These are the building blocks of my maternal family, as it were. Obviously, I have a paternal family as well, but they seem to have, as a group, all entered the country through, like, South Carolina, which research has taught me is where families go to disappear. In contrast, my maternal family largely began our North American adventures in the comparatively better documented British colonies of Virginia and North Carolina.
“A Map of the British and French dominions in North America” (source)
Specifically, they settled first largely along the shifting border between the two colonies, with county names such as Nansemond, Bertie, Edgecomb, Isle of Wight, Surry, Charles City, and so on peppering those early documents that place them in North America.
Of the six families represented in the tree above, one takes little more than a short paragraph to explore. Eliza J Mills (abt 1847-1892) lived her entire life in Missouri, the daughter of Thomas Jackson Mills (b. Kentucky, 1802; d. Missouri, 1864) and Frances ‘Fanny’ Smith (b. Tennessee, 1816; d. 1872, Missouri). Neither Mills nor Smith lends themselves to much genealogical exploration, and since the federal census didn’t list names of family members until 1850, it’s difficult to ascertain with any certainty who Thomas’s and Fanny’s parents might have been. Here’s where wills and probate documents can come in especially handy, since they often (not always) name names, as it were. Unfortunately, to date I haven’t found any such documentation, and so this branch of the family remains stalled in Kentucky/Tennessee.
The Reeds and Renfrows, late of southern Illinois, have a deeply and messily entangled history that also gets hung up in Kentucky. There’s actually a comparatively rich body of information that both indicates possible pre-Kentucky origins and helps explain how and why these families were so intertwined, but the sheer number of Reeds and Renfrows living in the same general area of Kentucky prior to the move to Illinois has made wading through it a challenge.
The Mariners, like the Mills, are stalled within only a couple of generations, also due in part to a surname that – for being an occupation as well – almost actively repels research. But in this case, research is also hindered by the disappearance of Charles P. Mariner, presumed father of John Henry Mariner, Sr., as well as JH Sr.’s early death (which, according to my mother, is said to have resulted from being kicked in the head by a mule).
So, we have four branches that present an ongoing challenge; but we also have four branches that have been more fruitful in terms of research. The most extensive of these is the Bizzells, which dovetails with the Jernigan family in the mid-1700s and, from there, extends back over thirty generations. The Davises, which intersect with the Renfrows at a certain point down the line, are more enigmatic: Issac VanNorman Davis (one of several possible spellings of his middle name) is quite difficult to trace much beyond mid-Massachusetts in the 1700s, but his wife, by virtue of having been French Canadian, has a well-documented ancestry through the early 1600s.
The Wimberleys, which my mom has researched, also have a fairly extensive history, reaching back as early as the 1400s in the Norfolk/Lincolnshire areas of England. And the Shafers (or Shavers, or Schaefers… it goes on) present their own unique challenges, having likely (but not positively) originated in Germany.
So, this blog looks in detail at these genealogies, beginning with a handful of especially interesting stalls and dead ends.