Monday, November 25, 2019

52 Ancestors - THIEF: True Confession

One of the thrills of being the family historian is finding a bona fide horse thief in the family.

William Boyd aka William Jollett
William Boyd
aka William Jollett
My family’s Black Sheep is William H. Jollett, my 2x great-grandfather’s nephew. William admitted to stealing a horse.

Staunton Spectator
Sep 6, 1868
He served his time.

After he was released from prison, something terrible happened that set him on the run. He changed his name to William Boyd and led a quiet and relatively uneventful life after that. It’s a long story. Read about it HERE.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

52 Ancestors - SOLDIER: Mystery Man

Unknowns in album of Helen Killeen Parker World War I era
Of all my photos of unidentified people, this is probably my favorite. It came to me in a box of photos belonging to my grandaunt Helen Killeen Parker. Since many of the other photos were of her mother and her mother’s sisters and their families, I assume this one is as well. But who is it?

Here is what I know: Helen’s mother, my great grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh, immigrated to New York from Ireland in the late 1880s. Her sisters did as well. I know for sure that a brother Denis remained in Ireland. One brother, John Sheehan, might have immigrated to New York but I am not sure.

There are many photos of women who resemble Mary Theresa, but the few photos that are labeled are of children who would be Helen’s cousins. Photos of adults are not labeled, so I cannot tell for sure who is who.

As a result, I can identify NO ONE in this photo.

One problem I am having is determining age in the photo. Is this a set of parents with a son and daughter? Parents with a son and granddaughter?  Could it even be a 4-generation photo? The woman resembles Mary Theresa somewhat in body type, but if the photo is from the 19-teens, Mary Theresa and sisters would have been younger looking and probably thinner.  

Another problem is determining the place the photo was taken. Since I have seen none of these people in other photos, I considered maybe this was the family left behind in Ireland. However, the architecture of the house does not fit with what homes looked like in Ireland, or at least in photos I have seen. Could this house have been in New York? Massachusetts? Maybe it was taken in Portsmouth, Virginia where Mary Theresa moved following the death in 1905 of her first husband, John Joseph Killeen.

The soldier’s uniform might answer that question, in part, at least. The coat resembles this one identified online as a US army enlisted man’s tunic from 1912. Later uniforms also had buttons on the collar. I looked at World War I uniforms for other countries and am satisfied that this is an American soldier. I can rule out Mary Theresa’s brother and family in Ireland as candidates.

But who should be ruled IN? That is the million dollar question!

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

52 Ancestors - POOR MAN: Caring for the Poor

Frazier Mountain School
photo courtesy John and Janet Thompson
Frazier descendants

Frazier Mountain was the stomping grounds of my 3X great-grandmother Nancy Frazier Shiflett and her many aunts, uncles and cousins. However, this photo of the Frazier Mountain School is not THAT old, more likely from the very early 1900s.

That is when the settlement movement made its way to the mountains of Virginia. The aim of settlement schools was to provide education for children in rural and mountain areas that were often not served by the county, usually for economic and logistical reasons. Churches often filled the gap building a school, a church, a clothing bureau, and sometimes even a hospital.

Frederick Neve Comes to Virginia
Frederick William Neve

Frederick William Neve was an Episcopal minister born and educated at Oxford in England who was asked to come to Virginia in 1888. He was based in the town of Ivy in Albemarle County, but he was drawn to the Blue Ridge Mountains just twenty-five miles away. He found someone to take him into those mysterious communities – Shifflett’s Hollow, Bacon Hallow, Mutton Hollow, Blackwell Hollow, and Simmons Gap – places that inspired stories of moonshine operations, backwoods justice and suspicion towards strangers.

There were probably 175 people living there, but reportedly only two of them could read and write. Neve inquired about the mountain community and learned that no school or church existed within miles of the area known as “Frazier Mountain” to the locals but previously as “Lost Mountain.” Neve actually liked that name because he reasoned that without religion and education, the people were indeed “lost.” (Today it is known as “Loft Mountain.”)

Ambitious Project
Neve bought some property straddling Greene and Albemarle counties where he could build a mission school. One of the families offered the use of two empty cabins – one for a school and the other to house a teacher. In advertising for a teacher, Neve provided full disclosure about the isolation and lack of amenities. He expected men to apply but instead 15 women came forward. Angelina Fitzhugh was selected and became the first of many women and men who taught the mountain families at the mission schools.

Ruin of Pocosan Mission
at the end of a fire road in Shenandoah National Park
For quite some time, Neve and others like him were thwarted in their effort to help the mountain families. People were pessimistic and thought it was a waste of time trying to cure sinful behaviors like drinking and licentiousness among people that they viewed as not only ignorant but also primitive and untamed. Even when they viewed outsiders suspiciously, the mountain families saw the missions as a glimpse into another world that offered opportunities for their children.

Neve continued to draw followers and missionaries. Together they built mission schools and churches about every 10 miles throughout seven Virginia counties. Costs were sometimes double the cost of a building in a more convenient location. Transportation was still mostly by horse and wagon. There were no paved roads, and even the dirt roads were little more than paths winding through woods into the hollows.

Neve’s most ambitious mission project was the co-ed Blue Ridge Industrial School. It was the vision of his missionary Rev. George Mayo who realized he could not be effective unless he lived among the mountain people. He saw that since most young people were likely to remain in a rural area, a school that provided practical training for farm life and related occupations would be the best chance mountain children would have to improve their condition. The school operated a demonstration farm, dairy, sawmill, orchards, kitchens, workshops. It even operated a cannery for a number of years. The school initially offered an elementary education but soon grew adding more advanced education. BRIS was the first accredited high school in Greene County.

Historic Gibson Chapel at Blue Ridge School
wikimedia commons
Between 1890 and 1912, Frederick Neve started twenty-eight missions, ten of them in Greene County alone, and sixteen schools. He is remembered today as the founder of the mountain mission movement of the Episcopal Church in Virginia, 1888-1948.

Today all of the mission schools have closed except for the Blue Ridge school which is still going strong as a college-prep boarding school for boys.

Alvic, Philis. Weavers of the Southern Highlands. Lexington, KY: U of Kentucky, 2003. University Press of Kentucky. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <>.

Campbell, Olive D. Southern Highland Schools Maintained by Denominational and Independent Agencies. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1921. 30 July 2009. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <>.

Chretien, Kay Collins. “A History of Faith Mission Home.” Shiflett Family Genealogy Website.

Covey, David D. Greene County, Virginia: A Brief History. Google Books. The History Press, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <>.

"A Guide to the Frederick W. Neve Papers, 1854-1981 (bulk 1900-1940) Neve, Frederick W., Papers 10505." Virginia Heritage: Guides to Manuscripts and Archival Collections in Virginia. Virtual Library of Virginia, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <>.

James, Phil. “Secrets of the Blue Ridge: George Mayo & the Blue Ridge Industrial Schools.” Crozet Gazette. 8 Sep 2017.

“Settlement School.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

Shifflett, Larry. "County Place Names." Shiflett Family Genealogy. <>.

Swenson, Ben. “Far Pocosan or Pocosin Mission.” Abandoned Country. 7 Jan 2013.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

52 Ancestors - RICH MAN: Richard Bruce

After struggling to find a “rich” ancestor, I gave up and decided to write about one named Richard. The irony is that he might actually have been “rich” after all.

My 5X great-grandfather Richard Bruce was born to George Bruce and Elizabeth Quinn in Albemarle County, Virginia, in 1754. He was surely old enough to have served in the militia during the Revolutionary War, but I have found no evidence of that on Fold3. However, his brothers served and received pensions. 

Richard must have come from a family of some means. His grandfather Darby Quinn left a will. Had he been a poor man, there likely would have been no will or estate to probate. Darby Quinn left a 400 acre estate to his son Richard Quinn. In addition, he stipulated that his personal estate be divided equally between his son Richard and daughter Elizabeth Bruce.

Without some wealth, Richard could not have become the educated man he was. He earned the respect of his family and neighbors. In fact, he was asked to seek the aid of Thomas Jefferson in settling a military claim: 

Albemarle 12th Dec 1791
Having repeatedly experienced favors of this kind from you it emboldens me still to intrude further on your goodness. David Owings & David Wood have got some military claim sent on by the Assembly to Congress to have them settled. And they have wrote to Mr. Madison to lay them separately before Congress. And as I was in some measure the instigation of their not being paid as you will see by the papers therefore beg you to be so good as to try to get them settled when they come to hand [not sure that’s what it says] and write me word their fate.
I am Sir your most obt [obedient] servant
Richd Bruce

Richard might have been a lawyer. In 1794, Richard’s brother William and his wife Ann Nancy, who were residing in North Carolina, appointed him to be their attorney to sell 300 acres of land in Albemarle County, Virginia [Deed Book 1, p. 34].

The many deeds and documents showing Richard Bruce as a grantor, grantee, or merely a witness suggest Richard was probably among the richest of my ancestors.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.”

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.