Friday, May 31, 2013

A Cowan Hunch

After discovering DNA matches to two descendants of an Andrew Cowan who was born in Tennessee in 1812 and died in Benton County Arkansas in 1884. My autosomal DNA matched with descendants of two of his daughters, so I checked the Cowan DNA database, and the Cowan from my branch falls into the same Cowan category as a direct descendant of Andrew Cowan did. The DNA indicates they both descend from the Seven Brothers SuperGroup; their tests are listed quite closely together on the Cowan DNA site:

Kit number 11081 represents a descendant of Andrew born 1812; kit number 7384 represents Reggie, a grandson of William Andrew Cowan who was the brother of my John David Cowan. They were sons of an Andre P. Cowan who died between 1860 and 1870, and he appears to have been the son of an Andrew Cowan who died 1846 in Bradley County, Tennessee. It is unclear who Andrew Sr.'s father was, but it was very likely a James Cowan who resided in McMinn County at the same time as Andrew, and who may be the James Cowan, son of David Cowan mentioned in his 1811 Sevier County will, found here:,_TN,_1811

Reggie's DNA is a very close match to descendants of this David Cowan, and so it appears Andrew Cowan  b. 1812 may too be of David's line. I have since compiled a theoretical lineage for Andrew which may connect him to David.

No one seems to know Andrew b. 1812's parentage. I do believe I have at least found his brother, and probably his father. There are just too many coincidences for this to not be the case. Andrew was born in Tennessee on 5 Jun 1812, according to his headstone. He died 28 Nov 1884 in Benton County, Arkansas according to that same headstone. He married Matilda Driskell on 4 Feb 1836 in Macoupin County, Illinois. He promptly moved to Iowa, where his first son was born on 6 Dec 1836. Andrew is found in the 1840 Census in Jefferson County, Iowa Territory. He is found in the 1850 Census in Wapello County, Iowa. By 1860, he is in Putnam County, Missouri. On 11 Aug 1867 he married a Margaret Thornsberry. In 1870 he is found in Benton County, Arkansas, and in Madison County, Arkansas in 1880. He is buried in Benton County.

Now this could be purely coincidence, but the coincidences are too many for my taste. There is a David Cowan who was born about 1815 in Kentucky who I believe is Andrew's brother. He married a Martha Chastain on 5 Jun 1834 in Morgan County, Illinois. Morgan County is adjacent to Macoupin County where Andrew is married in 1836. In 1840, David is found in Jefferson County, Iowa Territory, one page away from Andrew. In 1850, David is still in Jefferson County while Andrew is in adjacent Wapello County. By 1860, David had also moved to Missouri, where he is found in Nodway County, which is 3 counties west of Putnam County. David has not been located for the 1870 Census, most likely because he appears to have been in Indian Territory; the 1880 Census indicates his daughter Maud who was born 1871 was born in Cherokee Territory. But by 1880, David is in Carroll County, Arkansas--which is adjacent both to Madison County where Andrew was residing at this time, and to Benton County where Andrew is buried.

Now that is a whole lot of coincidences to me for these two to not be brothers. They were married in adjacent counties, in the same county in 1840, and in adjacent counties in 1850 and 1880. They followed each other from state-to-state. Obviously, this is all speculation, but how many coincidences can there be until it appears to be true?

So to find Andrew's parentage, I started from the beginning. There were four Cowan households in counties adjacent to Macoupin in 1830, and only two of those contained sons in the 15-19 age range: William Cowan in Sangamon County, and Hugh Cowan in Morgan County. Hugh is almost certainly David's father, if not Andrew's. David named a son Hugh, David was married in Morgan County, and there are three Hugh Cowan's in the 1820 Census in Kentucky. The one living in North Middletown in Bourbon County has two sons under 10; the one in Nicholas County has one and the second one in Bourbon County has none. Now the biggest problem with the theory of Andrew and David being brothers is found on the 1880 Census; Andrew claims both his parents were born in Tennessee, while David claims both his parents were born in Ireland. Obviously, Census records are not considered  a perfect source for birthplaces and parents' birthplaces, but this point should be considered.

Now is Hugh was the father of Andrew, that would place him in Tennessee in or around 1812 when Andrew was born. As it would have it, the aforementioned will of David Cowan, written in 1811, mentions his having a son named Hugh three times. Could this be the same Hugh? Maybe so, this is purely speculative, but it certainly seems possible.

My purpose for posting this blog is my hoping that a researcher of either Andrew's or David's families might happen upon this, contact me, and provide me with any more information that may support or detract from this theory. I welcome any contact at all on the subject. My Cowan family remains one of my two largest brick walls, and I am always looking to shorten the gap between my Andrew who died 1846 in Bradley County, and David of the 1811 will.


  1. Nathan,
    This is a wonderful blog. So much good work and such a great tribute to families and Americana. Trying hard to piece together my family's story as well which I know is so time-consuming and often elusive. Our families intersect at Martha Evelyn Patton - whose line is so interesting. I keep running into false leads with James Marshal Crider's line, so I really admire what you are doing. Absolutely wonderful. Thanks for sharing!
    Dawn Clark

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  3. Hi Nathan

    My name is Lori Cowan Smith. Kit no 11081 is my fathers kit. Andrew would be my 4th great grandfather. I sent you an email. My other email is Please let me know if you received.

  4. Hi, Nathan ...
    Did you ever get additional information on Andrew (1812) who married Matilda Driskell?

    If not, please contact me at mcowan @ erols . com.

    When we last corresponded, it was about the Cowans in McMinn and Bradley Co.s TN. Had I known you had a connection with Andrew and Matilda, I'd have been able to provide you with a good deal more information.

    Miss Jessie Lee Cowan was an avid and thorough genealogist of Benton Co., AR and she descended from Andrew Cowan (1812) and Matilda Driskell. A fourth cousin corresponded with her on a regular basis from the 1950s through the 1980s. I had the please of corresponding with her in the 1970s and 1980s.

    I have information that may point you in the right direction.
    I believe your best bet, based on Miss Jessie's information, would be to pursue the William Cowan in Sangamon Co., IL. (I'll email the details why.)

  5. Does anyone have information or pictures of William W. Cowan (1800-1854) who was married to Isabella and lived in Bradley County, Tennessee in the town of Charleston? Please email me at