Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cousin Connecting

Photo by Megan Westfall

I got a phone call the other day from a distant Watts cousin. We got in touch ten years ago when I put together my Watts book and were able to meet at a family reunion in Virginia during that time. He and his uncle were recently looking at our earliest progenitor, Samuel Watts, Sr., and wanted to do some further research.

I'm all for someone picking up where others have left off in exploring family roots. I've put together several books on my family lines knowing that I can't do it all, but wanting to put my two cents worth of work out there. In many instances, I myself added to the work others before me had done. My hope is that even if I'm not able to get back to it, at least someone else can begin where I left off and add their own contributions. Who knows what tomorrow may bring. In any event, I am happy knowing that I have played a part in bridging the gap between the future and the past.

As you will note from my page on the Watts family, I have Samuel Sr. listed with a possible birth date of about 1738. I made this calculation mainly based on the fact that in February of 1788, Samuel appeared in the Halifax County, VA court records and for "reasons appearing" his motion to be exempt from the payment of taxes was granted. [1] A tax exemption during this time period was most likely due to age or infirmity (see the website Bob's Genealogy Filing Cabinet under Taxes & Tithables for an excellent discussion by Robert Baird on understanding this topic for the state of Virginia).

I have not been able to connect Samuel to any other area besides Halifax County, Virginia. One clue to his origins is from a biographical sketch of his son, Samuel Jr., which indicated the family was from England. [2]

Source information:

     [1]Halifax County, Virginia Court Orders, plea book 12, p. 311 (microfilm from the Virginia State Archives).
     [2] Letter from Mildred Miller of Missouri which included a photocopy of a biographical sketch of the Samuel Watts family cited as from the book, History of Audrain County, Missouri, no publishing information available. This sketch stated Samuel Jr. was born in England, though this writer feels that is probably inaccurate and more likely his father or grandfather was the one born in England.

Now with the information from my book began circulating, people picked up on the possible English connection and the 1738 birth year approximation and point to an early International Genealogical Index (IGI) entry wherein a Samuel Watts was christened on 22 July 1738 in Frome, Somerset, England to parents Thomas & Mary Watts (source given as batch #7124503, serial #64). My cousin wanted to know if I had seen this reference and what I thought about it. Here's part of my response:

"I am aware of nothing that proves that our Samuel and the one who was christened in England in 1738 are one and the same. I’d wait for some sort of proof before I’d rely on it.
It’s certainly a possibility based on what little is known about this guy, but can only be speculation at this point. I guessed that he was born about the year 1738 because in 1778 he was exempt from taxes. This usually meant someone was over the age of 50. It also seems to fit in terms of when his children were likely born and his military service.
There are references to a Thomas Watts in the Halifax Co, VA court records as early as 1755. Could this have been our Sam’s father then? This could be another possible clue, but there’s not much else to go on at this point.
Samuel is still very much a shadowy figure in my mind. If he was born in England, when did he come to America? How old was he? Who did he come with? Why? When and where did he enlist in his military service? How did he acquire the slaves he gave to his daughter? What happened to the rest of his estate? What happened to this first Thomas?"

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