Who says there is no humor in genealogy? It’s everywhere you look, from ol’ One-Eyed Sam Rankin of Lincoln Co., NC to my second favorite watercourse in Virginia, “Soak Arse Creek.”
My favorite watercourse in Virginia is in Lunenburg County, where my Estes, Winn, Bacon and Andrews lines came together in the mid-1700s. There are deeds, land patents and court orders referencing land on “Effing Creek,” except that the records expressly spell out the Anglo-Saxon gerund. I am not making this up. Thomas Winn (or Wynne), my common ancestor with my friend and cousin Bill Lindsey, owned land on that creek. At some point, some wimpy-arsed cartographer changed its name to “Modest Creek” – conclusive proof that there is also irony in genealogy.
Here’s a fine example of some more contemporary genealogical humor…
A film of Wilson County, TN loose chancery records at the Tennessee State Library and Archives is preceded by a filmed page titled “How the Records Are Filed.” The explanation was signed by Linda Granstaff, a friendly and helpful woman who can evidently still be found most days at the Wilson County Archives in Lebanon, TN. Here’s a link to Ms. Granstaff at the Wilson County Archives.
Ms. Granstaff had this to say by way of explanation for “how the records are filed:”
“The Chancery Court Loose Records have been microfilmed beginning with Box 1 and going through Box 122. Boxes 1 through 108 were done and then files that should have been filmed earlier were found in places under and behind things that could not be found in time to film in the order used first. These boxes are filmed following Boxes 1 through 108 beginning with Box 109 through 122.”
This nicely captures the difficulty of organizing old county records that have been “filed” willy-nilly. At the state Archives, it doesn’t get any easier. I cannot begin to explain the byzantine process required in order to find the microfilmed records concerning a court case in which, say, Esom Logan Burke – a proved son of John Burke – was plaintiff.
Yes, that was a long way to get around to John Burke. It may have been a subconscious delaying tactic: I am still trying to postpone writing about my Burke line, something I have been doing for roughly 20 years. There are several reasons for my reluctance to tackle the Burkes.
- I cannot prove the identity of John Burke’s parents. He was definitely born in Virginia. As luck would have it, there are a plethora of Burkes in that colony/state, in a dizzying number of counties. Many of them are in so-called “burned” counties with lost records.
- There are two extant family legends in the form of documents handwritten by John’s descendants that purport to identify his parents. Unfortunately, I have not found any supporting evidence. One of the legends contains at least one obvious whopper. Both contain errors about names, dates and locations, a couple of which are fairly significant. This puts them in the same category as all family legends: they always contain some truth, or at least a grain of truth, and they are always wrong about some stuff. The obvious problem is separating the wheat from the chaff. Here is an article about unpacking another family legend.
- John Burke’s first wife was Elizabeth Graves, whose family came to Tennessee from Halifax County, Virginia. The Graves Family Association website identifies John’s birthplace as Albemarle County, Virginia and his father as William Burke – without, of course, providing proof for either assertion. We will look at this theory in a later post. However, it just complicates the situation. What to believe?
In short, John’s family of origin hides somewhere amidst obfuscating clouds of dust and hails of gravel. The search has been frustrating. I hope somebody who reads this can help me out.
Until that happens, let’s look at the two written family legends, starting with the shorter, less colorful version. It is a one-page document apparently written by John Victor Moulder. Victor, who lived from 1867 – 1949, was a great-grandson of John and Elizabeth Graves Burke, so Victor presumably acquired his information through family oral tradition.[8
Here is the first part of Victor’s document verbatim.
“1793. John Burk Sr. was born on the James River in Virginia and then married Elizabeth Graves who bore him 10 children. He migrated to Tenn. and settled on Flinn’s Creek, on Cumb. R., where he had a large plantation and a number of Negro slaves. His first wife died there and he married Jenny Lamb who bore him 6 children. He died in 1853. His father was James Burke.”
Let’s try to separate the wheat from the chaff in that paragraph.
- Year of birth: wrong. The document seems to say John was born in 1793, although the 1830 and 1840 federal censuses for Jackson County, TN put John in the age group born during 1780-1790. There doesn’t seem to be evidence for a more precise date. The first time he appeared in the records is an 1811 entry for fifty acres on Bullard’s Creek “to include where John Burke now lives.” His eldest child was born that same year. I have settled on “about 1785” for his date of birth because my observation has been that 18th and 19th-century men tended to marry about age 25.
- Born in James River, VA: partly correct, partly unknown. John Burke was definitely born in Virginia. Some of his children lived until 1880, when the federal census included information about the birth states of a person’s parents. His children usually responded that John and his wife were born in Virginia. Whether John was born “on the James River” is another matter entirely. I just don’t know whether that is correct. Counties along the James River in the latter 1700s included Isle of Wight, Prince George, Chesterfield, Suffolk, Surry, York, James City, Charles City, Henrico, Goochland, Elizabeth City, Nancemond, and possibly others. Do note, however, that birth in a county along the James conflicts with the Graves Organization website’s claim that John Burke was born in Albemarle Co. The Rivanna River, a tributary of the James, flows through Albemarle. The James River does not.
- Wife Elizabeth Graves, mother of 10: partly true. John Burke’s first wife was undoubtedly Elizabeth Graves, daughter of Esom Graves and Judith Parrott. She was the mother of eleven children, not ten.
- John and Elizabeth married in Virginia and then migrated to Tennessee: The Victor Moulder document seems to suggest that the family moved to Tennessee after John and Elizabeth Graves married. The Graves family lived in Halifax County, VA before they moved to Jackson County, TN. Esom Graves had moved to Tennessee by no later than 1805, when he was a party to a deed reciting that he was a resident of Smith County. John and Elizabeth Graves Burke’s eldest child, Henry F. Burke, was born in 1811. Given the couple’s well-demonstrated ability to produce offspring, it is a good bet they were married in Tennessee in 1809 or 1810.
- John settled on Flynn’s Cr.: probably incorrect. John Burke did own land on Flynn’s Creek, but it is doubtful he lived there. In 1811, his first appearance in the records, John was living on Bullard’s Creek, on the south side of the Cumberland. By a year later, he had left that tract. On the 1836 tax list for Jackson County, John is listed with a 289-acre tract on the north side of the River near War Trace Creek, and a 250-acre tract on Bullard’s Creek on the south side of the river. Esom Graves and some of his family lived on the north side of the River, and I’m betting that is where the Burke homestead was, too.
- Large plantation and slaves: more or less correct. As noted above, the 1836 tax list for Jackson County showed John owning a total of 539 acres. The 1840 census shows 6 slaves. He clearly wasn’t a poor man, although dividing that estate among a widow and 16 children would not produce much of an inheritance. John died intestate, so his estate would have been divided among all of those heirs.
- John had 6 children with second wife Jenny Lamb: mostly incorrect. The Victor Moulder paper is the only reference I have seen to a given name of Jenny. Both written legends give her surname as Lamb. The widow’s War of 1812 pension application, however, says that John’s first wife was Elizabeth Graves and his second wife (the applicant) was Jane D. Basham. Jane and John Burke had five children, not six.
- John died in 1853: wrong. Jane Basham Burke’s widow’s application for a pension states that John died on 6 June 1842. Several court filings also recite that he died in June 1842.
The Victor Moulder paper also identifies John Burke’s father as James Burke and has some information about John’s children, but let’s save a discussion of those matters for another article in this Burke series.
Next up: the second legend.
 I cannot recall the county in which I saw a reference to Soak Arse Creek, but I promise it is not a figment of my rather pedestrian imagination.
 E.g., June Banks Evans, Lunenburg County, Virginia Order Book 1, 1746-1749 (New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications,1999), abstract of OB 1: 397, court order of 4 Apr 1748, Thomas Wynne appointed surveyor of the road across Fucking Cr.; Lunenburg Deed Book 7: 231 (my copy of microfilm), Thomas Winn to John Winn, 762 acres, part of grantor’s 2,959-acre patent on the south side of Fucking Cr.
 E.g., Cavaliers and Pioneers Volume VI: 1749-1762 (Richmond: Virginia Genealogical Society, edited by Dennis Ray Hudgins, 1998), abstract of 7 Aug 1761 patent by Thomas Wynne, 2,959 acres on both sides of Hounds Cr. and the south branches of Fucking Cr.
 E.g., Lunenburg Deed Book 32: 73 (viewed at Lunenburg Courthouse), John P. Winn and wife Elizabeth P. of Scott Co., MO to James W. Hudson of Lunenburg, 148.75 acres on Modest Cr. An online group claims the name of the creek was changed by “local gentry.” Search for “modest” at this website, a group apparently dedicated to the topic of “offensive names on maps” who clearly need to get a life: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/alt.appalachian/MrukWgk_uwc
 Wilson County Microfilm Roll #B-1230 at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
 An image of the document is available online at https://ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/tree/6832610/person/24678785473/media/82eb6aaf-46de-418a-80cf-9132e30d7d2b.
 Victor’s mother was Elizabeth Burke, a daughter of James W. and Matilda Richmond Burke. James W. was a son of John and Elizabeth Graves Burke.
 Jackson County Deed Book 25: 153.
 E.g., 1880 federal census, Wilson Co., TN, dwelling 76, John G. Burke, 61, farmer, born TN, parents born Virginia, with wife Lucy (Moore) Burke, 51 and two sons; 1880 federal census, Collin Co., TX, Marion Burke, 53, b. TN, parents b. VA, with wife, 5 children and 2 grandchildren; 1880 federal census, Harrison Co., TX, dwelling 147, T. E. and “Elezzie” (sic, Lizzie Burke) Simpson, born TN, father born VA.
 Jane Basham Burke’s widow’s application for War of 1812 pension states that John’s first wife was Elizabeth Graves. There is only circumstantial evidence that Elizabeth was a daughter of Esom Graves and Judith Parrott, but it is darn good: she named two sons Esom Logan Burke and Franklin Parrott Burke.
 The widow’s War of 1812 pension application states that John died on 6 Jun 1842 and that he had married Jane Basham in 1835. Among the proved children of John Burke, the eleventh child – Franklin Parrott Burke — was born in 1828 and was thus Elizabeth’s son. Jonas Burke, the eldest child of Jane Basham and John Burke, was born in 1837.
 E.g., Halifax County, Virginia Wills, 1792-1797 (Miami: T.L.C Genealogy, 1991), abstract of Will Book 3: 180, 11 July 1795, jury for coroner’s inquiry included John Parrot, Reubin Graves, and Easson [sic] Graves.
 Smith County Deed Book B: 294, Rench McDaniel of Wilson County to Easom Graves of Smith County, 250 acres on the north side of the Cumberland River adjacent the grantee. Jackson County was created from Smith County in 1801.
 Henry F. Burke’s tombstone in Platte Co., MO gives his date of death as 25 Oct 1845, aged 34 years, 6 months. It is hard to read. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=24041218&PIpi=122893512.
 See Tennessee State Library and Archives microfilm, Jackson Co., Roll No. 95, original complaint dated 12 July 1842 from the suit Sam E. Stone and Leroy B. Settle v. Henry F. Burke, Richard P. Brooks and William C. Burke. The complaint is misfiled in the folder titled “McClellan Andrew & others vs. Graves Alvey & others Chancery 1843 – 1845.” The complaint lists land owned by John Burke on Flynn’s Creek, the Cumberland River, and War Trace Creek.
 Jackson County Deed Book 25: 153, July 1811 entry for 50A on Bullard’s creek where John Burke now lives.
 Jackson County Deed Book 27: 350, August 1812 entry by Jonas Bedford on Bullard’s Cr. including part of the improvements where “John Burke formerly lived.”
 See Family History Library Film No. 985,334, file folder labeled “Hopkins John O. & others vs. Brooks R. P. & others, Chancery 1855,” answer of Esom L. Burke et al. noting that John Burke owned a large tract on the Cumberland River near the mouth of War Trace Cr. when he died.
 The 1850 federal census for Jackson County lists a Jane D. Byrk [sic] with Jonas, Elvira, America, Milly, Mitilda and Margaret Byrk, age 1. Since John Burke died in 1842, Margaret, born about 1849, cannot be his child.