Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Michael Downing and Mary Persinger of Virginia and Indiana

For years, there has been much speculation online regarding the identity of the wife of Michael Downing, a long-time soldier who served in the Indian Wars and even volunteered to fight in the War of 1812 as a man over the age of 40. Some have given up identifying Michael's wife, listing her simply as "Mrs. Downing". Others have gone with a seemingly made up name, Mary Anne Wells, which as it turns out has an element of truth behind it, but the name is still incorrect. After seeing the ideas posed by Ilene Kreider of Iowa, a descendant of Preston Downing of Cedar County, Iowa who will also be discussed in this post, I dug a little deeper and have come to agree with her conclusion that Michael's wife has seemingly been hiding under our noses this whole time.

On 26 Jun 1789, a Michael Downey/Dawney married a Mary Persinger in Botetourt County, Virginia. I believe this to be our Michael Downing for a number of reasons. But first, it is important to note that the marriage record gives a great clue for where the name "Mary Anne Wells" came from; the marriage record lists Mary as "Mary Persinger daughter of Nelly Wells". Clearly a past researcher came across this marriage record long ago and came to the same conclusion that Ilene and I have: That this was our Michael and his long-lost wife. However, where the name "Anne" came from is still a complete mystery, and the unknown researcher seems to have concluded that Mary was a Wells by birth who married a Persinger and then re-married to Michael Downing. However, the majority of widows who remarried would be listed as "Mrs.", so had Mary been a widow, she likely would have been "Mrs. Mary Persinger". I believe the more logical conclusion is that it was Mary's mother who re-married to a Wells after her Persinger husband died; later on, I will lay out the DNA evidence which supports Mary having been a Persinger by birth.

To be sure of Michael Downing's connection to the Persinger family, one does not have to look far. Almost all of the Persinger's in Virginia at this time (1780's-1790's) were descendants of one man: Jacob Persinger of Switzerland who died in Virginia about 1774, possibly in Greenbrier County. So all of the Persinger's in Botetourt County and later Alleghany County, Virginia were very closely related. You'll find the only Persinger's in the state in the 1780's and 1790's in these two counties. You'll see that a few then migrated to Kanawha County, Virginia [now West Virginia] by 1810, which is the place we first find Michael Downing without absolute certainty. Some of these Persinger's then went on to move to Washington County, Indiana along with the Downing's and the May family, who married into the Downing's twice [Brothers Reuben and Thomas May married Elizabeth and Margaret Downing, respectively. It is from Reuben and Elizabeth that I descend]. You'll then find that Michael's daughter Catherine married George Persinger, and Michael's likely-nephew, Preston Downing, married George Persinger's sister, Martha Persinger. You'll find the family living near Luke Persinger both in Kanawha and Washington counties, and he is an elder half-brother to George and Martha, all of who were children of John Persinger, who died about 1810/1811 in Kanawha County, [West] Virginia, before his family moved on to Washington County, Indiana.

I think it highly unlikely that the Downing's would move about the country and inter-marry with a family whom they were not well-connected. It was not uncommon in the least for cousins to marry cousins, so when Catherine Downing married George Persinger, I believe she was marrying her cousin. Whether they were 1st or 2nd cousins, I have not yet determined, but that is a discovery I hope is made soon. Given the Downing's migrational patterns with the Persinger's, and the multiple marriages between the families, I have concluded that Michael Downey who married Mary Persinger is indeed Michael Downing, and Mary Persinger is our long-lost wife. If anyone has a theory that they think bests this one, feel free to come forward, but I think the circumstantial evidence is significant.

Yet another piece of evidence seemingly confirming this connection to the Persinger family is in the form of several autosomal DNA matches. My DNA has matched five Persinger descendants so far. One of those matches is inconclusive, as I actually share two other biological connections with this person, so it's impossible to ascertain exactly which match or matches the test is picking up on. My other four matches are as follows:

1. Match with a descendant of Catherine Persinger, daughter of Luke, son of John, son of Christopher, son of Jacob
2. Match with a descendant of Elizabeth Persinger who married Henry Harmon; she was most likely the daughter of John Persinger, son of Christopher, son of Jacob
3. Match with descendant of William Reid Persinger, son of Jacob b. 1772, son of Christopher, son of Jacob
4. Match with descendant of Jacob Persinger, son of John, son of Christopher, son of Jacob

Clearly these four matches with Botetourt County Persinger's cannot be a coincidence; as my family does not intersect with any Persinger's at any other place in my tree, the logical conclusion is that I descend from Mary Persinger who married Michael Downing.

As far as the question "What  makes you think that Downey and Downing are the same name?" goes, I believe that an evolution toward the spelling "Downing" came over time, but that the name was still originally pronounced "Downey" hence the spelling. For evidence, you can see that Michael's last name is spelled "Downing" in the 1810 and 1820 Censuses, but in 1830, it is spelled "Downe" even though his son's name on the same census is "Downing"; the same happens with other Downing households in Washington County, Indiana in 1830 with the households of Preston, his mother, and the not-related-to-Michael Downing families of Abraham, Alanson, Erastus, and William [these Downing's were from New York]. You can see this interchangeability occur elsewhere as well; in 1820, John Downing of Dearborn County's name is spelled with the -ing, but then in 1830 he and his sons names are spelled "Downey". I believe this illustrates that the two spellings were interchangeable but still represented the same family, so while this is just a theory, the reasoning is sound.

Now the questions that remain are: Who was Mary Persinger's father? Who was her Wells step-father? And what became of Mary's mother, Nelly? I have not been able to answer any of these questions as of yet, but I have formulated a list of candidates for Mary's Wells step-father, and I have worked on narrowing down who her father could and could not be.

The identity of Mary's father has not yet been determined. Clearly it was a Persinger who predeceased her 1789 marriage, so while the above DNA evidence would point to John son of Jacob being her father, since he lived until about 1820, she most likely descends from one of Jacob's other sons. Mary was married in 1789, and assuming she was at least 15 years old at the time of the marriage, she was most likely born before 1774, which eliminates any of Jacob's known grandsons from contention as her father as only a couple of them would be old enough to father a child, and those that were were still living in 1789. It is possible an unknown grandson of Jacob was her father, perhaps an elder son of Christopher who was about the same age as John who married Nelly, fathered Mary, and then died at a fairly young age. This also seems conceivable given the number of connections the Downing's have to John's children; if Mary were their 1st cousin, their connections would make even more sense. The reasons I have not listed Mary as a child of Christopher or John as would seem logical is because they were both still living in 1789 and neither is known to have had a wife named Nelly.

Jacob Persinger Sr. apparently also had sons named Phillip and Abraham. It has been asserted by some Persinger researchers that the two were killed by Indians, perhaps even in separate incidents, but I have not seen proof of that, and I believe one of the two are most likely Mary's father, seeing as Christopher, Jacob, and obviously John were still living at the time of Mary's marriage. I am hoping perhaps a Persinger researcher will help me uncover this mystery in the near future.

In looking over Botetourt County tax lists, and the 1810 and 1820 Censuses, I have compiled a list of potential step-father's for Mary Persinger. One of these men were most likely the husband of Nelly Wells.

Bolded names are the men I consider prime candidates.

1785 Botetourt County Tax List [Source:] :
Wells, Jeremiah

1786 Botetourt County Tax List [Source:]:
Wells, Jeremiah
Wells, Richard

Note: A John WALLS, John WILLS, and William WILLS also appear on both of these tax lists, keeping open the possibility of multiple spellings or poor spellings of the name WELLS.

1790 Virginia Tax Lists/Replacement Census [Source:]:

Downey, Michael [King & Queen County] [No other Downey's in King & Queen, none in Botetourt; only Michael Downey/Downing in any of the tax lists. I don't believe this is "my" Michael, however, based on the below 1800 Replacement Census]
Wells, Abner [1789 - Botetourt]
Wells, Benjamin [1789 - Botetourt]
Wells, Jeremiah [1789 - Botetourt]
Wells, Moses [1789 - Botetourt]
Wells, Richard [1789 - Botetourt]

1794 Botetourt County Tax List [Source:]:
Wells, Jeremiah

1800 Virginia Tax Lists/Replacement Census [Source:]:
Downey, Michael (ESTATE) [1798 - King & Queen County] [This appears to allude to this Michael Downey being deceased, but I'm not certain that's what it means. A "Jarley" Downey also appears in the county.]
Wells, Jeremiah [1802 - Kanawha County] [Jacob & John "Parsenger" also appear in this 1802 list for Kanawha County. No other Persinger's are indexed. Jacob & John are also listed in the 1801 tax list for Kanawha, but Jeremiah is not:]

Note: No Downing's, Downey's, Persinger's, or Wells's are found in the 1796 Kanawha County tax list:]

1810 United States Census - Kanawha County, Virginia
Downing, Michael
Persinger, Jacob
Persinger, John
Persinger, Luke
Wells, Benjamin
Wells, James

Note: Jeremiah Wells is not present in Kanawha County for the 1810 Census, but Kanawha County marriage records show he married a Patsey Russell in Kanawha County in 1810. He is in Kanawha County in the 1820 Census. Source:

1820 United States Census - Washington County, Indiana
Downing, Michael
Persinger, Luke
Persinger, Katherine [Widow of John Persinger, Luke's father]
Wells, Benjamin
Wells, David
Wells, Richard
Wells, William
Wells, William

Without having been able to find much on them with online resources, I consider Jeremiah, Richard, and Benjamin Wells prime candidates for being Mary Persinger's step-father and husband of Nelly Wells. Discovering the identity of Mary's step-father will likely lead to the answer to my final question: What happened to Mary's mother, Nelly?

I will be sharing this post on a couple of Persinger family message boards, as well as e-mailing some Persinger researchers in hopes I can formulate a more solid theory regarding the identity of Mary Persinger's father. Or perhaps another Persinger researcher will happen across this post with a theory to share, which I would gladly welcome.


  1. Hello. I happened to stumble onto your blog while searching for links to my past. My G-G-G-G grandfather/ grandmother were Jeremiah Wells and Martha(Patsy) Russell Wells. I have information I have saved and sources. If you are still searching I could dig up my notes and pass them along.

    1. Hi! That would be really great for you to share your info on Jeremiah with me! I would really appreciate it. Please e-mail me at nathanvaughanmarks(at) Thanks so much for your offer to help!