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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The West Patriarchs: 2nd in a Series, John West

After an interruption in this series, which I started a couple of weeks ago so that I could address some other topics that were lying heavily on my mind, we will get back to those founding fathers of this West family by discussing my 5th great grandfather and his wife, John West and Margaret “Peggy” Witherspoon.
Previously and frequently, since I have expressed my dismay at finding so little evidence for my sixth great grandfather, Alexander West I, I am reluctant to mention my fifth, John West (about 1760-about 1800), who is even more elusive than his father, with no written records to support his existence.  Only the oral family histories recorded by individuals who lived much closer in time to these ancestors provide us with some information on which to base our claims.   Two of these individuals were John Foster West and Irene Hendrix Basey, whom I have referenced in previous posts.  All of us who are researching this West family are certainly indebted to these two individuals for their contributions in recording this oral history.  Without them, we would have nothing!
Supposedly (Remember, I have no proof!), John West was the son of Alexander West I, was born about 1760 in Orange County, North Carolina, and married Margaret “Peggy” Witherspoon in Wilkes County, North Carolina, in 1796.  Peggy’s parents were supposedly John and Elizabeth Witherspoon.  If indeed, this John and Elizabeth Witherspoon were the parents of our Peggy, some evidence exists that John Witherspoon migrated from New Castle County, Delaware, and died in 1801.  His will was dated March 11, 1801, in Rowan County, North Carolina and also, in New Castle County, Delaware.  Another will, the first in Wilkes County, of another John Witherspoon was probated in 1778.  So, which one is the real father of Peggy West?
Sometime after their marriage, John West and Margaret “Peggy” Witherspoon West moved to upper South Carolina where their three children were born and where he died at a relatively young age.  In researching South Carolina records, finding the “right” John West has been impossible since so many John Wests lived there during this period of time.  And, I do not have a middle name for this John West which makes research additionally difficult. I hope to make a research trip to the State Library of South Carolina in Columbia this fall.
Apparently, after his death, Peggy, as she was called according to John Foster West[i], returned to Wilkes County “to live near her relatives in the same general neighborhood where Alexander West I had lived.”[ii]   She appears in the 1810 census as head of the household with three children: one free white male age 10-15 who would have been John Balus West; one free white female age 10-15 who would have been Melinda West; and one free white female under 10 who would have been an unknown daughter.  The other individual listed in the census was one free white female 45 and over who would have been Peggy, the head of the household.  Other on-line genealogists who are researching this same West family include additional children in their family trees, but my research does not support any other children born to John West and Margaret “Peggy” Witherspoon.  In the 1830 census Peggy was recorded as being between the age of 70-79 and living with “Balus” West who was her son.  Again, in the 1840 census she was in his household and was listed as between 80-89 years of age.  Since she did not appear in the 1850 census, the assumption may be made that she died between 1840 and 1850.
As with Alexander West I, no evidence of a grave may be found for John West or Peggy West.  One may assume, perhaps inaccurately, that he was buried in South Carolina where he died.  But where is Peggy buried?   Was her body placed in a family plot which may or may not exist today?
According to the data from census records, John Balus West was born in South Carolina about 1798.  His sister, Malinda, was born about 1799 in South Carolina.  She is found in the 1880 census at the approximate age of 81 living with her husband, Israel Presnell, age 85, in White Water, Bollinger, Missouri.  According to North Carolina Marriage Bonds, they were married in Wilkes County on December 12, 1819.  This census record indicates that she was born in South Carolina.  Sadly, in the 1880 census, she and her husband were recorded as being paupers.  I have not been able to locate any documented information about the younger sister who would have been born in South Carolina, also.
So many questions to be answered about John West :   his parentage, his middle name, the name of and information about his younger daughter, where he died, where he is buried, why he died apparently at a relative young age, why he moved to South Carolina...   Will we ever know?
The more that I research my ancestors, the more I am saddened that so many died without a trace of their existence. 

[i] West, John Foster, “History of the West Family,” Journal-Patriot of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Nov. 8, 1976.
[ii] Basey, Irene Hendrix, “West Family,” Heritage of Wilkes County, 1982.  Mrs. W. O. Absher, ed., Wilkesboro, NC: Wilkes County Genealogical Society, Inc., 1982.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Using Naming Patterns as a Discovery Tool

Before my blogging experience, my writing was relegated to professional materials for my students and colleagues.  With this blogging endeavor, I am enjoying a different type of writing which is much less formal and more conversational, and I am developing a greater understanding of what a writer experiences as he attempts to put his thoughts into words.  Likewise, I am discovering that a writer must follow those compulsions that urge him to write; he must have a compelling topic (at least, one that is compelling to him) before he can sit down at the computer and write.  Furthermore, putting the words into a narrative helps one sort things out. 
Therefore, before I continue with the West Patriarchs, I would, again, like to digress to discuss some information that has been “nagging” me to share:  the repeated use of names in one’s descendants.  Particularly, I am interested in discovering the West sons that were given the name Alexander, a name which does not frequently appear in the Western North Carolina culture but is frequently found among those who settled in the Eastern shore area of Accomack, Virginia. I’m confident that the frequency with which these names are found in the Virginia Colony is the reason that so many of today’s beginning genealogists connect my West family with those Virginia settlers.
Many of our ancestors prior to the latter half of the 20th century utilized various traditions in the naming of their children.  For example, in an American naming pattern, which is often called the “Old Jones” naming pattern, the first son was named after the father’s father and the first daughter after the father’s mother; the second son was named after the mother’s father and the second daughter after the father’s mother; the third son was named after the father and the third daughter after the mother; the fourth son was named after the father’s oldest brother and the fourth daughter after the mother’s oldest sister;  and the fifth son was named after the father’s second oldest brother or the mother’s oldest brother and the fifth daughter after the mother’s second oldest sister or the father’s oldest sister.  Of course, many variations did occur.  Surprisingly, an oddity in one pattern:  the second wife’s oldest daughter in the marriage was often named after the husband’s first wife using the deceased wife’s full name.  Likewise, if one parent died and the other remarried, the first child born into that union was often named after the deceased spouse.  Furthermore, if one child died, a subsequent child was often named after the deceased sibling. [i]
In Colonial days, according to the law, the oldest son inherited his father’s entire estate.  Therefore, he was given his father’s name to avoid any confusion if the father died intestate.  Later a father might give all of his children the same middle name so that each child could inherit a portion of his estate.[ii]   In my research, I have certainly been perplexed by the multitude of males in a family with the same name.   So now, we know the reason why!
In addition to these patterns, other cultures such as the Native American, African American, Hawaiian, Mexican/Hispanic, and Puritan among many others have their own naming traditions.[iii]
Now let’s specifically address the name Alexander as it occurred in the lineage of Alexander West I.  Of course, this list is a “work-in-progress” as I continue to discover more descendants with that name in my research.  The following table includes all of the Alexanders that I have found this far, along with some basic information which will help to identify them.

Birth Year
Alexander West I
bet 1720-1730-
aft 1790
Alexander West II
Alexander West I/unknown spouse
Hannah Langley
Alexander West *
Solomon West, Sr./Isabella Boyd
Alexander West III
Alexander West II/Hannah Langley
Patience Allen
Alexander Balus West
John Balus West/Mary Ann “Polly” Swanson
Nancy Land
Alexander “Alic” Lee Barnett
abt 1867-1951
William Hamilton Barnett/Mary Ann West***

A.Judson West**
Thomas Harvey West/America Ann McNeil
Alexander T. West
William Thomas West, Jr./Rachel Eller

Ira Alexander West
James Harvey West/Mary M. Joplin
Fannie Ann Kilby
Willard A. West**
1899-bef 1903
Thomas Harvey West/America Ann McNeil
Published 8-16-11; additions: 9-6-11

*According to DNA testing, the Alexander West, son of Solomon West, Sr./Isabella Boyd, was apparently not part of this lineage.  However, I have included him because, for some reason, my intuition tells me that a connection exists.  Otherwise, why would the son of Solomon and Isabella West have been named “Alexander” with no other Alexanders in the family.  Before the DNA results, I was erroneously confident that Solomon West and Alexander West I were brothers.  Hence, the necessity of having a strong “paper trail” is most evident.  If you missed the blog about the DNA testing, please refer to “The DNA” posted on July 11, 2011.

**No documentation has provided the name for the initial “A” in the names of these two children of Thomas Harvey West and America Ann McNeil.  Again, my intuition indicates that the “A” could have been for “Alexander.”  According to naming traditions, a deceased child’s name was frequently given to a sibling born later. By using the name, Alexander, the name would have been perpetuated had one of them lived.
***Mary Ann West Barnett (1837-1917) was the daughter of John Balus West/Mary Ann “Polly” Swanson.
In an analysis of these names in the table, conclusions may be made relative to the ancestors for whom they were mostly likely named.
·         Alexander West II (1751-1834) was a first son in his family who was named for his father, Alexander West I.
·         Alexander West (1776-1860) was a second son in his family and was possibly named for his father’s brother, if, indeed, this connection exists with my West lineage.
·         Alexander West III (1783-1864) was a first son in his family who was named for his father, Alexander West II, and his grandfather, Alexander West I.
·         Alexander Balus West (1828-1864) was a second son in his family who was named for his father, John Balus West, his grandfather, John West, and his great grandfather, Alexander West I.
·         Alexander “Alic” Lee Barnett (abt 1867-1951) was a first son in his family who was named for his maternal uncle, Alexander Balus West, who was killed in 1864 in the Civil War three years prior to his birth, and for his maternal 2nd great grandfather, Alexander West I.
·         A. Judson West was a first son in his family whose first name may have been Alexander.  If so, he was named for his grandfather, Alexander Balus West, and his 3rd great grandfather, Alexander West I.
·         Alexander T. West (1892-1917) was a first son in his family who was named for his 3rd great grandfather Alexander West I.
·         Willard A. West (1899-bef 1903) was a fifth son in his family whose middle name may have been Alexander.  If so, he was named for his deceased brother, A. Judson West, his grandfather, Alexander Balus West, and his 3rd great grandfather, Alexander West I.

Another puzzling question in the naming of these West sons is, “Where did the name, John, originate in the schema?”   My suspicion is that a “John” existed in Alexander West I’s family as a father, grandfather, or brother.  In fact, in the documentation of property in the 1750’s in Surry and Wilkes Counties, a John West, Sr. and a John West, Jr. were noted in connection to Alexander West I.  But, again, no documentation has been found to prove any relationships.

Again, I have been puzzled by the name, Balus, which is spelled in various ways (Balius, Baylus, Baylis, Bayliss, etc.).  I use the spelling, Balus, which is found in the most recent property records of those belonging to Alexander Balus West.  John Balus West could not read or write and only made his “X” on legal documents.  Evidently, those who wrote his name on these documents used various forms of spelling, and he, not being able to read or write, was unable to make a correction in the spelling of his name.  I have searched records looking for a relative who may have been named Balus but have found none.  I did find a very plausible explanation in a posting on by the daughter of Irene Hendrix Basey, who is the 2nd great granddaughter of John Balus West/Mary Ann “Polly” Swanson.  In Irene’s documents, she indicated that in South Carolina, where John Balus West was born, many people named their sons in honor of a prominent South Carolinian, John Baylis Earl.[iv]  Of course, the name, John, came from John Balus’ father, John West, and probably with some deference, also, to John Baylis Earl.  I’m sure that just seemed to be a good fit!

As one looks at these analyses, he will recognize that many assumptions and deductions are made relying on the evidence at hand.  Hopefully, with time and more research, these assumptions and deductions may be proved or disproved with documentation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Traversing the Shenandoah Valley

I have been in Williamsburg, Virginia, the past six days visiting my sister, Sandy, and bonding with my sweet, little 16 month-old great niece.  Of course, in making this trip, we traveled both north and south on Interstate 81 which closely follows the trail on which those Conestoga wagons brought settlers into the southern regions of our country.  As we drove over this highway with all of its mindless traffic, I couldn’t help being keenly aware of our forefathers as they made their journey through the rough and dangerous terrain in those by-gone days.  As we were traveling south on I81 coming home, I was very much aware of the gigantic Blue Ridge Mountain range in the distant horizon on my left and the smaller ranges on my right.  The beauty of the valley with its rich “bottom land” between the two mountain ranges was quite evident. 
As I made these observations, which, for some reason, I have never done before over the past 20 plus years that we have made this trip, I immediately starting rethinking my description of the Appalachian Mountains that I had written in a previous blog.  I have edited and refined that blog post of July 19, 2011, Migration Routes and Their Effects on Settlements, in the section relating to the Appalachian Mountains.
Researching information for my family tree and for this blog has definitely created a greater appreciation for my ancestors, their hardships and toils, and for our country, its history and beauty.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The West Patriarchs: 1st in a Series, Alexander West I

So little is known about Alexander West I, the progenitor of this West lineage.  So many questions are unanswered:  Where did he come from?  Who were his parents?  Who was his wife?  How many children did he have?  Who were they?

So many theories exist about him. 
Some think that he came from Virginia – a possibility.  Some think he was descended from the royal line of Wests in Jamestown including the De La Warr Wests from England; however, no documented connection can be made, and the DNA test dispels this assumption.  I was convinced that he was a brother of the Solomon and Isaac West, who are very well documented in the research; I was surprised when the DNA test proves this is not true.  Some on-line genealogist link Alexander West I to wives who were actually married to other men named Alexander West who lived and died in Accomack and whose ages and children don’t match up with this Alexander – another “dead end.” Where do we go from here?  I do not know but only hope that someone “out there” has an answer or some clues.
What do we know?  Let’s explore what we do know.
We know that Alexander West I owned land in Orange County, North Carolina, sometime between 1752 and 1768 and he was a resident of Orange County in 1754 and 1755. Two of his children (Alexander II and John) were born in Orange County.  Two, evidence-laden facts allude to him and a John West as owning adjacent land in Orange County and to a John West, Sr. as granting him land in Orange County.  Alexander's son, John West, wasn’t born until about 1760.  Could this John West have been the father of Alexander West I? 
In 1775, he appeared in the tax list in Surry County.  The area was likely the same land in Surry that later became Wilkes in 1777.  From that time until the 1790 census, his name appears in Wilkes County land transactions, land surveys, and tax lists in the areas of Glady Branch and on the Yadkin River.  Alex West Senior, as he was frequently referenced, appears in the 1790 Burke County census.  By studying the ages of the other members of the household, this individual was probably Alexander West I who was living with his son, Alexander West II, and his family.  Since he did not appear in the 1800 census, he apparently died in Burke County sometime after the 1790 census but before the 1800 census.
Can we assume that Alexander West II and John West were his sons? 
Since Alexander II was most likely named for his father, we can assume that he was the son of Alexander West I.  The fact that two Alexanders are noted in several documents lends credence to one being the father and the other the son.  When examining the evidence regarding his apparent son, John West, other than recorded oral family history, very little documentation is available to make a connection between Alexander West I and John West. The fact that the name “Alexander” was carried on in the lineage, with John West ‘s son and daughter-in-law, John Balus West and Mary Ann Swanson, naming a son Alexander Balus West, indicates that Alexander Balus West was likely named after his great grandfather, Alexander West I. 
What about other children?
Some researchers indicate that Alexander West I had a son Isaac and one William.  At this time, I haven’t found any evidence of these sons.  In fact, some on-line researchers seem to think that the Isaac West, who was a brother of Solomon West, was the son of Alexander West I; again, any connection to the family of the brothers, Solomon and Isaac West, is rejected by the DNA.   Some researchers indicate that Alexander West I had some daughters, but, yet again, at this time, no evidence has been found to support this claim.
The Final Analysis   
Because so little evidence exists, conclusions must be made “by reading between the lines” of the documentation that is available.  Therefore, I think we can conclude that Alexander West I lived in Orange and Surry (later Wilkes) Counties, that he died in Burke between 1790 and 1800, and that he had two sons, Alexander West II and John West.  Other than these conclusions, I cannot make other assumptions based on the information I have discovered.  In time, more information may be found which will prove or disprove other suppositions that abound.
As you, my readers, may quickly recognize, I am extremely frustrated with the dilemma presented by Alexander West I.  Please help!  I covet any ideas.