Intro to the book The Coleman Family of Mobjack Bay Virginia


    Genealogical research requires imagination, tenacity, a knowledge of geography, and a tremendous amount of reading.  The fascinating events that occurred in America from the mid-1700ís to the turn of the 19th century were the most important and unsettling in our nationís history.  Many exciting and certainly tragic events are part of Americaís history, but at least Americans have had a foundation of freedom and rights on which to rely to help them through those trying times.  By 1760, men of vision undeniably had a dream of establishing a democracy, but that is all it was.  No one knew if that dream could successfully translate into a governing body based on principles of basic rights and freedoms.  What compelled those men, at that particular time, to risk everything on a dream? What motivated their sense of adventure to conquer one wilderness after another? Where did the courage come from to take land away from Native Americans who fought savagely to defend their ancestral homes? As migrations from the Tidewater and Northern Neck areas of Virginia pushed the westward boundaries, our Coleman kin lived among, and fought alongside, figures familiar to us only in history books.  As a group, they fought to the death for their freedom and ours.

    Our Coleman ancestors came from a relatively small area of Virginia, yet played a major role in settling the vast regions west of the mountain ridges.  Their origins began in the York River basin with the counties of Gloucester, New Kent, King William, Hanover, King & Queen, Essex, Caroline, Goochland, Louisa, Orange, Albemarle and Augusta.1 These counties produced men of prophetic vision who were willing to die for the right to live free of harsh and unjust British rule.  Brave to the core, they forged the greatest nation on earth.  Our Coleman kin were their neighbors, their colleagues and occasionally their relatives.  The heroism of generation after generation of young men and women who pushed the Virginia frontier farther back into the wilderness was astonishing.  While defying disease, isolation and Indian attacks, they developed a rich heritage of hardiness and moral fiber that has been passed on to their descendants.

Reading county or regional histories will enable researchers to better understand what fueled their ancestorsí desire and determination to migrate into unsettled areas.  The vision of developing a region, and contributing to its economic and demographic growth, played a large role in attracting pioneers to wilderness settlements.

    Reading census lists will determine the names of neighbors of an ancestor.  People tended to migrate in groups, and settle near each other.  If a researcher cannot determine the location from which an ancestor originally migrated, a clue might be found through a cursory inspection of his neighborsí movements.

Reading church minutes may provide insight into lifestyles and personalities.  "Letters of dismission" might even indicate where an ancestor planned to move.

Reading tax lists are useful when estimating ages and death years.  Tax lists preceded official census records.

    Researchers should familiarize themselves with land deeds and claims, especially if an ancestor settled on Indian treaty lands.  Pre-emption laws were eventually passed, allowing the earliest white settlers to purchase land designated by treaty as Indian hunting ground.  When this occurred, "Indian claims" were made on land.  It did not mean the person claiming the land was an Indian. 

    Someone once asked why obituaries of deceased Virginians appeared in Kentucky and Tennessee newspapers.  Asfter the American Revolution,many Virginians were granted land in Kentucky for their war service.  Often, that land was then given to one or more sons of the of the patriot., and the migration began.  Some Virginians decided Tennessee was where they wanted to live, due to its virgin soil.  The Virginians whoi migrated left behind kinfolk and many friends.  When a Virginian died, a member of his or her family would send a notice of the death to out-of-state newspapers as a means of notifying the deceased personís friends of the sad passing.  Or a relative living in a different state than the deceased Virginian would send an obituary to the nearest newspaper, for the same reason.  That practice continues to this day.

    Imagination is required when all other avenues of research have been explored and eliminated.  Using available evidence, and knowledge gleaned from reading every conceivable record, a theory can be formed as long as that theory is based on an educated guess.  Once that has occurred, the puzzle can be dealt with through a process of elimination.  Sometimes a researcher cannot get in the front door, and might have to use a side or back entrance.  Each year, new information is found that helps fit together pieces of the Coleman family puzzle.  Although a researcherís goal is accuracy, he or she must be able to accept new theories based on common sense and available clues.

    A serious lack of Virginia records has certainly impeded the task of finding necessary evidence for proof of ancestry.  Even if more records existed, there is no guarantee the name of an ancestor would be found in them.  Bias existed in the colonyís record keeping.  Free white men were more likely to have their name recorded than did anyone else.  Virginia law stipulated that only freeholders (owners of land) could serve on juries.  If an ancestor was an overseer, merchant, peddler, physician, tenant farmer, or supported himself in any of the numerous other occupations of the time, his name would not likely appear in official records unless he was part of a court action.  Landowners and men of wealth were the ones chosen to hold public office and perform other prominent duties in a community.

During the War Between the States, records of Gloucester, Hanover and New Kent counties were taken to Richmond for safekeeping.  At the end of the war, when Richmond was evacuated and burned, those county records also went up in flames, never to be recovered.  Records of many other counties were burned by Yankee troops.  If genealogists had been there, they would have put a stop to the destruction of important historical documents by confiscating all the Yankee matches.  Despite those destroyed records, it is still possible to weave a reconstruction based on clues found by studying the history of the colony from its inception to the War Between the States.  A thorough search and analysis of available records, family histories, and familiarity with Virginiaís history, laws and customs will eventually produce results.

    Extended research may result in surprising new discoveries.  Before Ann Spilsbe Coleman, widow of Robert Coleman./a> (1656-1712), married her second husband, John Hunter, a prenuptial agreement was made between the couple and Annís son, Thomas Coleman.  The agreement, made on 5 Apr 1715 in Essex County, stated that after Annís death, her estate was to be divided among the children of Robert Coleman.  On 20 Mar 1716/7, John Hunter sued the children of Robert and Ann Coleman with the exception of Thomas and Robert.  Named in the lawsuit were "Edward Coleman and Mary his wife, Spilsby Coleman and Mary his wife, John Chamberlain and Grizell his wife, Daniel Brown and Elizabeth his wife, William Covington and Ann his wife, and Miles Short and Katherine (sic) his wife".  Catherine Short was a witness to the will of Ann Spilsbe.Coleman Hunter on 30 Nov 1715 (proved 20 Aug 1717).  The lawsuit filed by John Hunter is evidence that Catherine Short was a daughter of Robert Coleman and Ann Spilsbe.  If Catherine received her inheritance at the time of her marriage to Miles Short, she would not have been mentioned in either of the wills of her parents.  Virginia law allowed her to witness her motherís will, based on the fact she was not a devisee.

    Catherine and Miles Short were the likely progenitors of Fanny Short of Essex County, VA who married John Coleman.  John and Fannyís children were Thomas Coleman, Happy Coleman who married Mourning Fogg, Nancy Coleman who married Samuel Sessions, Peggy Coleman who married H. Young Gibson, and John M. Coleman who married (1st) Kassiale Lavender and (2nd) her sister, Sarah B. Lavender.

As so often occurred in the female lines, once a woman married and changed her name, she tended to become lost in the records.  A daughter was not always mentioned in the will of her parents, if such a will even existed.  She may have married without the consent of her father or may have been given her inheritance at the time of her marriage.

Mike Coleman of Ridgeway, VA provided an interesting theory to account for the fact that not all children were mentioned in the wills of their parents.  If a child was given land or money, usually at the time of his or her marriage, it became necessary for the father to write a will in order to protect the inheritance of his remaining children.  Mikeís theory makes sense.  If the father died intestate (without a will), Virginia law required that the widow be given one-third of his land for the remainder of her life, and the other two-thirds would have been divided equally among his other heirs.  To protect the children who had not received their inheritance in advance, a father would have deemed it necessary to write a will specifically naming those children.  This practice would account for many daughters being left out of their fatherís wills.  Fortunately, through the generous contributions of descendants of female lines, progress has been made in determining where missing daughters belong.

The maiden name of Daniel Colemanís (ca. 1662-1722) wife was probably Darby.  The first clue for arriving at this theory is based on the fact that Daniel and his wife named a son "Darby" Coleman.  Rick Thomas of Alexandria, VA, provided a second clue: "Certificate is granted to Mr. Anthony Ellyott for the transportation of Steven Darby to this CountryÖ" \(Lancaster Co. VA Orders 1656-1666, p. 172).  It is very possible that this Steven Darby was Daniel Colemanís father-in-law, and the reason several of Danielís descendants were named "Stephen".  The name "Stephen" was rarely used, if at all, in the lines of Danielís brothers and sister.  In addition to these clues, there is also the historical connection between Coleman/Ray/Darby.  In the will of Edward Colman of Suffolk, England, there is mention of a cousin, Charles Ray.  Then, in 1642, Thomas Ray was granted 300 acres on the Severne River for the transportation of himself and five other persons, one of them a Darby Ray.  \(Thomas Ray was godfather to Robert Colemanís oldest surviving son, Thomas.\) The Severne River was entirely contained in what later became Abingdon Parish in Gloucester County.

Researchers should not post this Steven Darby information on the Internet without indicating there is no proof of this theory, as yet.  There were also other Darbys in the colony in the same time period.  William and Walter Darby witnessed several deeds in Rappahannock County between 1667 and 1672.  Although the maiden name of Danielís wife is not based on hard evidence, the use of "Darby" is a reasonable assumption until evidence proves otherwise.

However, there is no hint or clue to indicate what Miss Darbyís first name may have been.  Her name does not appear in any existing records.  There has been a disturbing trend to post her name as "Patience" or "Ann" on the Internet, for which there is no evidence whatsoever.  The name "Patience" or "Ann" Darby is a piece of fiction.  Posting a wrong name is grossly unfair to an ancestor, not to mention to legitimate researchers.  Until evidence of the name of Daniel Colemanís wife is found, she should be referred to only as "Miss Darby".

The Elizabeth Coleman who married Henry Madison has been identified as a daughter of Daniel Coleman and his wife, Miss DarbyHenry Madison.was born about 1700 and was a member of the House of Burgesses from King William County.  The estimated dates of birth for the Coleman/Darby children are between 1693 and 1705.  Darby Coleman named one of his sons "Henry", a name seldom used in the early Mobjack Bay Coleman family.  It is reasonable to assume he named a son Henry for his brother-in-law, Henry Madison. 

Evidence shows that Spilsbe Coleman and his wife, Mary Crow, were the parents of the Mary Coleman who married Josiah Stone and lived in Stafford County.  VA.  Josiah Stone and Mary Coleman named one of their sons Spilsbe Stone.  Spilsbe Coleman died in 1727 without leaving a will, and may have been the father of children other than the three believed to belong to him. 

    Mention of Grizzell Colemanís marriage to Thomas Edmundson Jr. of King and Queen and Essex counties was found in an Edmundson Family Bulletin (no date given).  She was named a daughter of (2)332 Robert Spilsbe Coleman whose wife was Sarah Whitehead (surname unproven). 

    Although records are sparse, an effort has been made to identify descendants of John and Thomas Coleman, the two "newly-discovered" sons of Daniel Coleman (ca. 1662-1722).  In a 1729 Caroline County lawsuit between Thomas Coleman.and Henry Dillin, mention was made of Daniel Colemanís will.  As with so many other records, Danielís will has been lost, but the mention of his will was a genealogical gold mine and provided hard evidence of two of the children belonging to Daniel.  It may be years before most of the descendants of John and Thomas Coleman are identified.  Many of the "loose" Colemans from Caroline or adjacent counties are likely descended from these two brothers.  The task of identifying their descendants is made more difficult due to the naming patterns of the early Colemans.  Daniel Coleman and his brother John both had sons and/or grandsons named Daniel and Thomas.  There were several Daniel and Thomas Colemans living in early Caroline County, which further confuses the issue of sorting them all out.  The Daniel Coleman link contains information on some of the descendants of John and Thomas Coleman.

    Genealogical research is made immeasurably easier, not to mention more fun, by understanding laws and customs during the 17th and 18th centuries in America. Even a skimpy knowledge of such information is important when trying to interpret old land patents, deeds and wills.  Instead of puzzling over the meaning or intent of a document, a familiarity with early laws will give a researcher the ability to understand an old record.  \(See link: Laws in Early Virginia\) Terminology of olden times and words used today may have two entirely different meanings.  During the colonial period, the term "in-law" did not necessarily mean a person related by marriage.  A "father-in-law" could mean the father of a spouse, a stepfather, or both.  This was true of mother, son and daughter-in-law regarding relationships.

Census records are a useful tool when trying to locate an ancestor or his county of residence.  However, those records can also be deceiving.  Enumerators were often expected to provide their own supplies.  To save money, they often used the poorest quality of paper or writing utensils, thus making records difficult to decipher.  Some families simply did not want to participate in the census project and disappeared until the census taker moved on to another district.  If a family was away from home, a neighbor might have provided the enumerator with information that contained more guesswork than fact.  Or out of orneriness, when an ancestor provided information, he would alter facts and derive great amusement from doing so.  Sometimes people became younger between one decade and the next, or their birth place changed.  And then there were the lazy enumerators who recorded initials instead of full names, thereby adding a little mystery to the process.  As a result, census records may not necessarily be reliable for establishing ages and other information about an ancestor. 

Although the Internet is not a substitute for actual, hands-on courthouse research, the benefits of using cyber technology are self-evident.  Each year, more records are being posted on county websites, including information regarding available records in county and state archives.  Posting a query on the surname forums may open a new avenue of research and may even result in finding a lost ancestor.  However, it is important to remember that Internet information is not always accurate.

Having said that, it is time to do a little yelling.  Whether a "researcher" is a collector of facts actually researched by others, or a person who expended time, resources and patience to compile a family genealogy, there is one important ingredient that must be added to the pot.  ResponsibilityCareful family historians would not post unverified material on the Internet.  To pass along information based on guesswork is not only irresponsible and unfair to serious researchers, but doing so will perpetuate incorrect information for decades, if not forever.  Donít become a graduate of "The College of Genealogical Fiction".

If there isnít already a law against giving an ancestor a middle name without any factual basis, there should be.  To alter an ancestorís name in any way is wrong, and doing so defies logic.  Without birth or death certificates or a family Bible, there is simply no way of knowing what an ancestorís middle name may have been.  Not everyone is given a middle name at birth.  The custom of giving double names was not a common practice until the 19th century.2

Someone decided, without any evidence whatsoever, that the immigrant Robert Colemanís middle name was "Edward".  The name was added to a family tree and passed along as fact.  Unless a researcher is also a psychic and has communicated with an ancestor, a first, middle or last name should not be posted without supporting evidence, or clearly stated as an unproven theory.  All existing records regarding our Coleman immigrant ancestor contain the name "Robert Coleman.quot;.  No middle name, no middle initial.  Until records prove otherwise, his name was Robert Coleman.

Another area of caution must be mentioned.  Including Social Security numbers in a genealogy report is not a good idea.  There is no reason to do so, since Social Security numbers do not offer any genealogical benefit or interestCriminals use Social Security numbers of deceased persons to establish new identities.  Why make it easier for them by providing those numbers along with other private information such as maiden names of the deceased personís female relatives? Medical information, other than cause of death, or injuries suffered by an ancestor, should also remain private.

    Newspapers are a good resource tool when searching for an ancestorís name.  Notices of runaway servants and militia deserters provide detailed descriptions, including physical stature, height, color of eyes and hair, scars, age, personal possessions, and personality traits such as musical ability or an affinity for liquor.  Real estate was offered for sale or lease by an owner, with the name of an agent often included in the notice.  A troubled marriage was sometimes made public when a husband posted a notice denying responsibility for his wifeís debts.

    Most family historians are generous about sharing the results of their detective work, or passing along web links in an effort to help their fellow sleuths find a missing piece of a particular puzzle.  A growing interest in finding our roots has developed into a network of Americans who share a love of history and a deep sense of wanting to know more about the men and women who lived a much different lifestyle than ours, but who were responsible for who we are today.  To those of you who share your research goes a heartfelt thank you!


1Twelve Virginia Counties Where the Westward Migration Began, John H. Gwathmey, 1937, Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., Baltimore, MD

2Tidewater Virginia Families, A Magazine of History & Genealogy, Virginia Lee Hutcheson Davis, Editor, Vol. 11, No.  1, p. 17, May/June 2002, Williamsburg, VA