Many people make the mistake of merging their trees with other Ancestry.com trees. Most do it without a second thought; some of the more experienced researchers at least look at their information, see if it fits and makes sense before merging. A good researcher doesn't merge at all, but uses someone else's information as a starting point, and then determining themselves through their own research if the information fits.
When I first joined Ancestry.com, I was certainly a part of that first group. Since that time, I've deleted hundreds and hundreds of people from my tree that I'm not related to all because I merged with others' trees without doing my own research. Gradually, I evolved into the second kind, where I would look at other peoples' information, make sure it made sense and that at least the circumstantial evidence was present. Finally in the last year or so I've evolved into the final kind of researcher. Since becoming the kind of researcher who does his own research and only uses others' work as a starting point, I've made some pretty cool discoveries. One of my best discoveries so far was one that I made last night.
One of my 4th great grandfathers was a man named Jesse Radford. I've written about him on my blog a couple of times previously already. He was born in Kentucky, fought in the Civil War, married first Grace Holland, married second Sally Eversole; he also had a mistress named Mary Bowling with whom he had several children, and eventually he died in Madison County, Arkansas in 1919 after becoming the father of at least 26 children that I have identified (http://thesaltofamerica.blogspot.com/2012/06/family-of-jesse-radford-of-kentucky-and.html). Up until last night, I thought I knew that Jesse's parents were John Radford and Stacy Hornsby, but after some in-depth research last night, I believe I have found his actual parents (well, his actual father anyway).
My discovery differs from all trees I've found online to this point. Specifically, I have found:
8 trees on Ancestry.com which list his parents as John Radford and Stacy Hornsby/Stacy Hornsby/Stacy Unknown
13 trees on Ancestry.com which list no parents for him at all
3 trees on Rootsweb which list his parents as John and Stacy
16 trees on Rootsweb which list no parents for him at all
There are also a number of message board posts and online trees found through Google which list his parents as John Radford and Stacy Hornsby.
I believe, however, I can provide enough information to convince anyone who reads this article that it is is much more likely that Jesse is the son of another Radford from the Clay County area. I'm going to start with reviewing the facts about John Radford and Stacy Hornsby:
John Radford was born about 1813 in Buncombe County, North Carolina. There is a faction of Radford's from this area of North Carolina (Buncombe County, Yancey County, and Madison County) who migrated there from Virginia. Several of these Radford's, as well as dozens of other families, migrated from North Carolina to eastern Kentucky in the 1830's, '40's, and '50's.
John Radford is found in the 1800 Census in Buncombe County, North Carolina with his wife and a family of 4 boys. He is found still residing in Buncombe County in the 1810 and 1820 Censuses. In 1810, it appears his sons Richard and Jesse are still living with him, which is why they don't appear in the census and he still has 2 boys 16-25 in his household; he and Joseph are on page 10, while John Jr. is on page 31. In 1820, he, Richard, and Jesse are all on page 16 of the Census, and John Jr. is 2 pages away on page 14. John Sr. is not found after 1820. However, a 70-79 year old woman, and an 80-89 year old woman can be found in the households of Jesse Radford in the 1830 and 1840 Censuses, respectively; the woman is almost certainly either Jesse's mother (John Sr.'s wife) or his mother-in-law. I believe his four identified sons are:
1. John Radford Jr. (born about 1781 in Virginia) - Found in the 1810, 1820, and 1830 Censuses in Buncombe County; Found in the 1840 and 1850 Censuses in Yancey County; Will filed in Madison County in 1852. In 1850 Census, his wife appears to be a Nancy, also from Virginia. Many have assumed she and John are the John Radford and Nancy Crawford who were married in Franklin County, VA in 1799, but since John appears to be in his father's household in 1800 and still single, I believe that is a different John and Nancy. Many online trees have also assumed that this John Radford is the father of the John Radford who married Stacy Hornsby. According to his will, John Jr. did have a son named John, but I believe his son John is the John Radford found in Buncombe County in the 1840 and 1850 Censuses, who was born about 1815 in North Carolina. Nothing in John Jr.'s or his wife Nancy's wills indicate that any of their children, including their son John, had moved to Kentucky. Also, the John of Buncombe County's family also moved to Madison County, NC, which is where John Jr. and and his wife Nancy had moved and where there wills are filed in 1852 and 1853, respectively.
2. Joseph Radford (born between 1780 and 1790 in Virginia) - He is found in 1810 Census in Buncombe County. He is listed as age 16-25 with 2 sons under 10 and a wife. He is 6 households away from John Sr. He is not found after this Census. Since no female Radford head of household is found in the area in 1820, it's likely either Joseph died and his wife remarried, or they moved out of the area.
3. Jesse Radford (born about 1790 in Virginia) - Jesse's Census records more or less follow the pattern of his brothers and father. He is in Buncombe County in 1820 and 1830, and in Yancey County in 1840 and 1850. I believe Jesse is the father of John Radford who moved to Clay County and married Stacy Hornsby. This is based on the family lore that Jesse had a son named John, and that John and Stacy named their first son Thomas after Stacy's father Thomas Hornsby, and named their second son Jesse, presumably after John's father. While that's not a lot to go by necessarily, since John Jr. is almost certainly not the father of the John Radford, husband of Stacy Hornsby, and depending on when Joseph died or moved away, he is most likely not the son of Joseph, that leaves Jesse and Richard as potential candidates. [For those wondering how we know if the John Radford of Clay County and later Hancock County is connected to the Owsley and Jackson County, KY Radford's, look no further than the fact that the Hornsby family which John married into also migrated from Buncombe County, NC.] While it is certainly possible that Richard is the father of John, especially since they both migrated from Buncombe/Yancey to Clay/Owsley, the fact that John's second son was named Jesse, and it does not appear he ever named a son Richard, leads me to lean toward Jesse as the likely father, while still leaving open the possibility that it is Richard. More research would be needed to reach any solid conclusion.
4. Richard Radford (born about 1792 in Virginia) - One of the first things I found while digging for Richard was a claim that he married Mary Ward in Wayne County, Kentucky on 21 Nov 1811. I thought this was preposterous because Richard is clearly in the 1820, 1830, and 1840 Censuses in North Carolina. Yes, in the 1850 Census he is married to a Mary, but that doesn't make her Mary Ward; I figured it could easily have been 2 different Richard Radford's. However, I then found Mary's death record in Owsley County, Kentucky, where she died on 2 Jul 1856, and wouldn't you know it? Her parents are listed as John and Canady Ward. (According to this tree, it should be John Ward and Nancy Cannaday: http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/m/c/n/Barbara-Mcnamer/GENE3-0008.html) Isn't that something? Now, why Richard went from living with his parents in the 1810 Census in North Carolina, to Wayne County, Kentucky by November of 1811, and back to North Carolina by the 1820 Census (living next door to his parents) is a complete and total mystery to me at this point, one that hopefully someday I'll figure out.
Richard can be found in the 1820 and 1830 Censuses in Buncombe County, 1840 in Yancey, 1850 in Owsley County, Kentucky, and 1860, 1870, and 1880 in Jackson County, Kentucky. Richard's son, Nathaniel, is living 3 households away in Owsley County in 1850 [There are 4 Radford households listed in a row, Richard's being the first, and Nathaniel's being the last.] Nathaniel will be discussed further in this article.
Now back to John Radford (b. 1813) who married Stacy Hornsby on 16 Jan 1834 in Clay County, Kentucky. As previously mentioned, he was probably the son of Jesse Radford (b. 1790), but could certainly be a son of Richard (b. 1792). He is found in the 1840 Census in Clay County, Kentucky [It should be noted he is next door to a Hensley, and 2 households from another Hensley. This is relevant because Grace Holland, the first wife of the main subject of this piece Jesse Radford, was a daughter of a Hensley. John's close proximity to these Hensley families is a mark in his favor as potentially being Jesse's father.] In 1850, John and Stacy can again be found in Clay County. There household includes children:
Thomas (b. 1836 in KY)
Martha (b. 1838 in KY)
Elizabeth (b. 1840 in KY) [Married Thomas Hornsby on 30 Oct 1856 in Clay County, Kentucky. He was either Stacy's brother or nephew. He appears in her father Thomas Hornsby's household in 1850, but it is unclear if Thomas is his father or grandfather considering his age.]
Jesse (b. 1842 in KY)
Joseph (b. 1844 in KY)
Jacob (b. 1849 in KY)
This Jesse is who many have assumed is "our" Jesse. What apparently has not been taken into account is that by 1860, John, Stacy, and their children, including their son Jesse, had moved to about 250 miles away from Clay County to Hancock County. This Census includes the previously listed children, Jesse, Joseph, and Jacob, plus children Daniel (b. 1852 in KY), Robert (b. 1854 in KY), and a female "C. Radford", b. 1858 in KY.
Strangely, I have never been able to locate any of the children of John and Stacy Hornsby Radford in Census records ever again after that 1860 Census. They could have gone off the grid; they could have died from a Civil War-related cause. It's really hard to say, but the fact that none of John and Stacy's children ever re-appear after 1860 seems to lead to the conclusion that something happened to the family. I don't think that if "our" Jesse were "this" Jesse that he would be the only one of his siblings to ever re-emerge after the 1860 Census, and all the way 250 miles back from Hancock County where he is in 1860 to where he was prior to that, in Clay County.
"Our" Jesse Radford enlisted in the 8th Kentucky Infantry on November 13th, 1861 in Manchester [Clay County], Kentucky. For the Hancock County Jesse to be this Jesse he would have had to have moved 250 miles away back to Clay County where he would have had little family other than some extended cousins. So who could this Jesse Radford, "our" Jesse Radford, be?
Now we come back to the aforementioned Nathaniel Radford, son of Richard Radford (b. 1792). Nathaniel first appears in the 1840 Census in Clay County, Kentucky; he is a few pages away on the Census from John Radford and Stacy Hornsby. He appears in 1850 as an apparent widower in Owsley County, Kentucky, with the following children:
Richard (b. 1836 in NC)
Fanney (b. 1837 in NC)
Elizabeth (b. 1839 in NC) [Married Thomas Hensley on 8 Oct 1856 in Clay County. He was most likely a son of Robert Hensley, who was most likely a son of James Hensley, which most likely makes him a cousin of Grace Holland, Jesse's first wife, because her mother Margaret is most likely a daughter of James. I use "most likely" in reference to the Hensley clan because they are a large, complex, confusing, complicated family, and few relationships can be definitively confirmed beyond circumstantial evidence. Jesse and Elizabeth being siblings who married a pair of 1st cousins makes this contributes to the argument that "our" Jesse was a son of Nathaniel. Elizabeth's death certificate lists her mother as "Sallie Radford", which is the only documentation located so far indicating Nathaniel's wife name was Sallie/Sally, and which is consistent with other online research I've come across.]
Jesse (b. 1842 in KY)
Mahala (b. 1846 in KY)
Phoeba (b. 1847 in KY)
Nancy (b. 1849 in KY)
Nathaniel appears to have died by 1859, when his 10 year old daughter Nancy died. Her death record says her parents were "Nathan Radford and wife" indicating it was most likely not her father providing the information. Nathaniel does not appear in the 1860 Census, but most of his kin by 1860 had moved from Owsley County to Jackson County, which is where Nancy died.
What makes tying Nathaniel's Jesse and "our" Jesse together is the fact that it does not appear that Nathaniel's Jesse is in the 1860 Census. Many researchers consider a person who is an absentee for a Census to be deceased, but this is not always true. It's actually not uncommon at all for someone to be missing for one census, sometimes even two censuses in their lifetime. Someone could be in the Census for 1850 and 1860, gone for 1870, and then are back for 1880, gone again in 1900, and then are back again in 1910. So Nathanial's Jesse not appearing in the 1860 Census is not a completely sound argument against "our" Jesse being Nathaniel's Jesse.
Clearly, researchers are going to reach their own conclusion about who the Jesse Radford who married Grace Holland's parents are. There were obviously two of them who were almost exactly the same age who appear in almost the same place at the same time in 1850, and who are clearly either 1st or 2nd cousins, so it's going to get confusing. And the fact that John's Jesse in the 1860 Census and Nathaniel's isn't is going to lead many to automatically conclude that Nathaniel's Jesse is dead and John's Jesse married Grace Holland. But would John's Jesse really travel 250 miles back to Clay County from Hancock County, away from his parents and siblings, just to en-list for the Civil War in late 1861? It seems a little far-fetched, but anything is possible. In the end, it will be up to each individual researcher to decide.
Oh, wait. Did I forget the most convincing piece of evidence that "our" Jesse was the son of Nathaniel and Sally Radford, not John and Stacy Radford?
Well, take a look at the names of Jesse's first daughter and first son in the 1870 Census, and let me know what you think.
1870 U.S. Federal Census
Precinct 4, Clay, Kentucky
Jesse Radford (b. about 1840 in KY)
Gracy Radford (b. about 1844 in KY)
Sally Radford (b. about 1864 in KY)
Malisseyan Radford (b. about 1866 in KY)
Nancy Radford (b. about 1868 in KY)
Nathaniel Radford (b. about 1870 in KY)