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John Carter: Who Were His People?

John Carter (1790-1841) settled with his wife and family in Coles County, Illinois along with a host of other new settlers in 1830. The county history tells us that he was alone among his relatives to migrate there. Who were his siblings and parents, and where did they live?

Some information about his family comes from family lore:

  1. He was born in Greene County, Tennessee and served in the War of 1812.
  2. He was married in Greene County in 1815 to Mary (Polly) Templeton, and their first child, Susan, was born there.
  3. They migrated to Wayne County, Kentucky where the next seven children (Shelton, Nancy, Bailey, Thena, Janete/Jane, Joseph, and Elizabeth) were born between 1816-1829.
  4. The youngest daughter, Catherine, was born in Coles County in 1832.

The Coles County histories give us a little more information:

  1. John had some blacksmith skills. He served the Ashmore Township community in this capacity until a regular blacksmith arrived to set up shop. Where did John acquire these skills and the requisite equipment? Did he come from a family of blacksmiths?
  2. John migrated to Illinois from the Crab Orchard area of Kentucky. I do not know where that is, but it must have been familiar to 19th-century Illinois residents. I assume the region included Wayne County.

None of these sources offer any clues to John Carter’s natal family. The Carters were numerous in East Tennessee. How did he fit in with them?

I have begun the search for evidence:

  1. John’s wife Mary executed a declaration for a Bounty Land Claim based on John’s War of 1812 service in 1857, a few months before her death. My cousins had a copy of this affidavit, so I have ordered the file from the National Archives to see what additional information it may contain about John Carter and his family.
  2. I have located what I believe is his census record for 1820 in Wayne County. A couple of other Carter families also lived in the sparsely populated county. A Wayne County history written in 1900 includes a Carter family tree with the names of these early settlers on it. According to the county history, they were all related to one another and from Virginia, not Tennessee. John Carter is not named on this tree. Was he not included because he moved away after a few years? Was he an unrelated Carter?
  3. A Greene County, TN marriage record exists for John Carter and Polly Templeton. The record has no identifying information or names of family members.
  4. Online family trees include him, but they place him in different families. One even has him being born to a 10-year-old mother. These trees may offer a bit of a roadmap, but no one seems to have proven his true origin.

Adding to the confusion is the claim that John’s wife, Polly, also descended from the Carters through her mother. Several researchers claim that John and Polly had a common ancestor in the Revolutionary War soldier, Levi Carter, Sr.

I would love to prove this claim for either John or Polly, if not both. The search for relevant documents in Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee continues.

Meeting the Presidents

As President’s Day rolls around, I like to think of any connections my family might have to U. S. Presidents. Although I am not descended from any of them, we have crossed paths with a few men who reached this high office:

  1. Andrew Jackson. Our ancestor John Carter (1790-1841) was born in East Tennessee. He was drafted at Greensville to serve in Jackson’s campaign against the Creeks during the War of 1812.
  2. Abraham Lincoln. We have Lincoln ancestors, but I do not know our precise relationship to this President. His family and my Lincolns both lived in Hingham, MA during colonial times. His family and my Reeds were early settlers in Kentucky, and both families migrated to Indiana and Illinois. Lincoln’s father Thomas and my ancestors Thomas Reed and John Carter all settled in Coles County, Illinois around 1830. I do not know whether my Illinois family ever met the Lincolns.
  3. Dick Cheney. I know he was a Vice-President, not a President, but we have had several encounters with him. He is from our hometown of Casper, WY. He and my husband/tech advisor attended the same high school. My husband presented Cheney with PAC money for his first Congressional run in the 1980s. When our youngest son graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2007, Cheney was there to speak and hand out diplomas.

We seldom find ourselves in the rarefied circles of Presidents. Those encounters will tend to stick in our memories. President’s Day prods us to remember those occasions.

People With Place Names

We come across interesting names as we do our genealogy. Parents name their children for all sorts of reasons. I have encountered a couple of people in my family tree who seem to have been named for someplace special to their families:

  1. Nevada Dorcas Walton (1857-1946). She was my great-grandfather’s cousin on his father’s side.
  2. Alice Missouri Carter (1861-1931). She was another of my great-grandfather’s cousins but on his mother’s side. Whether her legal name was Alice Missouri or Missouri Alice remains unclear. The name Alice is engraved on her cemetery marker. A county history and her father’s will refer to her as Missouri.

Both these women were born and lived their lives in Coles County, Illinois, the same place where my great-grandfather Samuel H. Reed (1845-1928) grew up. He must have known them even though he was over a decade older. I wonder whether he knew how they got their names.

The practice of naming people for places has continued in our own day. I think of people like Paris Hilton, Dakota Fanning, and Ireland Baldwin.

Some place names like Cody and Austin have become commonplace. Yet individuals bearing these names may not have been named intentionally for towns in Wyoming and Texas. Perhaps they are named after the people who inspired the place names, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Stephen H. Austin, the father of Texas.

In my genealogical research, I have not run across people with place names in more recent generations. Even our cousins Nevada and Missouri did not follow this practice when naming their own children.

Much thought goes into the decision for a child’s name. A place name can be an unusual, meaningful choice for some parents.

A unique place name for a person’s name can distinguish a person. People tend to remember the names of persons with place names.

A New DNA Clue

Anna Petronellia Sherman (1865-1961) was my great-grandmother. She was always known by her middle name, Petronellia, or Pet for short.

This name was unknown in her Sherman family. Where did it come from? Her mother’s side?

We do not know who her mother was, but family lore tells us she was a German or Dutch immigrant named Katherine Stillenbaugh who settled in Indiana. They say she died not long after Petronellia was born. I have found no records to verify any of this.

We do have distant DNA matches to an extended German family named Stilgenbauer/Stillabower who lived south of Indianapolis at the time Petronellia was born. I keep working with the hypothesis that these are my people.

Then this week a DNA match at the 3rd-4th cousin level popped up on My Heritage. This match lives in the Netherlands.

I took a peek at his online tree and was astounded to find that many of the women through the generations were named Petronella. There was no Stillgenbauer surname on this tree. Yet the repetition of the forename makes me wonder if this is the origin of my great-grandmother’s name. We the Stilgenbauers related to these Dutch?

It will take some diligent DNA analysis to see how all these tantalizing clues fit together. Perhaps I can use some of the techniques I learned about at a DNA webinar earlier this month.

I would love to know more about Petronellia’s maternal roots. As more people take DNA tests and I become more proficient at the science, the picture will become clearer.



An Updated Approach to My DNA Research

Yesterday I listened to a webinar at on how to make DNA network graphs. The presenter was Diana Elder who, together with her daughter Nicole Dyer, runs the Family Locket website and podcast (

I have used the cluster tool on the My Heritage site to create cluster graphs, but Diana took this analysis a step further. She pointed us to other online tools that can reveal relationships between clusters. The idea is to use this data to break down genealogical brick walls.

She suggested using DNA Gedcom ( to upload a match list from Ancestry and create a spreadsheet of matches and shared matches. Then import the spreadsheet to online tools such as Rootsfinder (, Node XL (, or Gephi ( Use these sites to create charts and graphs that will assist in identifying matches on specific lines. The targeted matches can then provide insight for the family line in question.

All this computer work seems daunting to me, but help is available. Diana’s daughter Nicole has created several blog posts on Family Locket explaining how to do it all. The Family Search website also has instructional videos. Some of the sites, such as Node XL, offer online tutorials.

After discussing these tools, Diana offered a case study from her own family research. She was not able to answer her own question, but the tools did enable her to disprove some hypotheses for the parentage of her ancestor.

If I get desperate, I may try to learn how to do this for some of my mystery ancestors:

  1. John Carter (abt. 1790-1841). Online trees do not agree on who his Tennessee parents might be.
  2. Daniel Sherman (abt. 1800-abt. 1863). This Kentucky man seemed to drop into that state from nowhere. I would love to know who his people were.
  3. Katherine Stillgenbauer/Stillabower (dates unknown but living in Indiana in 1865). She came from Germany. Who were her parents?
  4. John Davis Riddle (1821-1896). Reportedly born in Pennsylvania, he was in Ohio by the 1840s and then in Michigan by 1850. Who was his family?

Putting in the time and effort to learn how to do more advanced DNA analysis does not attract me. But if it would mean solving even one of these mysteries, it might be worth it.

NARA Has Me Locked Out

War of 1812 records are not available online and must be ordered from the National Archives. This week I tried to order my ancestor John Carter’s Bounty Land Warrant Application without success. I could not place an order on their website.

This tale has a backstory.

Years ago, maybe 10, when online ordering was new, I did request several files for the National Archives. I must have been required to set up an account at that time.

Neophyte as I was to computer transactions, I did not keep a good record of how to log in to their website.

When I tried again this week, I may or may not have had the correct username and password. Ordinarily this would not be too much of a problem, because they will email new ones if you forget yours.

The bigger problem was the security question. Did they even have a security question when I first registered for an account? After such a long time, I have no memory of it.

When the site asked for the question and answer this week, I was stumped. They denied access and offered no way to retrieve this information.

Because I was blocked from logging in with my old credentials, I attempted to set up a new account. The site would not let me do this, saying I already had one.

What can I do? Without a viable account, I cannot order anything from NARA. There is no way to log in to the account I already have, and they will not let me set up a new one unless I use an alias. I am not about to start lying to the federal government.

I cannot understand why I need to answer security questions to place an order for a 200-year-old record. No one’s privacy is at stake. I shop online all the time, and other merchants to do bother with this extra step. By imposing this, the Archives has prohibited me from buying anything from them.

The workaround? My husband/tech advisor kindly set up an account of his own and ordered the record for me. We used a joint email address so I will receive my document without him having to act as a go-between.

NARA, clean up your act. Put the records online or make your site more user friendly.

The Carter Project

Last year I wrote about my pioneer ancestors Thomas Reed and Anne Kirkham. This year I will tackle their contemporaries John Carter (abt. 1790-1841) and Mary (Polly) Templeton (1792-1857). Both couples were original settlers in Coles County, Illinois in 1830.

They had all migrated from Kentucky, and their children Caleb Reed and Jane Carter eventually married.

Although these people had lived in the Bluegrass State for a time, they did not reside near one another. Thomas and Anne lived in Spencer County, and he born in Pennsylvania.

John and Mary had traveled to Wayne County, Kentucky from Tennessee after their marriage. Prior to that, he had served in the War of 1812

This week I dug into my cousins’ research yet again to see what they collected about the Carters. They had half a dozen Carter genealogies written by various people. I found photocopied pages from county histories and Mary’s application for a war widow’s pension. There were several issues of a family newsletter for Mary’s people called The Templeton Times.

This will give me a good start on the research into this couple. I anticipate a challenging year. I know nothing about doing Tennessee research and will face a learning curve there.

The Carters were a large family with a common name, and it will be difficult to keep all the family lines straight. Online trees attribute several different sets of parents to John and Mary. Will I be able to make a good case for their true parentage?

The research begins this week with a review of the original sources—the widow’s pension application, and the family Bible pages as reproduced in the Reed family history.

Changing Projects for 2024

In this final week of the year, I am setting aside the old research project and preparing to begin the new. The Reeds belonged in 2023. The Carters will take center stage in 2024. Again, I will work on my third great-grandparents.

Just as Anne and Thomas Reed did, Mary and John Carter migrated to Coles County, Illinois about 1830. The Carters traveled from Tennessee.

For the Reed research, I had a tremendous amount of paperwork collected by many family members. It covered several generations of Reeds from my own grandfather to Thomas’ grandfather. I have sought to organize it and discard duplicates, focusing on Thomas and Anne first.

I sorted it into piles by generation. Now, at the end of the year, I have eliminated Thomas’ and his son Caleb’s stacks. Three others remain. They will have to wait until the Reeds come up again in my research rotation. Again, the Reed bin will be full and look unmanageable.

In comparison, I have little material on my Carter family. My family did not retain much information about them. They seem to pose a more difficult line to follow with lots of family members and scarce records.

Next week I will begin the quest to learn more about John Carter (1790-1841) and Mary Templeton (1792-1857). Again, I will pull out the notes and documents my cousins collected. I will look at online trees to see if I can verify what if find there.

The new year awaits.



Solstice 2023

Tonight we celebrate the winter solstice. This was a big holiday for our Viking ancestors, and we enjoy celebrating Yule each year in memory of them.

We like to mark the occasion in a way we hope they would have approved.

This year, we began a week ago when we attended a museum program about the customs followed during the historic solstice. Attendees sat in a room configured to resemble a Viking longhouse. Seated in a circle in this darkened room, we each held a candle. The northern lights were projected onto the ceiling. We all munched on Norwegian pastries as we listened to the speaker.

For our dinner menu tonight, we will serve Nordic food. This includes cod chowder and a cake fashioned to look like a Yule log. We will enjoy mead, or honey wine.

Burning a Viking-style Yule log presents a bit of a challenge as we do not have a wood burning fireplace. In lieu of this, depending on the days’ weather, I either turn on the gas fireplace or play a DVD of a huge burning log to set the mood while we eat. Later in the evening, we will sit outside beside the fire pit.

Here in Colorado, the weather today seems more autumn-like than wintery. We do not have the cold and dark weather that our Norwegian family experiences on the solstice. Still, we can see how little daylight we have on this shortest day of the year.

We will have our solstice meal this evening knowing that the days will now begin to get longer once again. Skål!

Remembering Pearl Harbor Day

Today marks 82 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The event pushed America to enter World War II. My parents were school students then, but my uncle Owen H. Reed was already in the military. It was his birthday.

Owen was born December 7, 1922. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps when he turned 18 in 1940. Just one year later the country was at war, and he became a career military man.

He flew 35 combat missions over Japan and Japanese controlled territory during WWII.

On August 10, 1944 he was a crew member of the longest bombing mission of the war. The plane left Ceylon, bombed a refinery at Sumatra, and dropped mines over the Moesi River. They flew 3800 miles nonstop.

Owen later served in Korea and Vietnam. For his years of service, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 6 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Meritorious Service Medal.

Owen was not the only family member with a Pearl Harbor Day birthday. One of my brothers was born that day, and so was one of my nephews. It is an easy date for us to remember.

But my uncle was always the one with the closest connection to Pearl Harbor Day.

Thank you, Owen, for bravely facing the danger that began on that long ago birthday.