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That annoying William Wiseman

If the stories are correct, he was born 282 years ago yesterday.

Or, if the other stories are correct, he was born 277 years ago yesterday.

And he was born in St. James’ Clerkenwell Parish, London, England.

WisemanExcept that the records of that parish have nobody by that name baptized after 1725, which would have been 293 years ago… plus there’s no birthdate on that baptism so no way to cross-check if it’s the same guy or not.

You have to love ancestors who lead you a merry chase like this.

His name was William Wiseman. He was The Legal Genealogist‘s 5th great grandfather, and son-in-law to a 6th great grandfather in a different line.1

And the stories of his origins are gonna drive us nuts.

His tombstone, in Mitchell County, North Carolina, says he was born in 1741 and died in 1830.2

Um… not very likely.

First off, his widow, his second wife Lydia, filed estate papers for his estate in March 1823 in Morganton, the county seat of what was then Burke County.3 It’s a bit tough to be qualified as a widow and open a probate if the deceased isn’t deceased.

And the most direct evidence of a birth year is in a fragment of an old ledger that lists William as have been “born in the city of London, in St. James, Clerkenwell Parish, in the year of the Lord 1736, on February the second.”4

Except for that other little problem… the St. James, Clerkenwell Parish bit. You see, there are published registers for baptisms, marriages and burials for that parish going back as far as 1551 and as far forward as 1754.5 Guess who’s not listed in 1736 or 1741? The only William recorded, the son of John and Mary Wiseman, was baptized in 1725.6

He may have come to America as a stowaway.7 There is, of course, not a shred of documentation for that.

He may have married twice, or maybe three times. Reasonably well accepted (even if not terribly well documented) is his marriage to Mary Davenport around 17618 and his marriage to Lydia Bedford around 1798.9

And there are anywhere from 18-21 children ascribed to him by his various wives.10

We won’t even go into the fact that our William (a carpenter by trade, as far as we can tell) was accepted by the DAR years ago based on service that was almost undoubtedly provided by a very different William (a shoemaker).

Um… not very likely.

Sigh… William’s history is a mess.

And looking to the various family trees… well… things don’t get any better.

Probably my favorite of the family trees on Ancestry has William born on 2 Feb 1741 in Berks, Pennsylvania, or 8 Jan 1737 in Berks, Pennsylvania, or 1740 in Berks, Pennsylvania,or 1746 in Oley, Berks, Pennsylvania, or 18 Jan 1758 in Berks, Pennsylvania, and not in England at all. That same tree has a brother born in 1746 in Berks, another brother in 1748 in Virginia, then a brother born in 1749 in Berks, a sister born in 1752 in North Carolina, and the next sister in 1753 in Pennsylvania and…

Oh, and he died 17 Sep 1805 in Rowan County, North Carolina, 1808 in Greenbrier, Virginia, 1824 in Amherst, Virginia, and 1830 in Avery, North Carolina.

All in one tree.

In any event, great grandfather William, happy 282nd birthday.

Or 277th birthday.


At least in theory.


Back to the drawing board…


  1. You also have to love ancestors who married into other ancestral families…
  2. See Private cemetery, Mitchell Avery County, North Carolina, William Wiseman marker, memorial no. 5372212; digital image, Find A Grave ( : accessed 3 Feb 2018). Hat tip to cousin Gina, who reminded me about the county line change.
  3. Maribeth Land Vineyard and Eugene M. Wiseman, William Wiseman and the Davenports (Franklin, NC: Genealogy Publishing Service, 1997), 29. See also Miles S. Philbeck, Jr. and Grace Turner, Burke County, North Carolina, Surviving Will and Probate Abstracts, 1777-1910 (Wilson, N.C.: G. Turner, 1983).
  4. Thomas C. Chapman, A Wiseman’s family : Anglo-Saxons of the Carolina Hills (Redwood City, Ca. : p.p., 1960). See also Vineyard and Wiseman, William Wiseman and the Davenports, 6-9.
  5. Robert Hovenden, editor, A True Register of all the Christeninges, Mariages, and Burrialles in the Parishe of St. James, Clarkenwell, from the Yeare of our Lorde God 1551, 20 vols. (London : Harlein Society, 1884-1894).
  6. Ibid., II: 153; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 2 Feb 2018).
  7. See Federal Writers Project, The WPA Guide to North Carolina: The Tar Heel State (Chapel Hill, NC : University of North Carolina Press, 1939), 430; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 2 Feb 2018).
  8. John Scott Davenport, “Five Generations Identified from the Pamunkey Family Patriarch, Namely Davis Davenport of King William County,” in The Pamunkey Davenport Papers, CD-ROM (Charles Town, W.Va. : Pamunkey Davenport Family Association, 2009), 19.
  9. Vineyard and Wiseman, William Wiseman and the Davenports, 6-9.
  10. Ibid.
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