Tennessee Genealogy Research by Debbie W. Spero

Genealogy–tips, research ideas, problems and answers

Private Peter Hackett of Smith County, Tennessee

by deb - March 29th, 2010

I received approval and a certificate from the Civil War Families of Tennessee for Private Bailey P. Mundy of Smith Co. TN.    

My next application is for Peter Hackett of Smith Co., TN who served as a private in the 23rd Tennessee Infantry, Company G, CSA.  Peter was my great-great-great grandfather on my dad’s side.

Peter Hackett was born 1821-1823 in Buckinham Co. VA.   A Hackett Family Bible record says 1823 and Peter answered 1821 on his application for a pension for his service in the Civil War.   Peter died in Smith Co. Tennessee in 1908!

Peter Hackett served about 6 months and was honorably discharged because he had contracted typhoid fever.    In his application for a soldier’s pension, filed in 1903, Peter wrote that…I was not wounded in any battle…was discharged with typhoid fever and am now unable to earn a living on account of old age and general disability.   He further stated that he was discharged…at Murfreesboro, Tenn in Feb 1862.    However, J.P. Bowman, known to be a reputable person, made the following statement relative to claim of Peter Hackett;   I was in same company with said Hackett and was with him at Bowling Green, KY when he was discharged.   I do not know what his disabilities was, but he was sick a good while.  I know he was discharged.  

In 1903, Peter Hackett had already outlived 2 wives.    When asked if some of his 7 children were not able to support him, Peter answered that…they are not able, but would not let me suffer if they could help it.     He also stated that he had lived with one of his 6 sons for the past 18 years, but as for “his estate”, he had…nothing but a little personal property valued at $25.  Peter further stated that he had been a resident of the state of Tennessee for 72 years.  

 A witness, Thomas Hackett, (relationship not stated) made oath…that he (Peter Hackett) was a good solider and was always at his post and Thomas Hackett further stated under oath that I know he (Peter Hackett) was honorably discharged and I carried his discharge to him.    I guess that even though two different places were given for his discharge, that fact that he “was honorably discharged” was proven.   His application for a soldier’s pension was accepted.

I have now filed applications to the Civil War Families of Tennessee on all of the known Civil War soldiers on my dad’s side of the family, BUT there are a few more names I want to research a little more to see if they, too, didn’t serve in the Civil War–Silas James Lankford, Elijah H. Russell and David Colby Sutton, all of Smith Co. TN

Amanda Paralee Cathcart Williams

by deb - March 16th, 2010

I had a few loose ends remaining before filing the application for James H. Williams, Union Soldier, to the Civil War Families of Tennessee.     I did find James H. and wife Amanda  in the 1860 census of Putnam Co. TN and I learned that James H. was buried in Dekalb Co, TN at the Mt Zion Baptist Church in Temperance Hall.

I also received a copy of the Widow’s Pension Application and papers for Amanda, widow of James H. Williams, filed in Aug 1890.    In addition to information given by Amanda, there were affidavits by neighbors and friends of James H. and Amanda concerning James H.’s service, James and Amanda’s marriage and the births of their children.

 In one affadavit, given by W.A. Washer, Washer stated that he was intimately acquainted with J.H. Williams at the time he enlisted in the United States Army and saw him on his return home from said Army after his discharge and also lived a near neighbor to him most all the time from his discharge to his death and was present at this bedside when he died, which was in the summer of 1889.  

 W.A. Washer also said that J.H. Williams, at the time he returned home after his discharge  complained of an injury to his left hip that he said he received while in the army.   He was lame in his left hip all the time up to his death.   It seemed…the misery would start in his hip and run in to small of his back and then in to his bowells… at various times…he had to take his bed…and said Williams was not able at any time from his discharge to do manual labor to do himself  justice.    W.A. Washer further stated that…at the death of soldier he helped wash and dress him for burial and on his left hip there was a black spot as large as his hand and seemed to be almost rotten…Though the details are sad–with several friends and neighbors giving affadavits concerning the injuries and pain of James H. Williams, again, it helps to bring James H. and Amanda “to life”.   Amanda Williams did receive a widow’s pension for James H. Williams’ service until her death in 1912.

I did receive approval on my first application to the Civil War Families of Tennessee for Capt Claiborne Wright West and was sent a certificate.

My next adventure will be research on Peter Hackett of Smith Co. TN, who served in the 23rd Tenn Reg’t, Haynie’s Company.    He also received a pension for his service.

2nd Lt James H. Williams of Smith and Dekalb Co Tennessee

by deb - March 2nd, 2010

I am continuing the search for my Civil War ancestors.   My latest solider is on my dad’s side of the family–2nd Lt James H. Williams of Smith and Dekalb Counties, Tennessee.     The most interesting fact about his service is that he was a Union soldier!   The story goes that his wife and widow, Amanda, filed  a Civil War Pension Application and cut a page from the Family Bible as proof of two of James H. and Amanda’s children.

 He first served in Co K 5th Tennessee Cavalry as a Private and a Trumpeter(also written as “bugler” in his records).    His service records with the 5th Cavalry showed that when he enlisted in July 1863 he was 25 years old.   His height was 6 feet 1 inch, fair complexion with gray eyes.  His birthplace was Smith County and he was a farmer.    I love finding the physical descriptions of my ancestors–it really brings them to life!   

Later James was commissioned with the 4th Mounted Infantry as 2nd Lieutenant.   He was mustered out of service August 14, 1865 in Pulaski, TN.    In the 1870 census of Tennessee he had returned home and lived next door to his parents, Andrew and Mercilla Williams, in Dekalb County.

With notes in hand, I  searched records and made copies I will need to file an application to Civil War Families of Tennessee.     I found all I needed, except the 1860 census record of James H. Williams.    I have a copy of the Bible record showing his marriage to Amanda P. Cathcart in 1856 (probably Smith Co where both James and Amanda were living in the 1850 census) but could not find the couple in the 1860 TN census.   I will have to save that search for another day.

Bailey P. Mundy

by deb - February 16th, 2010

After a little more research and some talking with a relative and fellow researcher, I found the answer to the question of the missing marriage record of my great-great grandfather Ira Stokes West to my great-great grandmother Maggie E.O. Mundy.    Their marriage took place in Macon Co. TN at the home of Bailey Mundy, Maggie’s father.    This was recorded in the Ira S. West Bible with copies of this information and more on the West family published in Volume XVII, Number 3, p. 134-5 of the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History.

I made a copy of this information and included it in my latest application to the Civil War Families of Tennessee for Private Bailey Peyton Mundy of Smith and Macon Counties.

 I was not able to find the marriage of Bailey P. Mundy to Susan M. Morris that my great-great Uncle Hoke recorded in his family history What is in a Name.    An initial search of Smith Co. marriages did not show the marriage, but the 1880 census record of B. P. Mundy’s household in Macon Co. TN listed B.P.’s wife Susan M. and his father-in-law James Morris.    Both the 1870 Smith Co. TN census and the 1860 Smith Co. TN census records list Bailey P.     But, it will take a little more research to learn where Susan Morris and her family were in the 1860 census.

Finally, one of the fun things about genealogy research is that in solving one mystery you always seem to uncover another.    I started this project thinking I had two Civil War ancestors, one on my dad’s side of the family and one on my mom’s side.    Now, I am finding out that I may have had two more Civil War ancestors on my dad’s side, and both of these men would have been great-great-great-great grandfathers!   In addition, one of these southern ancestors may have served in the Union Army.

The hunt for Civil War ancestors continues…

Captain Claiborne Wright West

by deb - February 9th, 2010

After a morning at the Tennessee State Library and Archives making copies of needed proof for application to the Civil War Families of Tennesse, I have my first application ready to submit on my ancestor Captain Claiborne Wright West.

Although this line had already been researched and the results published by my great-great Uncle Hoke West, I still enjoyed locating and copying the death, marriage and census records.     I also learned a few new things in the process:   (1)My great grandfather’s name was Irl,but consistently misspelled in records as “Earl” or “Erl” (2) Though my Great-Great Uncle Hoke gave an exact marriage date for my great-great grandparents ( his grandparents) I did not find that marriage in the Smith Co. marriage records and the marriages for that time period do survive (3) I learned that my “other ” great-great-great grandfather, Bailey Peyton Mundy, of Smith County, TN,  ALSO served in the Civil War (4)I learned that a friend from nearby Gallatin, TN and his children are “cousins”(5) and, finally, I learned that a great aunt, that I thought was related only by marriage, was related also by blood.

So, it’s one application ready for the Civil War Families of Tennessee and two to go.     I am looking forward to learning something “new” about my family as I complete the next application.

Civil War Families of Tennessee

by deb - February 2nd, 2010

My latest “project” is to apply for membership in The East Tennessee Historical Society’s Civil War Families of Tennessee.     “Any person who is a direct or collateral descendant of any individual who served in Tennessee in the Civil War, either Union or Confederate, is eligible for membership”.

I have two direct ancestors who fought in the Civil War and were from Tennessee:   my great-great-great grandfather Claibourn Wright West, of Smith County, Tennessee and my great-great-great grandfather George W. Tomberlain, of White County.  

Although the research has been done “proving” my relationship to these men, I get the “fun job” of collecting that proof–birth and death records, marriages, and the Civil War service records–and putting it all together with my application for induction into this society.

With my line of descent mapped out before me, the next stop will be the Tennessee State Library and Archives, the Tennessee Department of Vital Records, and online sources.     My first application will be on Claibourne Wright West.

Tennessee Tax Lists

by deb - December 8th, 2009

A tax list can be a useful record for placing your ancestor in a certain county of Tennessee in a certain year.   The earliest Tennessee tax lists were a list of names of men in a county in a certain year, usually ages 21 and up.

Next, tax lists were taken under a “captain” and were lists of  groups of men who lived near each other within the county.  Other information might include amount of land owned (for example:  50 acres) and where that land was located (for example:  Drakes Creek, Bledsoe Creek).   Additionally, if a man paid a white poll tax, he was white and approximately 21-55 years of age.   If a man was present on the tax list but did not pay the poll tax, he was usually over 55 or under 21 years old.    If he owned any slaves this would have been recorded as, for example, 1 BP (black poll).   By 1836 Tennessee counties were divided into districts and tax lists showed the men who lived and/or owned land in those districts.

Information from a tax list can also help pinpoint the death of an ancestor that owend land.  For example:  John Smith owned 50 acres in 1836 in Dist 9 of Sumner Co. TN.   He died in 1836 after the tax list was taken.  In 1837 the entry might read:  John Smith heirs 50 ac.   This would tell you that John Smith had died and the land had not been divided or sold.  At this point the tax lists could be read each year after 1837 until the 50 acres of John Smith heirs does not show up and then a check of deeds and other county records could give a list of his heirs.

Finally, other information that can be gleaned from tax lists:   men and women with the same surname as your ancestor, neighbors of your ancestor, widow’s name of your ancestor, approximate dates of death, approximate dates of land sales, approximate ages.

Tax lists are useful tools for genealogy research.   If there are tax lists available for the time period you are researching, check them out.


by deb - November 12th, 2009

Genealogy is defined by the Webster dictionary as a recorded history of one’s family and the study of family descent.    I am writing today to tell you how you can begin research on your family tree.

How to begin.

Talk, talk, talk, with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.  See if someone in your family is the “history buff” and question them.  Ask for the old family Bibles, family stories and traditions.

If there is a very old family member that you can talk to, do so and consider filming the conversation if you can and if the family member being interviewed doesn’t mind.   Carefully record passed down family stories, such as your great-g-g-g grandfather was a captain in the Civil War or that your great-g-g-g grandmother was half-Cherokee Indian or that your great-g-g-g grandfather was so heavily in debt that he ran off and left the family when the baby was 3 years old.   Though they may not prove to be completely true in the record books, there is usually some grain of truth in every family tradition.

Sometimes older folks will become flustered when asked for specific dates of births, marriages and deaths.  If you’ve asked your grandmother if you could talk to her about her parents and grandparents, most likely she will feel very flattered.   Sometimes, however, grandparents also feel pressured to get everything just right and feel they’ve let you down if they can’t remember dates.    If  your grandmother does know exact dates, that’s great, but if not and she seems flustered, back up.   Ask your grandmother how old she was when so-and-so died, and what season of the year it was.   No, it’s not exact, but one of the first things you learn about genealogy is that it is not an exact science.

Next, write down what you’ve learned with whatever dates you have, using question marks for uncertain dates and probably and circa (about).

Now, you’re ready to begin research, but where do you start, what is it you’re trying to learn, and where and how do you find the information?

Let’s start with:  What do you want to know?   Most of my clients write me with specific questions.   Who were the parents of my great-great grandfather or grandmother?   When did my great-great grandparents marry?   Where?   When did they die?   Did they own land?   Did they leave a will?  And so on.

Before we “head to the archives” I want to stress here that in genealogy you “always work from the known to the unknown”.       If you’re surname is Jefferson and you live in Virginia, it seems natural  that you might wonder if you are descended from Thomas Jefferson.    In your effort to prove that, you look at information on Thomas Jefferson and see that he had a son named John, who had a son named Samuel, etc.    You know that you had a Samuel Jefferson in your family—the connection is looking good!!      But, if you want to “prove” your family connection to Thomas Jefferson, you must start with the known information in your family.    If you only “know” your great grandparents, this is where you would start research.     By using records–deeds, wills, and more, you can then try to “prove” the connection to the “famous” Thomas Jefferson or the “common man” William Jefferson.

Now that you have a list of questions in hand, where and how do you find the answers?   Today, many begin their research online.   There is a wealth of information online and some great online sites with census records, Revolutionary War pension records, and much more.    I use online sites in research and have found many of them helpful.   However, I have also found posted information that is not documented.    And, if I can’t back up the information with recorded documentation, it’s not really “proven” information.

I do most of my genealogy research at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, where I have access to the county records of all 95 counties of Tennessee.     Some of the earliest county records of each county are printed.    Most of the records are found on microfilm.     In addition to the county records of Tennessee, there are also available early birth and death, census and marriage records.     Since this is the state library for Tennessee, the majority of the collection is of Tennessee records, but there is also a fine collection of records of other states– Virginia and North Carolina and more.

Finally, a few suggestions about organizing your research:

Genealogy is notes, notes, notes!    And the more you research, the more notes you will accumulate.  It can get confusing and it can get to be too much!    Label your notes as you go.       If you’re writing them by hand, label the top of your page with the date and what surname you’re working on and what record you’re researching.    For example:

12 Nov 2009      Dorris    Sumner Co. TN      Will Abstracts by Wilson

Go over your notes soon after you’ve taken them, before they get too “cold” and you can’t make sense of them.      Use your notes to decide what you’ve learned and what you will try to learn “next time”.

To feel like you’ve really “found” your ancestors, document your finds. Copy pages from the cemetery book that gives the dates of your great-g-g-grandfather’s death (and don’t forget the front page of the book giving author and date of the book).  If there are questions later as to why you thought 1873 was your great-great grandfather’s death date, you will have the documented proof.

This has only scratched the surface of genealogy research.       For those   truly interested in genealogy, it can be a lifelong hobby.   A genealogist, whether amateur or professional, uses the skills of a detective, a writer, a researcher and an historian as she tracks down her long dead family, puts meat back on their skeleton bones, and breathes life into her ancestors.