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For many reasons, I’ve always held Patrick Henry in high regard. Perhaps it is because of his captivating speech or it is the energy his viewpoints incited in others for the sake of forming a new country. While one-third of the people living in this new land were patriots, they were met by one-third remaining Loyal to the Crown, and one-third just wanting a new start without being politically involved.  The early days of our country presented new or enlarged critical challenges each day.  Patrick Henry, like many others during that time, was larger than life. After studying him, I’ve developed an even greater admiration.

This article focuses on The Henry Family structure. A link to the transcribed Will and Testament of Patrick Henry is at the end of this article

Imagine: you are a staunch supporter of rebelling against a world-class political oppressor and your wife dies, leaving you with six children to raise. Yes, times were very different in most households then.  Mr. Henry certainly wasn’t alone. He did have slaves available for taking responsibility of his children, home, and farm, so he could still  launch into his political endeavors. Even so, this domestic passage must have overwhelmed him during his time of grief.

Recently, while researching wills and testaments related to probate and genealogy, I paused to read his parting message in his last will and testament. What impressed me was how sharply he delineated between his sons and daughters. The law and the culture of the times favored sons; but, not all of them were treated equitably. Daughters were left to marry a man who could keep her or rely on her brother’s generosity.

In his will, Henry directed that his wife choose which two of his six sons would inherit his personal and business effects, and share the family land where they lived. If she selected the two oldest, perhap they may not be the two with agricultural and managerial skills. Regardless of which sons she may select, what would the balance of the children do?  His wife would need to weight the family’s future success while making her determination. Six of Patrick Henry’s sons happen to  live to adulthood.

Although Mrs. Henry was her husband’s designee for making this critical decision; she was Patrick’s second wife and, in an ironic twist, deciding the fate of his sons by his first wife. That would certainly make for an interesting family reunion the following year.   You’d think he would have spared his wife this unsavory duty by deciding himself; but, he must have had his reasons.  Additionally, he also stipulated that if this wife remarried, his property would revert entirely to his children.

Once the second Mrs. Henry was widowed, is it any wonder she married the executor of his will?  A bit of interesting information is her second husband was also Patrick’s cousin. I guess this is one way to keep them down on the farm.


Patrick Henry was born 29 May 1736 at Studley and died at “Red Hill” on 6 June 1799 at age 63. He is buried at “Red Hill” in Charlotte County,  VA.

He married his first wife, Sarah Shelton in 1754. She was born at “Rural Plains”  and died at “Scotchtown” in Hanover County, VA in 1775.  She is buried in Hanover County, VA.

Patrick married Dorothea Dandridge on 25 Oct 1777.  She was born 25 Sept 1755. Although a few historians place her birth year at 1757 at “Chelsea” it is recorded that she died 14 Feb 1831 at age 73 at “Seven Islands”, Halifax County, VA.  Because of inclement weather, at the time of her death, she is interred at “Red Hill” beside Patrick Henry.  Dorothea did marry Judge Edmund Winston, Patrick’s first cousin and executor. She was also Martha Dandridge Custis Washington’s first cousin.

We live in a day and time when life expectancy is the longest it has ever been in history. During these early days of our country, it was not all that lengthy.  A healthy life was a precious commodity, as it is today, but then it was a much more delicate proposition.

Patrick Henry and his wives were responsible for giving life to 17 children total. Several did not live to adulthood. A few who became adults, died young leaving their wives and small children to fend in a cruel world; others lived to rather ripe old ages. All this seems like the usual mix of events; but, I can’t help but feel empathy for this family. Not only did six children lose their mother when his first wife, Sarah Shelton Henry, died; at that time, Henry was overwhelmed preparing for the American Revolution. It is always sad when a parent outlives a child.  Patrick buried a wife and nine.  Losing a spouse can be shocking; but, it is more expected than burying nine children. That nearly goes against natural law.


  1. Martha “Patsy” –  d. 1818, age 63
  2. John  – d. 1791, age 34, predeceased Patrick by 8 years
  3. William –  d. 1798, age 35, predeceased Patrick by 1 year
  4. Anne – d. 1799, age 31, predeceased Patrick by 15 days
  5. Elizabeth – d. 1842, age 73
  6. Edward – d. 1794, age 23, predeceased Patrick by 5 years


  1. Dorothea – d. 1854, age 75
  2. Sara – d. 1856, age 76
  3. Martha Cathrina – d. 1801, age 19
  4. Patrick – d. 1804, age 21
  5. Fayette – d. 1813, age 27
  6. Alexander Spotswood – d. 1851, age 65
  7. Nathaniel West – d. 1851, age 61
  8. Richard –  d. 1793, age 17, predeceased Patrick by 6 years
  9. Edward Winston – d. 1872, age 78
  10. John – d. 1868, age 71
  11. Jane Robertson – d. 1798, predeceased Patrick by 4 days

For most people, it is difficult relating to having this many children. During those times having a large family was common.  Illness claimed countless children as life was more fragile and less protected by medicine.  Even acknowledging that, it is noteworthy that Patrick was still expanding his family during his 50s and 60s.  Researching The Henry Family has illuminated more about this man than I ever anticipated before starting.

To read Patrick Henry’s last will and testament, please refer to this link:

Patrick Henry’s Last Will and Testament

Oh, do not cry – be good children and we will all meet in heaven. ~~ Andrew Jackson, US President, d. 1845

To say that Andrew Jackson was a rebel is to totally under sell him. He was a man who was, like many other national leaders, larger than life. He had many desirable attributes, but the negative ones were monumental. One fiercely poor decision was the near total annihilation of the Indian nation. Not a proud time or action on the country’s part. However, on the other side of the spectrum, Jackson is the only president to have the national debt paid-in-full. No small feat, my friends, but I shudder to think of at what cost.

Reading a will is a fairly foolproof method of having an intimate look at someone’s soul. It peels back the veneer and allows witnessing of a person’s true values and an assessment of what they feel is of worth. Andrew Jackson’s will offers you no less than that.    This link should lead you to his last will and testament. Please contact me if there is a dead link, pun intended.


Much like the beloved President James Madison, Jackson’s financial affairs were in a total shambles due to the fiscal frolicking of his adopted son. Both presidents married women who took them as their second spouse and entered the marriage with a son. Dolley’s husband had the good graces to die due to natural causes prior to her meeting James. The same can’t be said about Mrs. Jackson’s first.  It seems that a good year after her wedding with Andrew Jackson, Rachel’s first husband, Charles Dickenson, surfaced with the incomplete divorce papers Mrs. Jackson had served on him. Being called a bigamist was a cross she bore for the rest of her marriage. Perhaps it is why she was so dedicated to her church as it acted as a remedy and gave her solace.

At an event at Nashville area race track, Jackson met this contentious neighbor, and source of besmirching her honor, Charles Dickenson, and they once again faced off.  Dickenson called the future president “a scoundrel, coward, and an equivocator” and Rachel a bigamist.  Back then, as they say “them’s fightin’ words”.  And those statements were insult enough, but the real injury took place when Dickenson ensured that the comments were published in the National Review. Not being able to withstand this level of attack, Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel.  Dickenson fired and hit Jackson in the chest. Jackson fired and missed Dickenson. Then, setting aside protocol of the match, Jackson decided to exceed his permitted allotment of a single shot and fired again, killing Dickinson.  Oddly enough, that didn’t have an impact on his presidential race later in his life. It would be interesting to see how that would fly in today’s political arena.

As mentioned before, Jackson’s finances were in sad straights because he had indulged his adopted son’s habits of acquiring land he couldn’t afford. Although he didn’t mortgage The Hermitage, his beloved plantation home.  Jackson had borrowed huge sums of money from well-heeled friends in Washington, DC and New Orleans, LA.   These amounts are among the first mentioned in the will. Jackson wanted them paid before any other disbursement of his worth.

As I researched his life, his will became even more interesting to me. Rachel and Andrew Jackson never had any children of their own.  Rachel’s brother, Sovern Donaldson and his wife Elizabeth, offered their three children to the Jackson’s to raise.  The only reason given for this action was one reference mentioning ill health on the part of Elizabeth, but nothing else was documented. Twin brothers, and another sibling, came to live at The Hermitage.  I am surmising that the younger sibling and one of the twins died during childhood as no mention is made of them in Jackson’s will.

Jackson took an interest in one of the boy twins named Andrew Jackson Donaldson, going as far as adopting him. He was renamed Andrew Jackson, Junior, and was treated as if he was Jackson’s biological son.  There were many other children living at  The Hermitage because Jackson was a favorite to be declared guardian  of children of family and friends by the Nashville court system. Through the years  these children all benefited from many privileges; but, it was his “adopted” son Andrew who received the bulk of his attention and finances.

Andrew “Junior” was named as “Senior’s” executor even though he was the benefactor of any real property. Aside from The Hermitage and the associated land, the only items cited specifically awarded others were decorative swords from various battle campaigns, dueling pistols once owned by Pierre L’Enfant, and additional personal items. “The true intent and meaning of this my last will and testament is, that all my estate, real, personal, and mixed…”

The “mixed” portion was the most egregious part of his will by today’s terms. Jackson detailed that “all the appurtenances thereto belonging or in any wise appertaining, with all my negroes that I may die possessed of”.

Jackson specifically willed selected slaves to certain family members. Additionally, he extended it to include “and all their issue forever” to his heirs. An incredible note realizing that, as president, he upheld the Constitution and its certain inalienable rights.  Something tells me the slaves willed to his descendents may have had life; but, their liberty and pursuit of happiness was greatly hampered.

For all his incredible damage against the Indian nations, a strange action on Jackson’s part was sending home an orphaned Indian infant boy who he found next to the baby’s dead mother on the battlefield. He raised him with the other children at The Hermitage which seems to go against all his other beliefs regarding those nations.  Lyncoya lived to be about 17 years old. Jackson was determined to send him to West Point, but the application was declined. So, he sent him to school to become a saddle maker, certainly not a close second to the West Point degree and education.

Generally, my view of Andrew Jackson is that of a very proud, independent leader who was also a very loose canon who viewed himself as being above the law and supporting it at the same time. He was kind and generous to a fault on one level and absolutely criminal and lethal on the other. A real study in human contrasts.

If you are ever in the Nashville area, stop at The Hermitage. You’ll be impressed that his “mixed” legacy is still living on.

Forensic Genealogy

When I first heard the term “forensic genealogy” it made me take a step back and ponder what it actually means. Taking the added in-depth research step we are all prone to do, I immediately Googled it. The response links included leads to articles and people specializing the in the field. However, I came away knowing it is the area of genealogy using standard methods and resources; but, it also includes more scientifically based methods too.

Looking at a photo may lead people to know that what their ancestors looked like during a certain event. Forensic Genealogy shines more of a light on data-mining. It could offer the time of day, close or exact locations, the year, day, and time. Depending on the details of the photo, it may also give physical hints concerning the health of the people in it. I heard it defined as “CSI meets Roots.” Sounds odd, but it is valid.

One such forensic genealogist I’ve gotten to know is Colleen Fitzpatrick. She is a real-life genealogy detective. One niche she has in her background is being a consultant genealogist for the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory. Her credentials don’t stop there.

Colleen holds a PhD in nuclear physics, an MS in physics, and founded her own optics company in her garage, so you know she is very much a self-starter. As a contractor, she has been affiliated with NASA, US Department of Defense, The National Institute of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

Author is another role she has been successful with publishing several outstanding books and I’m proud saying they are in my library. FORENSIC GENEALOGY is a fantastic best-seller, viewed by many individuals and organizations as a reference document.

Consider visiting Colleen Fitzgerald’s site. Go a step further and buy her book. I can tell you, you’ll be pleased with both.

Colleen Fitzgerald’s IdentiFinders


Local Historical Societies

If you are a intent upon researching your ancestors, consider joining your local historical society. Membership can offer you so many benefits.

1. Meetings lead to meeting others and networking can result in an informational hint you’d never receive any place else.

2. Awareness of local, state, and national workshops or conferences. Salt Lake City is mecca to those of us who partake in this venture. So many organizations structure events there or other exciting locations.

3. Newsletters inform you of lectures being held nearby.

4. You discover the endless connectivity of the organizations which are out there waiting for you, or the one that is waiting for your to charter it.

5. There are many more, but it really depends on you and your level of involvement. Go out there and participate!

Online there are a host of membership-based or open access genealogy pages. Many cemeteries have their own sites both on the web in general and also on every social media platform out there.  Find a few. Follow them. But, don’t just wait for them to issue updates.  My experience is that all internet sources wax and wane; so, be prepared to look into other sites and keep moving and learning.

If you find a resource that is tremendous, pass it on and let me know.

Now, get out there and hunt.


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Have Some Time?

Click Here to link to Smithsonian Transcription Volunteering

Remarkable as it seems, Smithsonian is in need of help transcribing historic documents. Your help. And you can do it from home whenever you like, as much or as little as you have time.

When I think of Smithsonian’s holdings, the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Arc quickly comes to mind.  Many documents were created during times when handwriting was the central form of preserving thoughts. Diaries, lab notes, log books, just about anything you can think of is in their archives. They have initiated a project, with some very clean software, providing a handy platform for transcribing pages of a document of your choice.

Once you are on their web site, Smithsonian provides you with a list of themes and projects within the theme. Mine was under the American Experience theme. The document concerned itself with notes from an artists detailing the influences and progress being made creating an artwork. One page is done at a time and there is an option for only focusing on a portion of a page, so massive time investment isn’t warranted. The guidelines for how to transcribe are there and it is a quick read.

After you’ve started, you’ll see the scanned version of the actual document page on the left. To the immediate right you’ll find the space where you enter in your transcription. Transcription not your thing, then pick a page and proof it.  Any help is appreciated and you’ve help provide digital access to part of history.

Give it a try. Spend ten minutes here or there on something of interest to you. Who knows, you just may find an entirely new hobby.  The link is at the top of this post. Good luck and let us know your experience.


If you are interested in starting your own research, this is a great place to start. Print yourself a few forms and jot down what you know, starting with the Family Group Sheet and you are on your way.

Family Tree Magazine serves up several great forms to get your started…. and they are free.  Happy hunting.


John F Kennedy’s Last Will and Testament

John F Kennedy’s Last Will and Testament

Although this may come as a great shock to many, John Kennedy is not up for sainthood. If anything, he was as flawed as any other president who had to deal with the pressures and stress accompanying the job that eventually killed him.

He lead a life of great privilege, yet somehow had us believe he was one of us, a regular guy. Recently I read “The Kennedy Detail” which is based upon the memories of several men who served as Secret Service Agents to President Kennedy. It was more than the same events from a different vantage point, it offered a more human side of JFK and how he interacted with those working closely with him and his family. It stressed that although Kennedy understood the human condition, work was work. In his will, Kennedy presents himself in a similar light.

On June 18, 1954, Kennedy formalized 16 pages to speak for him in his absence. In these pages, he paints the usual introduction to his last will and testament in order to set the tone. Then, the document moves on directly to his wife, Jacqueline B. Kennedy. Although he grants her all his personal effects, it shocked me that a man of his means only bequeathed her $25,000.00 in his will.

Once I read on, I understood why in short order. The $25,000 was spending money for Jackie and the real wealth resided in his trusts. His will is a text-book example of the type of document exceptionally wealthy people of his tier would create. Short on sentimentality and long on financial management, it structures the approach he wishes in doling out his estate. It clearly directs the executors of his estate on the guidelines of how to proceed and manage the financial and material wealth this man once held, yet he also makes allowances for their own judgment in many areas.

His executors will not surprise you much: Jacqueline B. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy. Being a sports minded man, he also named his second string players to fill any vacancy: Eunice K. Shriver, Patricia Lawford, and Jean Kennedy. It was as if he understood that others would need to step in the time following his death.

The three staff members witnessing this document are common names in his White House days: T. J. Reardon, administrative aid; Theodore C. Sorenson, special council and speech writer; and Evelyn Lincoln, personal secretary. Amusingly, hers is the only postal zone listed in the addresses given, possibly speaking to her attention to such details.

Enjoy reading this will. You will find it by clicking on the link in the header of this article. In some ways it gives solid insight into Kennedy’s life by seeing how well he prepared for his death.



 Many opportunities for gathering family information present themselves, but not too many are as fraught with potential as a family reunion. How well it works for you is based on preparation. By thinking ahead and organizing, you can make this or a similar event very fruitful.

 Having two dedicated genealogists in the greater family, our family tree is recorded much better than most. We share a consanguinity based on us both being direct great-grandchildren from a shared ancestor. We are connected through the first relative arriving in America on the O’Brien side.  Then, due to marriages, we naturally branch off from the other.  Regardless, we both prepare for joint reunions; but we do it very differently.

 One method Dennis used was bringing his laptop with Family Tree Maker. He left it open and ready for input. His collection method was asking for reviews and confirmations of the data he had in his database. The other data collection hoped for was that reunion attendees would add themselves or their family’s updates. New children, divorces, new spouses, grandchildren, deaths, military duty, all the details genealogists relish.

 My approach was more from the educational approach. Knowing the various branches attending, under the umbrella of our shared heritage from our first Irish ancestors to arrive in America, I prepared posters showing each family and their family tree. Attached to each poster was a marker in the hopes that attendees would mark-up the tree with information. Overall, it was a similar approach, but one which could be shared by multiple attendees at a time and low-tech. I also collected their email address (if I didn’t have them already).  This way, I was confident in their input. If, for any reason I did doubt the feedback, I knew who to reach out to for a verification.

If you are just starting out on your genealogy search, consider starting with family group sheets at your next family gathering. These forms are available on a number of web sites, but I’ve posted one from Brigham Young University that is very well designed.  Ask one member of each family to either fill it out then or mail it to you later. Be sure to offer a stamped, self-addressed envelope to increase the odds of receiving it.  familygroupsheet

 Bring a recorder with you for oral stories. Once upon a time, taking a tabletop recorder was required. Now, it is so easy with iPhones, iPads, and other digital equipment to be ready in a moments notice. Again, have some questions ready encouraging relative’s stories. The critical stories are usually from the oldest in the crowd. There is a natural tendency and near instinctual drive for them to pass along their memories to ensure that they and their loved ones are remembered.

There are other ideas for future postings. If you start with these, and take them seriously, you’ll be very busy until I post the next phase!

Relationship Chart Information


WHERE THERE IS A WILL (there is a William)

When a loved one or a close friend dies, our minds immediately start thinking about our loss.  Following that, our thoughts enter into a phase of wondering about whether or not they planned for their business and personal affairs. Many of us consider these issues as still caring for the deceased.

Planning for the here-after might be thought of as a purely religious experience. We ask ourselves if we have acted properly when we were alive and reflect on whether we are at peace with our God as we know him or her. All of that is admirable, but; we all know there are far more corporeal affairs to address. last will image

The other side of the fence presents the administration of an estate. Some people are wonderful about addressing their personal affairs. They have written their wills, crossing their Ts and dotting there Is, making sure the silver goes to a favorite cousin and their car to a nephew.  They may have even been so prepared by administering an advanced medical directive, and have appointed a fair-minded relative or friend who is going to be acting as their executor.

 A huge key is to have an original will, or a certified copy of it, in the hands of others and not just with an attorney.  The deceased person’s attorney might be out-of-town or the country for that matter when needed most. There is even a chance that the attorney may have already died in advance of their client. Having copies handily available to responsible people, especially your executor, is critical.


Probate usually strikes fear in the hearts of many. As a matter of fact, during the 1970s books started surfacing with exotic titles such as “How to Beat Probate.”  It was all the rage and is still a subject of interest.  Even for those who have planned each and every detail could end up with an executor who has died before they have and their will would still fall into Probate Court. Cases routed through the probate process are there regardless of their monetary value.


What is remarkable is the amount of information these files offer a genealogist. Some wills found in the courthouse point to a crisp snapshot of a person’s life. Their specified relatives or loved ones names are there along with their contact information as of the related probate processing timeframe. Also, there is an itemized statement of their worldly possessions, who received them, and their worth.

 That should promise you enough information to make the trip to an associated court house worthy of your invested time. See you at the court house!

bible blur book christian

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

Giving Proper Thanks

Departing from the world of wills, I wanted to explore Thanksgiving’s history. It isn’t what we’ve been taught.

When we were all children, art class was replete with pilgrim’s hats and turkeys of some variety. Facts surrounding it included:

  • Mayflower Pilgrims arrived in 1620 from England
  • They celebrated their first successful harvest in 1621
  • Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag Indians to join them
  • The feast was a departure from their usual thanksgiving service of prayer

The issue with this is that Virginia’s Berkeley Plantation had already offered the first thanksgiving on December 4, 1619.  A day for Thanksgiving services was codified in the Charter of Berkeley Hundred, which was the original name of the plantation.

There were other firsts associated with Berkeley. Built by Benjamin Harrison IV, two of his descendents became quite distinguished. Benjamin Harrison signed the Declaration of Independence while William Henry Harrison became president. Not being without their beverages, the first whiskey was distilled there in 1621 by a priest. The bugle music, “Taps” was written and played on the property by the James River.

In general, Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation set the day as the last Thursday of November as an attempt to offer a joint national event to the North and the South during the Civil War. The South refused to celebrate and a national holiday wasn’t realized until after Reconstruction. Later, In an attempt to bring an economic boost to the country, FDR’s 1941 proclamation reset the date to the fourth Thursday of November.

I visited Berkeley Plantation not all that long ago with a great group of colleagues and look forward to returning. There is a certain peacefulness enjoyed walking this property.

For further information, visit their web page; but, better yet, pay it a visit.  www.berkeleyplantation.com/

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.