Ancestry.com: a new beef

If you have come anywhere close to this blog before, you have heard me grouse about online family trees at Ancestry, Family History Search, and other websites. I have preached ad nauseam that “information” on such sites does not prove anything.[1] It is not even evidence, much less proof. Actual family history evidence — which leads to proof — comes from original sources such as county probate records, deeds, tax lists, state birth and death records, and so forth. Online trees are, at best, clues. For the most part, they aren’t worth the paper it would take to print them. (See, e.g., this post: http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2019/03/01/reprise-what-is-proof-of-family-history/).  

I obviously haven’t bitched and moaned enough. It’s time to kick it up a notch.

A friend with considerable DNA expertise advised Gary and me to take the autosomal DNA test at Ancestry, although we had already tested at FTDNA. He said Ancestry has a larger database and that (at the time) their autosomal results featured something useful called “circles” of people to whom you are genetically related. The “circles” are now gone. What is left is something called “thru lines.”

I haven’t looked at “thru lines.” What I found out right off the bat (according to Ancestry) is that one’s autosomal results aren’t worth a spit unless you have a family tree at Ancestry.

Accordingly, I began to create one. Ancestry purportedly makes it easy by providing “hints.” For example, when I entered the name of a grandparent, a census record in which the grandparent appeared popped up. For the first few generations of a new tree, Ancestry’s suggestions are probably mostly accurate and harmless. There is good information in plenty of readily accessible information in twentieth-century census, marriage, birth and death records. More importantly, most of us know from personal experience the names of our parents, grandparents, and perhaps some great-grandparents. When that is the case, Ancestry’s suggestions, even if erroneous, don’t really matter. No harm, no foul for, say, the twentieth century.

The wicket gets a bit sticky as you make your way into the 19th century. It gets worse the further back in time you go. Let’s assume you have already done a good job researching your family history via conventional paper research in county and other primary records. You will be well-equipped to know whether Ancestry is providing accurate information when it suggests the names of an ancestor’s parents … or whether it is just providing names obtained from other family trees.

I eventually gave up on my autosomal results because of the arrant nonsense Ancestry was suggesting as possible parents for my relatives. Here are examples:

  • Ancestry suggested that the mother of my ancestor “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn Estes (wife of Lyddal Bacon Estes of Tishomingo Co., MS) was Lettice “Letty” Stone. This misinformation gets the “SAY, WHAT?” award. Other than the fact that Letty may also have been from Lunenburg and may have married a Winn — Lunenburg was awash in Winns and Stones in the nineteenth century — that is pure fiction, not fact. There are a million Lunenburg County records proving that “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn’s parents were Benjamin Winn and that his wife’s name was Lucretia (Andrews). Please forgive my hyperbole.
  • Ancestry suggested that Nancy Winn Estes’s husband Lyddal Bacon Estes (“LBE”) married Sally Alston Hunter. We need an emoji here for a big Bronx cheer. Sally Hunter did marry a Dr. Lyddal Bacon Estes (“Dr. LBE”). Dr. LBE and LBE were different men. I wrote about “same name confusion” about these two men here: http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2016/06/04/same-name-confusion-sorting-out-three-men-named-lyddal-bacon-esteslyddal-estes/ The Lunenburg couple — LBE and Nancy Winn — married there in March 1814. Dr. LBE died November 1814 in Maury Co., TN, and his widow was named “Sally” in at least two county records. LBE continued to appear in Lunenburg tax lists after Dr. LBE died. A comment by Shirley McLane’s character Ouizer Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias comes to mind: “these are not difficult questions!”
  • Chesley Estes, son of Benjamin and Frances Bacon Estes of Lunenburg, was not the father of the LBE who married Nancy Winn. Chesley died in Maury Co., TN, having never married and having lived with his parents most of his life. This one at least gets a “close, but no cigar” award: Chesley’s sister Mary Estes was LBE’s mother. Her identity is, I confess, a more difficult question, although Chesley’s lack of children  is not.
  • Benjamin and Frances Bacon Estes were the parents of Dr. LBE who married Sally Alston Hunter and died in Maury Co., TN in 1814. They were not the parents of LBE who married Nancy Winn in Lunenburg in 1814 and eventually settled in Tishomingo Co., MS. LBE died there between December 1844 and March 1845, and Nancy was his administratrix. I’ve written about LBE and Nancy Winn Estes’s family here: http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2017/05/28/identifying-the-children-of-lyddal-bacon-estes-and-nancy-ann-allen-winn-the-follow-the-land-theory-of-genealogy/

When Ancestry tells you it may have identified a parent for one of your ancestors, you can click on a link for the source of the information. You get only one guess for the source. And the winner is: someone else’s family tree. I made the mistake of messaging one of the tree owners about an error (yes, I was kind), but I should have known better. Correcting someone else’s family tree is like trying to teach a pig to sing: it is a waste of your time, and it just irritates the pig. 

I still don’t have any idea what “thru lines” are, or even how to find them. Fortunately, a good genetic genealogist and blogger has explained them here: https://dna-explained.com/2019/03/11/ancestrys-thrulines-dissected-how-to-use-and-not-get-bit-by-the-gators/.

Here’s the bottom line. It has always seemed obvious that many, if not most, family trees on Ancestry and other genealogy sites are constructed by copying other people’s family trees. This is a fast way to spread both bad and good information. Ancestry has now exacerbated and accelerated that process by helping people rapidly construct family trees with information obtained primarily? exclusively? from other peoples’ family trees. Ancestry, bless its heart, is killing credible family history research. That may not be a good long-term business model.

Gary, who likes to predict comments I will receive on my posts, says I’m going to get one saying, “No, Ancestry is just killing antiquated effete intellectual ‘researchers’ who think solving genealogical puzzles by digging through actual records is ‘fun.’”

One final note: if you aren’t familiar with Southern idiom, “bless her/his/its heart” means “what a total idiot.”

See you on down the road.

Robin


[1]Some online trees do provide sources such as census and probate records. Such information is obviously worthwhile provided it is associated with the right person! I can’t tell you how many references to probate records I have seen attached to Mr. X, when the will in question was actually written by Mr. Y, who lived a generation later and lived 6 counties west. Both Mr. X and Mr. Y were named John Smith, but that doesn’t mean they were the same man!

Virginia Winns Part 4: Samuel Winn, Scoundrel, and a Famous Creek

We are all, dear readers, related to so-called “black sheep.” Every family tree has some criminals, KKK members, people who deserted their children, and just plain ol’ ne’er-do-wells among its branches. When you find a compiled genealogy extolling the inherited family virtues of thrift and hard work, all of them wealthy and hugely respected in the community, judges and war heroes as far as the eye can see – these abound in published family histories, believe it or not – you know you’re reading fiction. Or, at best, half-truths. In my own direct lines, there is John Allen Rankin, a Civil War deserter, and a ne’er-do-well named Benjamin Winn, a grandson of both Daniel Winn and Col. Thomas Winn of Lunenburg County, Virginia.[1]

Benjamin stayed out of the records, leaving no proof of his character other than his father Joseph’s will. The will provided for Benjamin’s support, but made sure that Benjamin’s bequest was subject to neither his debts nor his control.[2] I actually like Benjamin, who married a strong and resourceful woman (Lucretia Andrews) and who probably did not set out to disappoint his father.

On the other hand, Samuel Winn of Lunenburg/Amelia left plenty of evidence that he was a worthless scoundrel – at best. And he probably belongs on the Winn tree we’ve been discussing.

Let’s recap. The prior three articles in this Winn series (read them at this link, and this link, and this one)  concluded that  Col. Thomas Winn of Lunenburg County, Daniel Winn of Lunenburg, John Winn of Amelia, Phoebe Winn Holland of Amelia, and Susanna Winn Irby of Amelia were siblings. Further, those five were sons and daughters of Richard Winn of Hanover County. We haven’t established yet that Richard’s wife was Phoebe (probably née Wilkes) Pledger Winn, but we will address that shortly.

Samuel Winn may be another sibling of those five Winns. Lunenburg land records establish a definite connection between Samuel and at least Col. Thomas and Daniel Winn. First, in 1740, Samuel patented 150 acres which were then in Brunswick, and later fell in Lunenburg after the latter county was created.[3] Samuel’s tract was on the south side of perhaps the most famous creek in Virginia genealogical research. This requires a slight digression, during which we will attempt fruitlessly to tap dance around a common obscene gerund.

Winn researchers on message boards sometimes refer to this watercourse as “Tucking Creek.” This artless dodge so clearly calls to mind the actual creek name that it seems a waste of time. Even better, some cartographer with a well-developed sense of irony renamed it “Modest Creek” at some point. It appears by that name on current maps. The original deed books, modesty not yet in vogue, just call a spade a spade and identify it as “F_cking Creek.” (I’ve omitted one letter, also an artless dodge, hoping to avoid complaints.)

Wouldn’t you love to know how the creek got its name? Was it shaded and full of algae-covered rocks, making people likely to slip when crossing it? Once home, did the victim explain his soaking clothes by saying “I slipped and fell into that effing creek again!” Or perhaps a couple was caught in flagrante delicto down by the creek? There is surely a good story there.

Back to Samuel. He next appeared in 1746, selling his Modest Creek patent to Thomas Wynne of St. Paul’s Parish in Hanover.[4] That, as you know, is Col. Thomas. In 1752, Samuel sold Daniel Winn of Prince George Co. 100 acres on Hounds Creek.[5] He is Col. Thomas’s brother. Sales of land among family members were so common that they are generally deemed evidence of a familial relationship. These two deeds, however, are the only evidence I have found that Samuel was related to Col. Thomas and Daniel, other than the fact that Samuel’s eldest son was named Richard Winn (suggesting, in turn, that Samuel’s father was named Richard in accord with the Anglo naming tradition). Pretty thin stuff.

Lunenburg court records provide the first hint that Samuel wasn’t a model citizen. In 1748, a Lunenburg grand jury indicted him for a crime, probably assault.[6] The order book for the same court session also mentioned a civil suit against Samuel for trespass and assault.[7] In all fairness to Samuel, he was ultimately fined just a token 5 shillings in the criminal case and the civil suit was dismissed.

Nevertheless, I’ll bet no one reading this has ever been indicted by a grand jury for assault, even an obviously minor one.

A number of Lunenburg suits against Samuel sought to collect money. The July 1750 order book alone records three attachments against Samuel’s personal estate. In all three cases, the court records say Samuel “absconded,” meaning he had already gotten the hell out of Dodge when the sheriff came to collect on the judgment.[8] “Absconded” probably also means he took with him property subject to attachment. There are more such records, but I quit taking notes on them, having already gotten the picture.

Samuel’s financial irresponsibility extended to support for his family, which he probably abandoned. In February 1756, the Lunenburg court ordered the church wardens of Cumberland Parish to bind out Ann, Sarah, Richard, and William Wynne, Samuel’s children.[9]

A few months later, in September 1756, Samuel Winn’s wife Sarah tried to sue him in Lunenburg. The court order book (I looked at the original) doesn’t specify the nature of the complaint, which was dismissed “for reasons appearing.”[10] If Sarah and Samuel were still married, she had no legal standing to sue anyone in her own behalf. Divorces were notoriously difficult for colonial women to obtain, except for impotence (not possible here). I haven’t a clue what this was all about, or how Sarah managed to get a case far enough for a dismissal. Curious. It’s clear, though, that Sarah had no use for Samuel.

Earlier Amelia County records provide a good reason. The Amelia County order book for April 1750 has this entry:

For examination of Samuel Wynne, committed for rape on the body of Mary Wynne, his daughter … Prisoner brought to bar on arraignment and pled not guilty. Mary Wynne, the prosecution and witness for the King, was called, but failed to appear. She had entered bond with John Ellis for £50 that she would appear and give evidence. No other evidence appearing, the prisoner was discharged.[11]

It is just barely possible that the Samuel Wynne who was accused of raping his daughter in Amelia was not the same man as Samuel Wynne of Lunenburg who abandoned his children. Note that the Lunenburg court didn’t name a Mary in the list of Samuel’s children six years after this rape charge (which might just mean that Mary wasn’t living in Lunenburg, or she was already of legal age by 1756).

What are the odds, though, that there was a worthless Samuel Winn with wife Sarah in both Amelia and Lunenburg counties? Amelia records establish that the mother of the non-appearing witness Mary Wynne was named Sarah. John Ellis of Amelia County, the man who provided security on Mary’s court appearance bond, definitely had a daughter Sarah who married a Winn. And Sarah Ellis Winn’s husband didn’t provide for her, which is consistent with the Samuel we’ve come to know. Here is the evidence: John Ellis’s 1762 will included a provision for his “son Richard Ellis to provide proper support and maintenance for my daughter Sarah Winn.”[12]

There is probably more information about this sad family in the Lunenburg and/or Amelia County records. But I was fed up with Samuel, and decided to move on to some fun issues. Getting the Lunenburg/Winn family further back in time definitely qualifies. Next, we will finally look at the Hanover Winn records in Part 5 of this Winn series.

* * * * * * * * * *

[1] Benjamin was a son of Joseph Winn (who was a son of Daniel) and Elizabeth Winn, a daughter of Col. Thomas. See the prior articles in this series discussing Lunenburg Order Book 17: 134. For an article about John Allen Rankin, the Civil War deserter, see this link.

[2] Joseph’s will took care of Benjamin’s support, but provided that Benjamin’s legacy would not service his debts or be within his control. Lunenburg Will Book 5: 20-22, will of Joseph Winn dated 28 Mar 1800 proved 12 Jun 1800, bequeathing “to executors for support of son Benjamin Winn, 2 negroes but not liable for payment of any of his debts, and after son’s death … [enslaved persons] to be divided equally among son’s children by present wife Creasy [sic, Lucretia] Winn when they are 21 or marry; at wife’s death, property lent her by this will divided between eight children Minor Winn, Daniel Winn, Jos Winn, Bannister Winn, Mourning Gunn, Elizabeth Brown, Sarah B. Winn, and children of Benjamin Winn by his wife Cressey.”

[3] Dennis Ray Hudgins, Cavaliers and Pioneers Volume IV: 1732 – 1741 (Richmond: Virginia Genealogical Society, 1994), Volume 4: 238, abstract of Virginia Patent Book 18: 905, Samuel Wynne patented 150 acres in Brunswick (now Lunenburg) on the south side of F_cking Cr. adjacent Read/Reed, 1 Dec 1740.

[4] Original of Lunenburg Deed Book 1: 71, deed of 8 Apr 1746 from Samuel Winn of Brunswick to Thomas Wynne of Hanover, 150 acres in Brunswick adjacent Read. Witnesses John Winn, John Stone, Richard Stone.

[5] Original of DB 3: 226, 4 Nov 1752 deed from Samuel Winn of Lunenburg sold Daniel Winn of Prince George 100 acres on the south side of Hounds Cr., David Stokes, Hampton Wade, and Thomas Winn, witnesses.

[6] June Banks Evans, Lunenburg County, Virginia Order Book 1, 1746-1749 (New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications,1999), abstract of Order Book 1: 425, May 1748, grand jury returned an indictment against Samuel Wynne, venire facias to issue for him to appear at the next court to answer the King’s indictment.

[7] Id. at 428. Ebenezer Shearman v. Samuel Wynne, action in trespass/assault was continued until the next court.

[8] Id. at 300-302. The Order Book states that Hampton Wade obtained a judgment against Samuel for £16.15.8. The sheriff attached sundry goods and chattels and sold them at public auction to collect that debt. Second, Drury Allen obtained a judgment for £2.5.6, plus 40 lbs tobacco, and also obtained an attachment. Third, William Dobbins obtained an attachment for a judgment of £13.9.9.

[9] Original of Lunenburg Order Book 4: 82.

[10] Id. at 204, entry of 9 Sep 1756, Sarah Wynne, complainant, v. Samuel Wynne, defendant in chancery, dism’d.

[11] Gibson J. McConnaughey, Amelia County Virginia Court Order Book 2, 1746-1751 (Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Co., 1997), abstract of Order Book 2: 159.

[12] Gibson J. McConnaughey, Will Book 2X Amelia County, Virginia Wills 1761-1771 (Amelia: Mid-South Publishing Co., 1979), abstract of Will Book 2X: 21, will of John Ellis of Nottoway Parish executed and proved in 1762.

Ancestor Charts for John Allen Rankin & Siblings

Here are two ancestor charts for John Allen Rankin. They have the same information, although in two different formats. I’m trying them on for size. Both show three generations of ancestors for John Allen Rankin; one chart also identifies his siblings. There isn’t much information on any individual. This is just a “big picture” of John Allen’s family tree.

The first tree is an unsophisticated chart that I drew using Word, at considerable cost to my sanity. I tried several times simply to paste the chart in this post, but could not make that work. Instead, I accidentally created a link to the chart. A potential problem here is that I am not sure I can duplicate the process … <grin>

Here is the link for that ancestor chart: Rankin chart 1

The second chart is one that Family Tree Maker drew for me with the click of a mouse. Much easier on the blood pressure, but not nearly as colorful. Ultimately, not very satisfying, either. Here is the link to the FTM tree chart:

JARankin Tree Chart

Here’s hoping that some of the innumerable people clinging to the mistaken belief that Mary F. Estes Rankin was the daughter of Lyddal Bacon Estes and Sally Alston Hunter see these charts and reconsider the error of their ways. Mary Estes Rankin’s mother was Ann Allen Winn, nickname “Nancy.” Sally Hunter was married to a different Lyddal Bacon Estes, a doctor who lived in Maury County, Tennessee. Next, I will publish an article describing the “same name confusion” error that surrounds Dr. Estes and his namesake, a nephew, who was actually Mary Estes Rankin’s father. Cheers!

Robin