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Where there’s a will…

It was 185 years ago yesterday that David Baker died near what was to become Bakersville, the county seat of what is now Mitchell County, North Carolina.

It wasn’t even Mitchell County then; it had originally been Rowan County,1 then Burke County,2 then — in 1833 — had been split off into Yancey County.3

And with that death at that time and that place, The Legal Genealogist and all the Baker cousins got a great document.

David — my fourth great grandfather — left a will.4

David Baker will 1838

Now maybe for some of you folks out there that won’t be a big deal. You may be rich in estate documents in your family lines.


I have only a handful of wills to work with in all my lines on both sides of the family — and David’s is one of the key ones. It gave the Baker cousins a great bit of information that we all believed — and couldn’t fully document.

He began his will with the usual “pay my bills and bury me decently” language, and then went on to say what should be done with his worldly effect:

“First I Give and Bequeath to Dorothy my Dearly Beloved Wife all my Estate Both Real and Personal by her freely to be Possessed off (sic) and Enjoyed during her Natural Life and at her Decease to be equally Divided Between my Beloved Children (viz) Susannah, Martin, David, Dorothy, Josiah, Sophia & Charles.”5

And since (a) there is a veritable boatload of Bakers all over that area and (b) Martin is my third great grandfather and (c) there isn’t any other direct evidence of a parent-child relationship like land records, that identification is a Big Deal.

But it’s not the biggest deal. Because David went on:

“To the rest of my Children (viz) Elizabeth Baley, Thomas, William, Nancy Davenport, Crittenden, and Mary McKinney I Give Nothing in Consideration of having Given them a Reasonable Portion of my Estate heretofore.”6


That’s 13 kids in all. Clearly the second group is made up of the older ones pretty much out on their own — witness the married names of the three daughters. And every last one of the 13 kids identified by name.

But that’s not the biggest deal either.

Think about the way these bequests are constructed.

Susannah, Martin, David, Dorothy, Josiah, Sophia and Charles are all in the same paragraph with the widow, Dorothy.

Elizabeth, Thomas, William, Nancy, Crittenden, and Mary are not.

Giving you any ideas here?

Like maybe … just maybe … Elizabeth, Thomas, William, Nancy, Crittenden, and Mary are not Dorothy’s kids?

Yep. That’s what it turns out to be. Elizabeth, Thomas, William, Nancy, Crittenden, and Mary are David’s children by his first wife, Mary Webb. Susannah, Martin, David, Dorothy, Josiah, Sophia and Charles are his children by his second wife, Dorothy Wiseman.

It’s not proof by itself.

But it’s a piece of the puzzle — and an easy piece of overlook. We all get so excited with extracting the names that we sometimes forget to sit for a while and think about what the document as a whole might be telling up.

Yet combined with things like the dates on tombstones, a family Bible passed down through Josiah’s line and the like, it’s a piece that helps document this family’s structure.

Thanks, David.

Where there’s a will… there may be a way to document a family.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Thank you, David!,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 16 Sep 2023).


  1. North Carolina Laws of 1753, chapter 7, in William Saunders, compiler, Colonial Records of North Carolina, Vol. 23 (Raleigh, N.C. : P.M. Hale, State Printer, 1886), 390; online version, “Colonial and State Records of North Carolina,” Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill ( : accessed 16 Sep 2023).
  2. North Carolina Laws of 1777, chapter 19, in ibid., 24 : 28.
  3. Chapters 83-84 in Acts .. of the State of North Carolina, 1833-34 (Raleigh : State Printer, 1834), 145-147; digital images, North Carolina Digital Collections ( : accessed 16 Sep 2023). It wouldn’t become Mitchell County until 1861. Ibid., Chapter 8 in Public Laws of … North Carolina, 1860-’61 (Raleigh: State Printer, 1861), 14.
  4. Yancey County, North Carolina, Will Book 1 : 30, will of David Baker Senr., 26 Jan 1838; digital images, DGS film 004772517, image 24, ( : accessed 16 Sep 2023).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
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