The seconds requested the duel take place in Pennsylvania since duels could be prosecuted under Virginia law. “Seconds”, if you haven’t memorized the soundtrack from Hamilton, are the negotiators. Their goal is to keep the duel from happening in the first place, but if that’s not possible, they negotiate the fine type.

Yet another argument broke out over the type of weapon to be used3. Pearson intended to use a pistol with a sight which was considered not to be appropriate in “affairs of honor between gentlemen.4” The talks broke down and no duel went down that day.

The men went their separate ways, but after Congress reconvened at the end of November, Pearson threw down the gauntlet again. This time, the duel would take place in Maryland. Apparently, Pennsylvania and Maryland weren’t as opposed to gun-toting Congressman. Major Stephenson remained as Pearson’s second, but Congressman Benjamin Howard of Kentucky stepped up as Jackson’s second for this round. The duel commenced and it is said that the men exchanged two shots. Pearson was not hit, but Jackson received a bullet to the hip5. Pearson presumed Jackson to be mortally wounded and expressed a desire for a reconciliation sealed with a handshake6. Jackson agreed.

Jackson lived.

Three days later, a motion was brought before the House of Representatives reminding them of the 1796 resolution stating that any member of Congress engaging in a duel while Congress was in session be expelled from the House7.

The motion was tabled. Apparently it was totally okay for members of the House of Representatives to duel when Congress was on recess. Totally fine for US Congressmen to shoot at each other. Unless, of course, you were in Virginia.

 

1 Brown, Steven W., Satisfaction at Bladensburg: The Pearson-Jackson Duel of 1809, The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 58, No. 1 (January, 1981), pp. 23-43, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23534695

2, 4, 6 Brown, Steven W., Voice of the New West,: John G. Jackson His Life and Times, Mercer University Press, pp. 85-92

3 Sisson, Robert Hawkins, America the Great, Google Books, https://goo.gl/uRSoXz, pp. 923-924

5 http://politicalgraveyard.com/special/duel-participants.html

7 The Congressional Globe, US Congress, Blair & Rives, 1838, p. 233

Corn Fight

Let me begin with one of the greatest known misfortunes that has fallen from my tree. There is a scoundrel — or two —in this story and sadly, it is a tragedy, a calamity, of soap opera proportions. And probably one of the most gossip inducing incidents that ever went down in Wetzel County, WV in the 20th century. The man was, and is, my great, great grandfather William Jobes.

William was born sometime around 1863 in Pennsylvania.1 In 1880, at the age of 18, he was living and working on the farm of his father, Ira Jobes, in Aleppo in Green County, Pennsylvania.2 He disappears from records until the year 1897. He has wondered about 80 miles South to Wetzel County, WV and met a young woman named Margaret Jane Merriner. On the 3rd of March, 1897, they go to get their marriage license. Six days later, on March 9th, the union is solemnized by Amos Hemelrick at Jesse Merriner’s.3 Not important to this particular story, but maybe of interest, Jesse Merriner was Margaret Jane’s father.4

William and Margaret Jane Jobes‘ first child was Mary Sereptha Jobes. I own some of Mary’s rings, and I wonder if they were new to her, or passed down by some other unknown-to-me aunt or grandmother of hers. But I digress. Census records will tell you that Mary was born around 1898, no scandal, no shot gun wedding.5 But her Social Security Claim Index shows her birth date a full year ahead of her parent’s wedding date on March 24 1896. It’s neither here nor there, I guess, just a curious little tidbit.

They had two more children that we know of — John Wesley Jobes, who was born March 25, 19036, presumably in Wetzel County, WV, but the young Jobes couple cannot be found in the 1900 US Census in Wetzel County. Then their daughter Annie Jobes was born sometime in 19057 in West Virginia. It is possible that another child was born in between these two as well since Margaret Jane’s 1910 Census indicates a child was born, but is not living8.

Now, we come to the tragedy, the stranger-than-fiction story that unfolded on the morning of October 30, 1904. It appears that William Jobes and George Roberts had been involved in a feud for some time over the division of some corn. Threats had been made, tempers shown. As Mr. Roberts returned to his home on this particular Sunday morning, he found Mr. Jobes having a conversation with Mrs. Roberts. Words were exchanged, and a gun drawn. Mr. Roberts shot Mr. Jobes and it is said he died almost immediately. Mr. Roberts made his way up to his barn where another shot was heard and Roberts was found dead by his own hand. It was reported in The Wetzel County Republican that the tragedy “was not altogether unexpected9” as Roberts had threatened this very scenario.

So Margaret Jane, was now a widow with two young children and one on the way at the age of 24.

I had heard iterations of this story told when I was a child, but they were kinder, gentler versions of it. “William Jobes was the Sheriff and was shot by a bad man…” “William Jobes was hit by a train…” Were they trying to hide the pain? The shame? Protect a child? To rewrite history? Or to just try and forget?

jobes_wetzelrepub

1, 2 1880 US Census, Aleppo, Greene, PA, p 177A, hh#36

3 Marriage Record, Jobes-Merriner, http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/

41880 US Census, Church, Wetzel, WV, p 24D, hh#359

5, 7, 8 1910 US Census, Church, Wetzel, WV, p 3A, hh#41

6 US Social Security Death Index, 1936-2007, http://home.ancestry.com/

9The Wetzel Republican, New Martinsville, WV, 3 Nov 1904, p. 1

In the Weeds

I love wading through rural cemeteries knee-deep in weeds, or holding original land deeds extra-carefully with white gloves, or the joy of meeting new cousins when DNA inextricably links us. Genealogy is our real-live link to a living, breathing history.

I have been interested in genealogy since I was twelve. Of course, the bait of being told I was related to Pocahontas made it pretty enticing (I will get to that story later). I had only dabbled in it since then. But about five years ago, I started educating myself on genealogical standards and primary evidence by taking classes, attending conferences, and reading, reading, reading. When my mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness, my desire to tell these stories — and hear the stories told — became more urgent. We shared those stories, identified photos and relived memories of those that have gone before us without having their stories told.

I dug deep and fast and we learned together about our shared past. I helped mom join the DAR and four months before she passed away, she got her National Number. We — my immediate family — were given the great gift of a twisted sense of humor, and we both loved that her Patriot, fittingly, didn’t have a “normal” name — Abednego Hodges. We have plenty of Smiths in our past, but we went for Abednego. She loved that. And so, of course, I loved that. I wish everyday that her story was not one of the past, but it is my job now to keep and tell the stories of all of those that preceded us and make sure their stories are told — the good, the bad, and everyone else.

Exploring that family history usually begins hoping, fingers crossed, for a few elusive Saints…or at the very least some Kings, Queens, Statesmen or Revolutionaries. The very word pedigree implies someone extra-fancy might be lurking in there. But what about the sinners? The scoundrels? The ne’er-do-wells? For better or worse, they are ours too, and we wouldn’t be here without them. I want to dig deep and shake every branch of my twisted tree and explore whatever falls from the pages of a history that cannot be undone.

Join me.