By J. L. Starkey
“Accuracy isn’t determined by popular vote.”– Amy Johnson Crow
It’s a debate that resurfaces regularly on Twitter and Facebook: public or private Ancestry family tree?
Some researchers say they keep their trees private because they don’t want others to see their mistakes. It’s embarrassing to be that person, isn’t it? But the truth is, we have all been that person.
I wish Ancestry had a “remember when” feature to point this out to people before they criticize others in a public forum. The feature would activate, and the screen would display a huge flashing message. For me, that huge flashing message would say:
Hey! Remember that time when you researched the wrong fifth-great-grandfather because you didn’t look at a map?– Sincerely, Ancestry
It’s true. In my defense, lots of folks made the same error. I fell into that trap of thinking that all of those other people just had to be correct. When in doubt, majority rules, right?
In her article about the Genealogical Proof Standard, Amy Johnson Crow said, “Accuracy isn’t determined by popular vote.” That was certainly the case with my fifth-great-grandfather. For him, accuracy was determined by several wills, two DNA matches, a court case, a wedding announcement…
…oh, and one very important map.
From the start, I wondered if I was researching the wrong Frederick Leonard. When you find a Revolutionary War ancestor that easily, it’s almost a given that you’ve made a mistake.
Born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Frederick moved to Virginia and married a woman named Anne (or possibly Frances). He raised several children, including my fourth-great-grandmother, Nancy . He left a detailed will and died in Washington County in the 1840’s .
Some of my ancestors settled in Lancaster, so it wasn’t surprising to find another one there. Additionally, the Leonard family was German, and since several DNA matches showed German heritage, I had science on my side. Everything seemed to be right.
Except that it wasn’t. In fact, almost everything was absolutely wrong.
Laerning frrom mistaeks
To be fair, some things were correct. Frederick really was married to a woman named Frances, and he really was the father of Nancy.
But he wasn’t born in Lancaster County, and he definitely didn’t die in Washington County.
A review of his will raised some red flags. His daughter Nancy was listed as an heir, but her surname was Green. My fourth-great-grandmother married James Bass in Chesterfield County, Virginia, in 1821 . It was her first marriage, and she and James definitely did not divorce .
I searched Washington County records again but found nothing helpful, which seemed odd. Come to think of it, I had no other ancestors in Washington County, and I didn’t know anything about the area. Just where was this mystery location?
It was a rookie mistake – it really was! I should have checked a map immediately when I found those first Washington County records. If I had done that, I would have learned that it is almost 300 miles away from Chesterfield County.
Yes…three hundred miles.
On a hunch, I shifted my focus to Chesterfield County. There, I found another Frederick Leonard with a daughter named Nancy. If he was my fifth-great-grandfather, it was pretty unlikely that he traveled almost 300 miles (in the 1840s!) to die in Washington County.
It was time to start over.
Once More, With Confidence
According to the 1821 Chesterfield County marriage register, my fourth-great-grandmother Nancy G. (Leonard) Bass was the daughter of Frederick Leonard. In 1845, a daughter named Nancy Bass was mentioned in the Chesterfield County will of Frederick Leonard. That will also included the names of Frederick’s other children: Archer, Martha, Mary, and Elizabeth Leonard; and Rebecca Pitchford .
Was the woman in the will my Nancy Leonard Bass? Since her name was so common, I couldn’t be sure.
A search of the chancery court index revealed that in 1855, Archer J. Leonard was the plaintiff in a case against the distributees of Frederick Leonard . The surnames listed in the case included Bass, Baugh, and Pitchford. My ancestor Nancy Bass died prior to 1855, so any inheritance would have gone to her children, one of whom was my third-great-grandmother, Ann Eliza Bass Baugh.
A search of DNA matches added more strength to the theory that Frederick Leonard of Chesterfield County was my fifth-great-grandfather. According to AncestryDNA® ThruLines™, Frederick is a potential shared ancestor with two distant cousins. And would you look at that? One of those cousins is a descendant of a woman named Rebecca Pitchford!
But was she the same Rebecca mentioned in Frederick Leonard’s will? Maybe the newspaper would have an answer to that question.
Clues from a Wedding
Independence Day 1843 was a joyful time for the Leonard family. On that date, Rebecca Leonard married William Pitchford in Chesterfield County. According to the announcement, Rebecca was the daughter of Frederick Leonard of – you guessed it – Chesterfield County .
I was almost positive that this Frederick was my fifth-great-grandfather, and that he didn’t live (or die) in Washington County.
Had I finally found the correct ancestor? If court records could speak, they would have said…
“Yes, and that’s my final answer.“
Frederick Leonard of Chesterfield County died before 9 February 1846. Seven months later, his daughter Mary passed away, and her will was proven on 14 September 1846. According to that document, she left her interest in her father’s land to her siblings, including Rebecca Pitchford .
On 13 April 1847, Frederick’s son Archer presented a record of expenses from his father’s estate, including cash paid for legacies “left by will” to James S. Bass and William Pitchford .
In 1854, Frederick’s daughter Martha died intestate in Chesterfield County, leaving her brother Archer to settle her estate . Her heirs included Mr. and Mrs. William Pitchford, E. W. Leonard, and “…the heirs of Ann G. Bass, dec’d.”
Was Ann G. Bass also known as Nancy, and was she my fourth-great-grandmother? Her sister’s estate held the final answer.
It wasn’t much money, but to keep things legal, Ann’s son-in-law acknowledged the receipt of his wife’s share of Martha Leonard’s estate, an amount that was just shy of six dollars. And just who was Ann’s son-in-law? It was my third-great-grandfather Everett W. Baugh, husband of Ann Eliza Bass!
The map to Frederick was finally complete, and I knew the correct identity of my fifth-great-grandfather.
Well, that was sure complicated…or was it?
Looking back now, I realize that the map to Frederick had good directions, and it was easy to read (relatively speaking). It was also a great reminder that in genealogy, the maps to our ancestors never include shortcuts.
Thanks for keeping me humble, Fred.
- Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 28 September 2019), memorial page for Frederick Leonard (1761–1845), Find A Grave Memorial no. 31635709, citing Malone Cemetery, Washington County, Virginia, USA; Maintained by Harold Leonard (contributor 47073406). (See also: “United States Census, 1840,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GYY1-9DZM?cc=1786457&wc=31SK-ZNG%3A1588670024%2C1588666256%2C1588665902 : 24 August 2015), Virginia>Washington>Not Stated> image 64 of 134; citing NARA microfilm publication M704, Washington D.C.: NARA, n.d.)
- Last Will and Testament of Frederick Leonard, Sr., 24 Sept 1840, Washington County, Virginia. Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Washington, Virginia, Will Books Vol. 7-9, 1834-1845, Images 414-415 of 631. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.
- “Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XRD8-CJC : 11 February 2018), Frederick Leonard in entry for James S. Bass and Nancy G. Leonard, 26 Feb 1821; citing Chesterfield, Virginia, reference p 165; FHL Film 30,869.
- “United States Census, 1840,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GYTT-HQG?cc=1786457&wc=31SJ-PYV%3A1588670024%2C1588670329%2C1588669133 : 24 August 2015), Virginia>Chesterfield>Upper District>image 37 of 72; citing NARA microfilm publication M704, (Washington D.C.: NARA, n.d.). (See also: Ancestry.com, 1850 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009), Census Place: Lower, Chesterfield, Virginia; Roll: M432_940; Page: 149A; Image: 302.)
- Last Will and Testament of Frederick Leonard. 17 Jul 1845, Chesterfield County, Virginia. Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Chesterfield, Virginia, Will Books Vol. 16-17 1843-1848, Images 349-350 of 615. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.
- Chesterfield County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1782-1938, case no. 1855-032, Archer J Leonard ETC v. DIST(S) OF Frederick Leonard, Local Government Records Collection, Chesterfield County Court Records. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. Retrieved from https://www.lva.virginia.gov/chancery/case_detail.asp?CFN=041-1855-032.
- “Marriages,” Richmond Enquirer, Richmond, Virginia, 11 Jul 1843, p. 3, col. 6. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- Last Will and Testament of Mary Leonard. 22 May 1846, Chesterfield County, Virginia. Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Chesterfield, Virginia, Will Books Vol. 16-17 1843-1848, Image 434 of 615. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.
- Executor’s Account for Frederick Leonard. 13 Apr 1847, Chesterfield County, Virginia. Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Chesterfield, Virginia, Will Books Vol. 16-17 1843-1848, Images 562-563 of 615. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.
- Executor’s Account for Martha Leonard. 1 Aug 1854, Chesterfield County, Virginia. Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Chesterfield, Virginia, Will Books Vol. 20-21, 1852-1858, Image 460 of 699. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.
- LaPrade, Joseph Edgar, 1845-1903. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID g3883c.la001239. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47901141.