Free State of Jones: Neighbors, Associates or Family? Part I

I was in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City 9 years ago browsing through the county sections of each state my ancestors had lived. I know this isn’t the best way to do research, but even with more years of experience I still do this even after I have prepared for a library trip and searched the catalog and finding aids.  I am tactile, I love to feel the books spines in my hands, look at their titles and yes, see if I get a vibe if there is something I might need to know in one of them.

I was going through Jones County, Mississippi where my Turner, Graves, and Simpson families lived in the 1800’s. It was here that I first saw the title, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War by Victoria E. Bynum.  I read through the introduction and index and found that the main character of the real events was Newton Knight who led a group of Confederate deserters and black slaves against the Confederate Army in the last half of the war. Newt was married to Selena Turner.  My Turner family is beyond prolific and I suspected there might be a familial connection between Stokely Turner (my 3rd Great-Grandfather), his son Allen Garrison Turner (my 2nd Great-Grandfather) and Selena.  But, that wasn’t the time to go off on a scavenger hunt and I knew I needed to find out more about my Turner family before I tried to determine linkages to these historical events. I noted the title and author in my research log for further investigation at a later time.

By now you are thinking you might have heard of the Free State of Jones? The movie is based on the scholarly book (that is not often done!) that came out last year with Mathew McConaughey playing the part of Newt Knight. Coincidently about this time, I was at a book event at our local library here in Knoxville. I talked to a woman who was related to the some of the other families who were part of Knight Company and she told me that they had filmed the movie where she grew up. These are the type of signs I listen to knowing that my ancestors are calling and they are ready to talk!  It was time to start researching more about the Turner family and the possible connections to the Knights. The first step was to buy the book by Victoria Bynum which had been reprinted for the movie debut.

Victoria Bynum is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history at the Texas State University. She is also a Bynum. She is directly related to one of the families who had members in the Knight Company and other family members who also fought against them. Her book took over ten years to research and has over 100 pages of resources, endnotes, and family trees. Best of all she spends a good portion of the book discussing the development of the Mississippi Territory, migration patterns, religious experiences, and social and political issues that influenced the region.

On the subject of slavery, Bynum argues that owning slaves wasn’t as pervasive in Jones County as it was in the rest of Mississippi. The topography of the Piney Woods is not conducive for cotton and therefore the need for slaves was not as high or as financially rewarding. In 1860, Jones County had the lowest slave population in the state. It was 12.2% of the total population compared to Smith County with the next lowest of 28.7%. The total number of slaves in Mississippi at the start of the Civil War was 55.2% of the population. The people of Jones County voted against secession, but when their representative went to Jackson he voted for it.  All these things contributed to the defiance of a significant number of people in Jones County who were quickly frustrated with the Confederate government’s policies and the Civil War in general.

Newton Knight – Unknown Photographer (public domain)

So the quick summary of the story:  Newton Knight (1837-1922) was born in Jones County, Mississippi. He married Selena Turner also of Jones County (1838-1923) in 1858.  When the Civil War started he enlisted with the Confederates on July 29, 1861.  He was discharged on January 2, 1862, most likely because of his father’s impending death. He was required to re-enlisted on May 13, 1862, due to the new conscription law for everyone to serve between the ages of 18 and 35. He served in Company F in the 7th Battalion of the Mississippi Infantry.

Newt deserted the army sometime after the 2nd Battle of Corinth in November of 1862.  He was joined by many of the men of his company who were also from Jones County. Based on interviews, the reasons they deserted were 1) anger because of the law that allowed deferment for men who owned 20 or more slaves to go home to take care of their crops (many of the Jones County men owned no slaves or very few and were not allowed to go home to take care of their crops) 2) dissatisfaction with the Confederate government in general (pro-Union sentiments) and 3) poor conditions in the army. Some of the men returned to the Army voluntarily and others remained, only to be dragged back to the Army by the Provost Marshal. Newt was captured in January or February of 1863 and sent back to his unit, but he escaped in May 1863 before Vicksburg.  Vicksburg (May 18 to July 4, 1863) was the final straw for many soldiers and more desertions took place after the long siege and surrender to General Grant.

The Confederate Army needed those soldiers back, so they sent Maj. Amos McLemore to retrieve all the deserters in Jones County.  Someone shot Maj. McLemore while he was staying with a local resident and though most people thought it was Newt Knight, no one was ever charged.  Newt later told a WPA interviewer, “We stayed out in the woods minding our own business until the Confederate Army began sending raiders after us with bloodhounds….Then we saw we had to fight.”  And fight they did. Newt recorded 14 battles with the Confederates from October 13, 1863, and January 10, 1865.  There were about 125 men in Knight Company with numerous other family members and community supporters, including slaves within the county supplying them food and supplies. Unfortunately, their numbers dwindled after Col. Robert Lowry (later Governor of Mississippi) found and executed many of the men in May 1864.  He led the Confederate troops as they burned down homes and fields of the people of Jones, taking their horses, hogs, and chickens for food, and terrorizing the countryside with their 40+ bloodhounds looking for deserters.  Many of Knight’s men that were not executed, escaped and rejoined the Confederates, though a few made it to Union lines and joined up with them.  However, Newt and a small contingent of the Company were never captured and continued to harass the Confederates whenever they could until the end of the war.

What a great story! So what was my ancestor, Allen Garrison Turner (1840-1919) doing when all this was happening? More about that next time!

Posted in Civil War, Turner Family | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

William Cork’s Early Years Part II

Charles and Martha Cork Family

When we left the Cork Family in the last installment, Charles and Martha had died within 6 months of each other in 1838. After the deaths of their parents, the Cork children were scattered to live in various places within Staffordshire. In the 1841 census records, I found three of the youngest Cork children (Sarah, Dinah and William) still living in Betley. Sarah was 12 years old and living with the Richard Brassington Family (a shoemaker). Dinah, ten years old, was living the Joseph Garner Family (a wheelwright) and William, just seven years old, was living with the John Lear Family (a carpenter).

William Cork 1841 Census

I haven’t been able to find any of the older Cork children in the 1841 census, which leads me to believe they were most likely apprenticed out or perhaps even sent to the workhouse if they were ill or unable to take care of themselves.

Finding records for this period and location is challenging. The Poor Laws changed in 1834, moving the responsibility of the poor, orphans etc. from the local parishes to “Unions”, a group of parishes with a Board of Guardians.  The Unions governed the local workhouses, managed apprenticeships of the orphans and gave money to the poor who still lived in their communities. I suspect that the families who were fostering Sarah, Dinah and William Cork were receiving reimbursement from the Union for taking care of the children until they were old enough to be apprenticed out.

Chell Workhouse in Staffordshire (circa 1839)

Betley was part of the Newcastle-under-Lyme Union which built a new workhouse in 1839 and could hold as many as 350 residents. The workhouse could be a sanctuary or a prison depending on how well they were run.  Unfortunately, the records of admissions and discharges do not survive for the Newcastle workhouse. For more information on Poor Laws and Workhouses see The Workhouse website. Apprentice records, if they exist for the Corks will require hiring a researcher or travel to Staffordshire myself to search to the microfilm that isn’t available through Family Search.

So what have I been able to find out about the other children? Emma, the oldest who would have been 17 when her parent died in 1838, reappeared in the records in 1842 when she married a blacksmith, John Woolrich, at St. Margaret’s in Betley.  This is the same church where she had been baptized in 1821.

The 2nd oldest daughter Harriet married Humphrey Hughes in 1845. He is a joiner, which I learned is an artisan that does finer woodworking on furniture and buildings.  And in the 1851 census, William was in the census visiting the Hughes family in Stoke Upon Trent just 12 miles from Betley. Sometime between 1841 and 1851, he apprenticed to become a tailor like his father.  It is comforting to know that the family maintained contact even though they had been separated by the death of their parents.

William Cork and Hughes Family
1851 Census

In December 1854, at just 21, William married Annis Eardley. He must have felt secure in his profession and ready to start a family. Given the rough beginnings of his early life, he was able to learn a craft and establish himself as a fully contributing member of his community.  There are more obstacles ahead for him, but the resiliency he learned from his childhood experiences carries him through them all.

Next Steps: I have enjoyed learning more about British research, but I am frustrated that I can’t get deeper into the story with the limited records available on-line. So, until I can get to Britain for a research trip (or more records become available), I am headed back to the United States. My plan is to work on my southern research again, where I can get into the courthouses and archives. Yeah!

Posted in Cork Family | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

William Cork’s English Beginnings – He was an Orphan! (Part I)


St. Margaret, Betley, Staffordshire, England

William Cork (1832-1916) who died in his adoptive home in Mazamonie, Wisconsin, left an obituary filled with dozens of clues to research and I am finally getting around to checking some of the statements made about his early life. (See posting here from June 2014.)  As we all know you must evaluate an obituary with healthy skepticism, but that doesn’t mean that some of the statements aren’t correct.  So, I took the following clues and tried to see where they might lead: “William Cork was born September 2nd, 1833, at Betley, Staffordshire, England and passed from this life on January 13th, 1916, at his home in this village aged eighty-two years, four months, and eleven days.  He was the last of the twelve children of his father’s family.”

After ordering Williams marriage certificates to his first wife (Annis Eardley) and second wife (Jane Dame), both confirmed that William’s father was Charles Cork, a tailor.

Cork_William and Annis Eardley marriage 1854.12.5 with edits


Cork_William and Jane Dame marriage 1864.07.14 edited

I then looked for William’s baptism in Betley, Staffordshire at St. Margaret’s with Charles Cork as his father. Confirmed! The obituary was correct that William was born in Betley, Staffordshire and his baptism on 15 September 1833 fits with his reported birth of 2 September 1833. And now I had William’s mother identified as Martha.

Cork_William 1833.09.15 Baptism with edits

Note: there was another Charles Cork in Betley’s baptism records who had a son named William but he was born in 1832 and he was a shoemaker. Having the correct profession for Charles helps to ensure I have the right one!

I have not been able to find all eleven of William’s siblings he claimed to have. But I have been able to locate seven siblings baptized at St. Mary’s. He is not the youngest as the obituary claimed, but his youngest brother Joseph died soon after being born, so he probably thought of himself as their youngest child.

Charles and Martha Cork’s children:

  • Emma Cork b.1821
  • Harriet Cork b.1823
  • Hugh Cork b.1825
  • Peter Cork b.1827
  • Sarah Ann Cork b.1829
  • Dinah Cork b.1831
  • William Cork 1833-1916
  • Joseph Cork b.1835 -1836

If you are familiar with British research, you know that the most logical place for me to have tried to find this family was in the 1841 census, the first British census to identify each person living in a household by name. Unfortunately, the census records were of no help in getting additional information about Charles and Martha Cork because they were not in it. Why? Because they had both died before then.

Charles is buried in January 1838:

Cork_Charles burial 1838 edited blog

And sadly Martha was buried just a few months later on June 4th, 1838.

Cork_Martha burial 1838 edited for blog

I ordered the death certificates to see what they had died from and if there was any additional information that could help with locating their families.

Charles died of “consumption” or what is now called tuberculosis. He was attended by his wife Martha who signed with her mark.

Cork_Charles Death Cert 1838.01.09 edited

Martha’s death certificate lists her cause of death as “decline” which seems to cover a multitude of possibilities. But it also offers a clue to Martha’s maiden name – she was attended by Elizabeth Moor – her sister-in-law.

Cork_Martha Death Cert 1838.06.03 edited for blog



Pip meeting Miss Havisham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Poor William became an orphan at age five. All my stereotypes of the orphans in Charles Dickens’ novels come to mind. Remember poor Pip from Great Expectations and Oliver Twist? What kind of life did orphans have in 1830’s England? What happened to all the Cork children when their parents died? Were they sent to an orphanage? Did someone from their families take them into to their homes to raise them?

More about that next time.

Posted in Cork Family, English Genealogy | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Find My Past: Marriage Finder – Just Who is it Finding?

I have been trying to locate the marriage record for William Cork to his second wife Jane Dame. They would have married between 1864 and 1866, after the death of his first wife (Feb 1864) and before his son by Jane was born in July 1866. I couldn’t find William with Jane in the Staffordshire records where he had lived previously.  When I looked at the Lancashire records where Jane was from, I found this transcription of a record that had a William Cork married to Susan Speechley.


The index image:


But, then I thought I should try to cross reference the volume and page number with any marriage records for a Jane Dame in the same time period and found this:


When opening the image of the index, you can see it is somewhat hard to read the page number and I can see why they thought it was 382, but it really is 582.   I have no idea who Susan Speechly is, but it isn’t correct.


I thought it was just the bad transcription that caused the mismatched marriage until I tried to look for the marriage record of John Dibben and Olive Bright Marner.  I found John Dibben married in the right location and the right time, but the marriage finder had John Dibben with another woman, Jane Sinclair Bailes. Well, maybe I had the wrong John Dibben?

john-dibben-marriage-recordI looked up Olive Marner and cross-referenced the location, volume and page and I was able to find a correct match. But I guess my great-grandmother was involved in a gay polygamous relationship? Didn’t think they did that in 1869 England….


I have ordered the marriage records through the General Register Office and I should be getting them in a couple of weeks for final confirmation. But the moral is, don’t believe the “Marriage Finder”, do a cross comparison of the location, volume and page to validate if you have the right partner.  And you will have to order the actual records at 9.95 pounds each, but I am sure it will be worth it.

Posted in Cork Family, Dame Family, Dibben Family, English Genealogy, Marner Family | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Checking In, British Research and Planning for 2017

houseApologies for my blog absence these last few months. We bought a new house and all the packing, cleaning, moving, unpacking, arranging, repairs, shopping and a squirrel and woodpecker removal (we weren’t expecting that!) have occupied my free time. Happily, I have my own office in the new house, so I am surrounded by my book shelves, genealogy research and all the tools I need to be productive again!

I haven’t been completely idle and have spent my few spare moments getting grounded in English research to enable me to locate William Cork and Jane Dame ancestors. Here are some of the ways I have been getting familiar with the available resources, locations and historical events:

A Vision of Britain Through Time

A Vision of Britain Through Time

Which brings me to planning for 2017.  My general goals are to:

  • Take one or more genealogy trips for research
  • Go to a genealogy conference/seminar/educational class
  • Continue English research for William Cork and Jane Dame
  • Start at least one new project on one of my southern ancestors (undecided who) but it will be someone who lived near me and where I can easily travel to their location on a weekend to get records.
  • Complete a DAR supplement to prove James McNair was a patriot (this has been on my list 3 years in a row. Maybe this year I will get it done?)
  • Blog 15+ times

I want to do so much more, but I am trying to keep my goals reasonable, achievable and measurable. How do you decide what you will work on? How do you decide which project, how many projects etc.?

Wishing you a happy, healthy and genealogical productive 2017!

Posted in English Genealogy, Genealogy General | 2 Comments

Old Dog, New Tricks: Exploring My English Ancestors on Find My Past

England County Map courtesy of Pictures of

England County Map courtesy of Pictures of

One of my goals this year was to find the roots of my English ancestors who immigrated to America in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s. I subscribed to Find My Past a few months ago and it is finally time to take advantage of their resources and see what I can learn about the Cork and Dibben family origins.

After playing around with Find My Past for an hour, I was a bit frustrated by the design and differences from  Navigation was awkward and resources seemingly more difficult to find. Then I reminded myself that is an old friend and I know most of the shortcuts to get the information I am looking for. Find My Past is a new friend that I just don’t know very well yet; I will need to be patient about getting to know its unique traits.

Here are the results of my first “coffee date” with Find My Past.  We aren’t best friends yet, but we will be spending a lot of time together in the next few months….and in no time we will be sharing laughs and memories of the good times!

  1. I first started by adding a basic tree. I put in the information I knew about Jane Dame (who immigrated to Wisconsin with her husband William Cork) and her parents John Dame and Fanny Skelton.


2. I reviewed “Hints” and found a possible marriage record for Fanny Skelton & John Dame.


3. The marriage record gave me information about:

  • the date and location of their marriage
  • possible family members who were witnesses
  • that John did not know how to read or write and signed with his mark


4. John’s Profile gave me a link to search for his daughter Jane’s birth record:


5. The baptism gave me additional locations to research, as well as Fanny’s proper name of Frances.


6. I found the family in the 1851 Census Record in Maltby Le Marsh, Louth, Lincolnshire, England. The census gives me new information:

  • The names of Jane’s brothers and sisters
  • Jane Skelton is a visitor on the night of the census – is she the same person who was a witness at Fanny and John’s wedding?  She is 30 years old, so most likely Fanny’s sister or cousin?
  • The location of John and Fanny’s birth – Laughterton and Lincoln
  • Why are the children born in different locations? Laughterton, Fenton, Maltby Le Marsh?


From this first foray into English genealogy, I can tell there is still a lot I need to read about the history, geography and records of England in the 1800’s. I am going to watch the video’s and read articles on the Find My Past blog and I am going to try to find a good book on English genealogy.

Have you used Find My Past?  What do you like about using it? Any tricks you would like to share?

Posted in Cork Family, Dame Family | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Rev. John McNair’s Poetry

mcnair_john-poems-cover-pageBesides being a minister, an evangelist, a Chaplain in the Army and public speaker, John McNair was a poet.  He published his book of poetry Eighty Original Poems Secular and Sacred Chiefly Adapted to the Times  in 1865, after the Civil War ended and just a little over a year before he died at the age of 60. The book of poems was what originally guided me to Rev. McNair. My grandmother gave me the book of poetry when I was in my 20’s and when I was looking for a project for genealogy class at the University of Washington, Rev. McNair became a logical choice. Who knew I would still be going back to this small book of 80 poems to try to understand John in a deeper way and fill in the gaps when records can’t tell the story.

I am not sure if John was a great poet, in fact, I suspect he wouldn’t have been classified as particularly remarkable by literary critics. However, he wrote about a variety of topics from Washington, Garibaldi, the death of Lincoln, succession, drunkenness, self-conceit, his mother, home, women, the flag, Sabbath breakers, death, being a minister and my favorite “The Man of Honor” which I believe was his own personal code and the ideal of who he wanted to be.  I have used his poetry throughout the book of his life to illustrate his feelings on specific subjects. How cool is it that I have his own words, even if they are in rhyme!

So, here is the ah-ha that I had recently….if I have this book, where else is it?  I had never checked World Cat to see what other libraries might have it. And guess what? The book was in 119 libraries throughout the world.  Some of the locations had the electronic copy of the book, but the physical book was in over 50% of the libraries. And the libraries who had the actual hard copy of the book included:

  • The Library of Congress
  • University of Oxford
  • Abraham Presidential Library
  • Jefferson Library (yep, Monticello)
  • Harvard University
  • McGill University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates)
  • University of Auckland
  • National Library of Malaysia
  • University of Tasmania

How did the book get so far afield?  How many copies of the book were printed? Isn’t it fascinating that these libraries actually wanted it???

The next thing I did was to see if there were copies I could buy somewhere.  And yes, there were two copies available on Amazon through their 2nd hand booksellers. One was $65 and the other $74.  Amazing! Just how many copies did Rev. McNair get printed? Did he sell them or give them away? His book of his poetry just keeps me returning for new insights.

Finally – I am at the end of writing about Rev. John McNair’s life for the 2nd time. It still needs a few small holes filled in that require research trips to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, so I am struggling whether to do a small print of the book to give to my family for Christmas even though it really isn’t done.  I just don’t want to send it libraries like the Princeton Theological Seminary where he went to college if it’s not complete. But, when is genealogy research ever done? Will I ever be happy with having done enough? I don’t know.  What do you think I should do?

Posted in McNair Family, Writing Family History | Tagged , | 2 Comments