The Work of Others

Bunn will extract

Extract from will of Jacob Bunn, Northampton County, NC, 1790

Most American genealogies justifiably celebrate the accomplishments and deeds of ancestors, recalling how they experienced or participated in the historical events of their times. However, genealogies of white southerners often omit reference to a group of household members that contributed significantly to their family enterprises: that is, those household members held in slavery prior to the Civil War. Yet much as slavery was impossible to ignore in antebellum southern society, it is impossible to ignore within the primary documents of the era. Particularly disturbing is reading wills, where “Negroes” are parceled out to heirs along with livestock and household furnishings. One common formulation reads like that in the 1790 will of Nelson ancestor Jacob Bunn, of Northampton County, NC: “I give unto my grandson Elias Lewter one Negro woman by the name of Edy and all her issue to him and his heirs forever.” Thus does one man expect to condemn a woman and all her descendants to slavery in perpetuity.

No one in the family handed down stories of slavery, but a few, usually tragic glimpses remain in the historical record. Continue reading



Mary Sue RaglandMary Sue (Ragland) Nelson is remembered as one of the most energetic and capable recent members of the family. Born in 1907 as the granddaughter of prominent Henry County businessman Ben Thompson and great-granddaughter of the pioneer Methodist minister Benjamin Peeples, she lived her entire life in Paris, Tennessee, excepting only the years she spent earning a degree at Randolph Macon Women’s College in Virginia (she was the second of three generations of the family to attend this school).

Mary Sue was raised by her mother and grandparents in the spacious Thompson house in downtown Paris. Her parents divorced when she was young, and her father returned to his family in Kentucky where he remarried. Later in life Mary Sue rejected his overtures Continue reading


Oak Grove

Oak Grove near Cluster Springs, Halifax County, VA. Constructed 1825 by Thomas Easley, brother of John Easley. Photo via

Every family story starts in the middle.

In the early 1830s, the extended Easley family was comfortably settled in Halifax County, Virginia, on the border of North Carolina. Their prosperity is evident in the number of preserved historic structures associated with the family that were built from the 1820s to 1850, including the Oak Circle house and Brooklyn Store along River Road and Oak Grove and Elmwood near Cluster Springs.

It would be interesting to know why John Easley (brother of Thomas Easley of Oak Grove) and his wife Susan decided to leave their extended family and head west to Tennessee in about 1832. They were not youngsters striking off to make their fortune; they were both around 50 years old and had five children, two of whom were already adults. Their son Stephen was in his early 20s when the family moved, and the eldest daughter Mary was already married to James Ragland who was from another established Halifax County family. Their destination was Smith County, Tennessee, which had been settled for about 40 years and was no longer the edge of the frontier, perhaps making the process a little less daunting. Unfortunately, the compelling reasons for such a late-in-life migration are unrecorded, but the risks were starkly illustrated when Susan died within a year of their arrival. Continue reading

From Whence They Came

Ship Image Nova BritanniaRecent posts have highlighted this family’s ancestors who were Scotch-Irish, French Huguenot, German, and Irish. And of course, there are the earliest posts that described the origin of the family’s surname amidst the European Jews of France and Hungary. While the family’s European antecedents include a diversity of influences, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that overall our origins were mostly British and more particularly English.

Using the the framework of the eight families representing the author’s great-grandparents, here are the estimated origins for each.

Origin Chart 3-22-17

Estimated percentage of family origin by distinct ethnic/linguistic group. “British” refers to an origin on the island of Great Britain, including England, Scotland, and Wales.

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The Revolution


American infantry storm Redoubt #10 during the Siege of Yorktown

How many members of this family participated in the American Revolutionary War?

By the time the family history reaches the Revolutionary War generations, there are hundreds of potential ancestors to account for. While identifying these family members is not yet complete, there is already plenty to share. So without further delay, you may click here to obtain a PDF spreadsheet detailing the 39 direct ancestors who are known to have contributed to American independence. The spreadsheet includes summary information about military service, pension application numbers, and identifying numbers for both Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution records.

Seven of the eight families are represented, the only exception being the Loebs whose immigrant ancestors did not arrive in the country until the middle of the next century. The list is a mix of those credited with helping the cause, including those who served in either the Continental Army or state militias, those who contributed to civil government, and those who are identified by the Daughters of the American Revolution as having provided “Patriotic” service. These patriotic contributions included providing supplies, money, or other material aid, as well as a few whose only known participation was taking an oath of allegiance to the new country. Continue reading

The Castle


The ruins of Raglan Castle (author in blue jacket)

The ruins of a grand castle sit amidst the hills of Monmouthshire, in Wales near the border of England. It has been a ruin for a long time, intentionally destroyed after surrender during the English Civil War of the mid-17th century. However, thanks to the sturdiness of the walls and British cultural preservation efforts, it is still possible to walk around inside, to climb old stone steps, to peer out of the stone-framed windows to the fields beyond. My daughter deems it the most fun British castle to visit, as it offers both open opportunities to wander as well as a plethora of nooks and crannies that make for superior games of hide-and-seek.

This is Raglan Castle, and it is the source of the name that Samuel Emerson Ragland ultimately Continue reading