Monday, May 10, 2010

Madness Monday: Just ‘Cause it’s in a Book Don’t Make It So

When I began researching my husband’s Northern Neck family I referred to several published genealogies.  His family claimed ties to the Lees of Virginia through their paternal grandmother, and I admit I was skeptical.  There aren’t many more well documented families and none of the books I examined supported the stories they gave me.  Turns out they were right and books were wrong.

Published genealogies are helpful in outlining complicated relationships or suggesting avenues for research.  But they are also obstacles when, as will happen, they contain erroneous information or assumptions.   The family information was that paternal great-grandmother Margaret Meredith’s mother was a Lee and that her father was Thomas Lee of Lancaster County, Virginia.  But two of the most respected (deservedly so) genealogies contained information contradicting that family information. 

One, Chester Horton Brent’s The Descendants of Hugh Brent (Rutland, Vt: The Tuttle Pub. Co., Inc, 1936) had Margaret as the daughter of John Meredith and Ann Steptoe Brent (p. 134) and cited an 1834 Lancaster County suit naming Ann Brent as Meredith’s widow and Margaret as his daughter.  Seemingly strong evidence.  Several years of  sporadic and fruitless research went into finding a Lee connection through Ann Brent.  The second, Edmund Jennings Lee’s Lee of Virginia, 1642-1892 : biographical and genealogical sketches of the descendants of Colonel Richard Lee… (Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1974) listed a Thomas Lee in the Cobbs Hall Line (p. 568)
"Thomas5, the only son of Charles Lee4 (Charles3, Charles2, Richard1) and Joannah Morgan, his wife, is said to have married and left a son Thomas6, who was born in 1795 and died in 1851 ; was married, in 1818, to Margaret Ormand, and had five children: James Ormond, Elizabeth, Ann, Elizabeth Ormand, and Sarah Ann Lee7."
Lee is clear that his information on Thomas is not confirmed, but as further research pointed to this Thomas Lee as the grandfather of Margaret Meredith this entry caused me considerable concern. 

Proving that Margaret was not the daughter of Ann Steptoe Brent and was the granddaughter of Thomas Lee was easy once I found the suit for final division of Thomas Lee’s estate abstracted in Virginia Land Causes: Lancaster County 1795-1848; Northampton County  1731-1868 by Stratton Nottingham (Baltimore: Heritage Books, 1991), p. 17.
"Robert T. Dunaway, Guardian & c; vs.
Suit for Division.
Henry C. LAWSON, et ux, et als.
 Bill of complaint --- Humbly complaining; ... Robert T. Dunaway, guardian and next friend of Eliza & John TOWILL, That Thomas LEE died about 1809 or 1810, intestate, and possessed of considerable land and personal estate, leaving a widow and three children, namely John, Margaret and Ann;  Margaret intermarried with Henry C. LAWSON and Ann intermarried with Thomas TOWILL.  That by an order of the County Court of Lancaster ... divided the said real estate of the said Thomas LEE among his heirs as follows: To the widow 113 ¾ acres; to John LEE 75 ½ acres; to Henry C. LAWSON, in right of his wife who was Margaret LEE, 71 ½ acres; to Thomas TOWILL, in right of his wife who was Ann LEE, 71 ½ acres, and to LAWSON & TOWELL 7 ½ acres jointly being woodland  John LEE died under the age of 21 years, without issue and intestate; Thomas TOWILL is also dead, and the widow of Thomas LEE has also long since died; Ann TOWILL, who was Ann LEE,  the widow of Thomas TOWILL, intermarried with John MEREDITH, she the said Ann MEREDITH, who was Ann LEE, is also dead and left four children by her first marriage, namely Charles, Ann, Eliza  and John TOWILL, and two by her last marriage, namely Margaret and Thomas MEREDITH…"
"21 April 1834"

Scanned copies of the original documents are now available online through the Lancaster Chancery Court records of the Library of Virginia. 

This information clearly shows that Brent was in error assuming Margaret was the daughter of Ann Steptoe Brent based on the 1834 dower case.  It was reasonable, but wrong.  Of course, because Brent’s work has been used so extensively over the years, it’s an error that lives on in many online genealogies. 

Nothing so definitive has turned up to prove that this Thomas Lee was the son of Charles and Joannah Morgan Lee cited by Edmund Jennings Lee and in other Lee genealogies.  However, a timeline of Lees appearing in Lancaster County records between 1789 and 1800 coupled with Charles Lee’s will probated in 1792 and the 1834 final estate division of Thomas Lee’s estate supports the thesis. 

1789 Lancaster County Tax List  (scanned images posted online by Binns Genealogy)         
Charles Lee, owns 300 acres.  
Hancock Lee, owns 400 acres
Thomas Lee, owns 30 acres

1792 Probate of Charles Lee’s will (quoted in Lee of Virginia, p. 565)
Divides land between widow and son, Thomas 

1797 Lancaster County Tax List (scanned images posted online by Binns Genealogy)
Johannah Lee owns 150 acres
Thomas Lee owns two tracts, 30 acres and 150 acres

1800 Lancaster County Personal Property Tax List   (scanned images posted online by Binns Genealogy)
Johannah Lee 0 white tithes, 5 black tithes, 7 young blacks, 1 horse 
Thomas Lee 1 white tithe, 2 black tithes, 6 young blacks,  2 horses

1810 U.S. Census ( database entry for Tho Lee, Lancaster, Lancaster, Virginia)         
Thomas Lee Household of 5 with 20 slaves

1834 Lancaster County Chancery Court Case (scanned images posted online at the Library of Virginia's Virginia Memory website)
Final division of Thomas Lee’s estate refers to 339 ¾ acres of property

This supports my belief that Thomas Lee inherited 150 acres of land upon his father Charles Lee’s death and another 150 acres and 12 slaves upon the death of his mother, Joannah Morgan Lee after 1800.  I do not know the source of the additional 9¾ acres he held at death, but don’t feel this hinders my assumptions regarding Thomas and his parentage.

So who is the Thomas Lee who married a Margaret Ormand referred to in Lee of Virginia?  I don’t know.  I’ve had no luck finding sources supporting his existence.  If he was born in 1795, he would have been a minor when Thomas died around 1810 and ought to have been included in the original estate division referred to in the 1834 Chancery Court case.  He was not.  The elder Thomas Lee was married in 1780, so perhaps he was older and had already received property from his father.  It’s a mystery.

But I am comfortable stating that Charles Lee and Joannah Morgan had a son Thomas who was the father of Ann Currell Lee Towell Meredith and the grandfather of Margaret Meredith.  The irony is that I’m relying on Edmund Lee’s work and that of other genealogists for the trail back to Richard the Immigrant – until someone proves them wrong.  


  1. Unfortunately once something is published - either on-line or in book format- the information spreads like wild fire and, sadly, incorrect data is hard to 'correct' to the many 'cut & paste' internet family researchers. Everything needs to be double checked and sources noted.

  2. I could not find your first name in your profile, but believe in serendipity that led me here today. I too have a Lee connection (alleged), but not listed in "official bios." Your thorough methods in research are good reminders as to why these are guides, and research methodology must be conducted for ourselves to both prove and disprove connections. Thank you.



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