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About those shaky leaves

It’s the 2019 research goal of The Legal Genealogist to put paid to one particular genealogical question this year: who was the mother of Margaret (Battles) Shew?

Margaret is my 3rd great grandmother. My line comes down from Margaret’s daughter Martha Louise, to Martha Louise’s daughter Eula, to Eula’s daughter Opal, to Opal’s daughter Hazel, who was my mother.

A brief recap: Margaret’s father, William Battles, was married twice, and it’s entirely possible that either wife could be Margaret’s mother. We have an mtDNA match to a documented descendant of wife #2, Ann Jacobs; we now need to rule out the possibility that wife #2 shared a common female ancestor — and thus mtDNA — with wife #1, Kiziah Wright.1 Since we don’t know if Kiziah had any descendants, we need to find someone else who would share that same mtDNA signature — we need to find a documented female line descendant of Kiziah’s mother, whom we now know was Lucy (Jones) Wright Williford.2

So when last we visited this issue, there was a new tool in place: a bare-bones family tree on Ancestry for Lucy (Jones) Wright’s family, to help organize research.3

And, truth be told, to get all the help I can get since time for my own research is always at a premium. To be brutally honest, in the past few weeks time for my own research has been absolutely impossible to come by.

So… in the absence of real research, has setting up this tree been of any help at all?

Quick answer: yes. Because of those all-too-often-despised shaky leaf hints.

shaky leaf hints

Now before we analyze this case, let me remind folks of a key point made by my friend and colleague Thomas W. Jones, author of Mastering Genealogical Proof4 and Mastering Genealogical Documentation5: “Genealogists who categorically disdain certain sources risk overlooking the information they seek or references to that information, thus blocking their research. Genealogists who categorically trust preferred sources risk accepting incorrect information, also blocking—or sidetracking—their research. In contrast, effective family historians consult and assess all sources, regardless of type, that might help answer their research questions. They exclude no potentially useful source, and they trust no unverified source.”6

In other words, we don’t rely indiscriminately on shaky leaf hints or on online family trees, but we sure don’t ignore them either.

The bare-bones tree I set up included Lucy, her first husband Francis Wright and their seven known children, and her second husband John Williford, together with the husbands of the Wright daughters identified in Francis Wright’s probate file or through other evidence.7

And the hints gathered as a result are a really mixed bag. There were 11 for Lucy, including other trees, a member photo (a DNA icon), several links to her marriages, and one to some other Lucy’s will. There were five for first husband Francis Wright, mostly to other trees and four for second husband John Williford, including his marriage to Lucy and two census records. The DNA icon was initially exciting: it linked first to Lucy, then to daughter Nancy, then to Nancy’s daughter Rachel… but not to any of Rachel’s children and the tree owner doesn’t descend in an unbroken female line. Still, it’s a lead to a family tree showing other female line descendants, including two daughters for Rachel.

The ones for the sons aren’t useful for this research because I’m chasing descendants of daughters, but there were six for Asa Wright, including his 1823 marriage but mostly other trees and 18 for Willis Wright, mostly to other trees and his 1805 marriage, plus various William Wrights, including an Australian convict and a William from New York.

There are six hints for Kiziah, mostly to other family trees, but a few to her marriage to William Battles and one that conflates her with the second wife Ann Jacobs. Nothing new there.

But then there are the sisters…

For Nancy (Wright) Battles, there are 13 hints. Two are for marriages of a different Nancy Wright to a Nathan Griffin. Two are for her actual marriage to William Battles’ older brother Samuel Battles. Five are for census records — and one of those is to a record I hadn’t paid much attention to before. It’s the 1860 mortality schedule and shows that Nancy died in St. Clair County, Alabama in February 1860.8 Since there are a whole bunch of other Battles family members on that page of that schedule, this is something I need to come back to…

The biggest hint there, however, is to the 1850 census of St. Clair County, Alabama. I knew that Nancy had daughters, and there’s that DNA icon hint to possible leads for descendants of Nancy’s daughter Rachel. On that census, however, a 38-year-old Sally Brown is enumerated in the household with four daughters.9 That sent me looking for a marriage of a Sally or Sarah Battles in Alabama. Guess what? Sarah Battles married David Brown in Sr. Clair County in September 1831.10 Those likely daughters-of-a-daughter are now in my line-of-descent research file.

There were 10 hints for Lucy’s daughter Delilah (Wright) McCurdy, and again the 1850 census gives leads to possible female descendants. Delilah is shown on that census as head of household with three female McCurdy children: Susan, age 18; Sarah, age 10; and Harriet, age 7.11 Tracking the family tree leads suggests at least two others: Malinda; and Martha. Five more daughters-of-a-daughter.

For Lucy’s daughter Mildred Wright, the only hint is to other family trees, and one of those conflates Mildred with Delilah, giving her Delilah’s husband Stephen McCurdy. The others, uniformly, provide only a death date and place — given very precisely — and all citing each other as the source.

There were 11 hints for Lucy’s daughter Frances (Wright) Edwards, but only one that gives any real leads. It’s to a family tree that links to a Blount County, Alabama, tombstone for Frances Edwards dated 182712 — and suggests Frances may have produced as many as four daughters between her 1810 marriage to William Edwards and her death. If that lead pans out, I have more daughters-of-a-daughter to chase: Susannah; Jane; Eliza; and Mary Ann.

Will any of these leads pan out? Only time will tell. But from the shaky leaf hints alone, I now have a minimum of 15 female line descendants of Lucy to trace…

On with the chase… (And oh–by the way–if you’re a direct female line descendant of any of these Wright daughters, I have a free-to-you mtDNA kit with your name on it…)

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “blog post title,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 29 June 2019).


  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Keeping that DNA resolution,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 Apr 2019 ( : accessed 29 June 2019).
  2. Ibid., “Finding Margaret’s mother, part 2,” posted 18 May 2019.
  3. Ibid., “Finding Margaret’s mother, part 3,” posted 25 May 2019.
  4. Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: NGS, 2013).
  5. Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Documentation (Arlington, Virginia: NGS, 2017).
  6. Thomas W. Jones, “Perils of Source Snobbery,” Learning Center: OnBoard Articles, Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 29 June 2019), republished from OnBoard 18 (May 2012): 9–10, 15.
  7. JG Russell, “Female-Line Descendants of Lucy (Jones) Wright Williford,” Ancestry family tree, ( : accessed 29 June 2019).
  8. 1860 U.S. census, St. Clair County, Alabama, Townships 11-13, mortality schedule, p. 382 (stamped), line 23, Nancy Battles; digital image, ( : accessed 29 June 2019); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 1.
  9. 1850 U.S. census, St. Clair County, Alabama, population schedule, pp. 151A-B (stamped), dwelling/family 181, Sally Brown in Samuel Battles household; digital image, ( : accessed 29 June 2019); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 14.
  10. St. Clair County, Alabama, Marriage Book 1: 64, Brown-Battles (21 Sep 1831), County Court, Ashville, Alabama; digital images, “Alabama County Marriages, 1809-1950,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 29 June 2019).
  11. 1850 U.S. census, Murray County, Georgia, population schedule, p. 168A (stamped), dwelling/family 307, Delila McCurdy household; digital image, ( : accessed 29 June 2019); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 78.
  12. Chamblee Cemetery, Blount County, Alabama, Frances Edwards marker; digital image, Find A Grave ( : accessed 29 June 2019).
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