Saturday, August 22, 2009


I haven't spent much time on my personal family history lately, but it is hopefully some small consolation to know that although I haven't been researching them per se, I've been building a better national environment for research in the future. In addition to planning two businesses while working 45-50 hours per week as a professional genealogist, I've been planning, designing, writing, and printing as publicity chair for the 2010 National Genealogical Society (NGS) conference, which will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, next May. It's going to be a great program; I'm really excited. I'm also designing marketing materials for, and lecturing at, the Association of Professional Genealogists' Professional Management Conference (APG PMC), held in conjunction with the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) national conference in Little Rock September 2-5 2009. This, I found out last week, will be taped by FamilySearch and available over the Internet for years to come. So I'm trying to lose about 100 pounds in 10 days. Except I made cookies for someone last night and have now eaten at least 4 of them.

Then, as if I weren't busy, I was honored to accepted a seat on the Board of Directors for the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA). It seemed like a good idea at the time. It's still probably a good idea, but I need to get through publicity for the 2010 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) before I can focus on other endeavors. Such as the Records Access and Preservation Committee (RPAC). I adopted Utah over a year ago and have yet to complete the list of repositories and record retention schedules for the various government and private sector owners of genealogical information and the decision makers, lobbyists, archivists, societies, and organizations who can help save them from the dumpster. I have also not worked on my book "Borderlands" in...let's see...about 6 months now.

So it is with only a small degree of shame that I report (because I really have been busy) only that I have not forgotten my personal goals. A few weeks ago I did spend some time pouring over maps of North Carolina land patents and first purchases. A few years ago I found a treasure for 18th/early 19th century North Carolina genealogy in the form of the Historical Map series published by The Custom House. The Family History Library has maps for Davie, Guilford, Montgomery, Randolph, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, and Yadkin counties cataloged under the series "Historical Documentation." I believe that the North Carolina Archives has more counties, possibly all of them, but so far I've been busy with Surry County alone. Eventually I'll get to them all, but I'm a little busy right now. I've started transcribing the map entries with their grid coordinates, purchase or grant date, surname, given name, landmark or geographic feature. This allows for analysis of the map data in a new way because now I can really crunch the data and see who, what, when, where, and guess at why. That helps me predict who else, what else, and where else, look for it, see it and draw connections that I may not have seen before.

After I get back from Little Rock next month I should have more to report on the Sartors, Hills, and other personal lines of interest. I love that this work never ends.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

My Liberty, My Ancestors

Growing up in the military gives you a deep appreciation for the mechanics of liberty. You watch your mother hold down the fort while Dad is in the field...he comes home stinky, but he comes home. He wears a uniform which is designed for utility and service. It's the same as every other man and woman in uniform on base, but underneath the uniform, he's your dad and he's doing his job so that you and everyone around you can be free to take him for granted. At 5:00 every day taps plays, and life stands still. Everyone stops stock still if they are walking, gets out of the car if they are driving, salutes if in uniform, or places hand over heart if not, and thanks God for the freedom that flag represents and the blood that bought it. We pledge allegiance to that flag, one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all, and for the men and women resting in peace beneath it. We thank God our soldiers come home safe, and pray that He will keep the souls and comfort the families of those who don't. The cancerous doubt of right and wrong spread by increasingly "tolerant" liberal media stops with the Military Police guarding the gate. When I step past that gate, I know that I am safe.

In my civilian home, I have the right to bear arms, to keep my pistol at hand and to use it in my defense. I have the right to worship my God as I choose, or not, as I choose. I have the right to approve or disapprove of my government as I believe, and to vote, to have a choice and a voice. I have the right to peaceably assemble, to testify on my own behalf as needed and go about my business as I see fit, so long as I do not infringe upon the rights of others. These rights are not cheap. Headlines complain about the high cost of war, but what about the high cost of terror, the cost of silence and utter restraint? I think we would find that price more than we could bear and we would wish that we had stepped up and fought for funding and support for our troops.

My ancestors would be so proud. My father is not the last in a long line of soldiers. His father was a navigator in World War II; his grandfather Thomas Clark Hill was a medic in World War I. During the Civil War we had ancestors both North and South. I don't know off the top of my head whether we had ancestors in the Mexican War, the War of 1812; I haven't actually examined those records yet.

But I do know that we had several Revolutionary War ancestors. According to his pay stubs which I found in the South Carolina Archives, John Peter Sartor b. 1733 served both before and after the fall of Charleston. I'm still looking for more documentation pertaining to his service. His sons John and William also served, as did many of their friends and neighbors, including the families of their current and future wives. William was taken prisoner at the Battle of Cowpens, but was released in time to fight again at King's Mountain.

Jane Scott's father James Scott was born 1755, we believe in Pennsylvania. His tombstone in Knox County, Indiana, memorializes his Revolutionary War service, but I have not researched this in detail yet.

I am still exploring our North Carolina Revolutionary War roots. Among the Revolutionary War generation there was Thomas Hill, Thomas Lowe, and Samuel Clark. Thomas Hill was a Regulator, so opposed to the govenmental abuses in Colonial North Carolina that he took up arms against Governor Tryon.

I owe each of these people a special debt of gratitude. The Pledge of Allegiance was written more than 100 years after the Revolutionary War. But I do believe that the Sartors, Scotts, Hills, and every other Colonist who risked treason for freedom would agree. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

That is my liberty, those are my ancestors, and I am proud to be an American.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Benjamin Merrill is not my grandfather?!?

Libertarian that I am, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that the semi-famous Regulator Benjamin Merrill may not be my ancestor after all. Sentiment about government aside, it's just plain sloppy genealogy. During my trip to North Carolina for the NGS conference in Raleigh last month, I did quite a bit of personal on-site wandering. I mean researching. Since the Merrill family was among the list of neglected North Carolina ancestors I decided this was the perfect time to make amends.

Also researched during this trip were the Hill, McClelland, Clark, and Lowe families. Stanfield, Bennett, and Smith were also on the list, but these were women’s lines which required investigation into their husbands first. (Lowe, Clark, and Merrill respectively.) I’ll write about each of these families later.

The trip began with getting lost. As usual. Actually, the trip began with the sudden realization that my flight was in two hours and frantic packing and phone calls while waiting for the taxi. But that is another story. Upon my arrival in Greensboro, I picked up the rental, bought a map, and pretended to know where I was. The drive from Greensboro to Asheboro and Asheboro to Lexington was very scenic along the back roads and I imagine that based on the sheer volume of square acreage covered and number of u-turns performed, I saw much of the territory my ancestors explored anyway. So it was ok.

First I went to the Guilford County Courthouse battle site. As usual, I was deeply moved to stand where so many men took bullets so that I could be free to appreciate their sacrifice. I had hoped to find a list of men who fought in the battle such as the series compiled by Bobby Gilmer Moss which I purchased at King’s Mountain and Cowpens a year or two ago. But no one has done that for the North Carolina battle sites yet, so I put it on a mental list of things to do.

From there I went to Asheboro, visited the library, tromped around in cemeteries quite a bit, and generally spun my wheels and achieved no measurable result other than happiness. Next on the list was Salisbury, the seat of Rowan County. I highly recommend the Rowan County Library in Salisbury. The librarian in the History Department upstairs was extremely knowledgeable about the area and founding families. She recognized Benjamin Merrill's name right away and confirmed what I knew about his death. Which is that he was hung for being a Regulator.

In order to appreciate Benjamin’s death, an understanding of his life is required. In 1763, following the French and Indian War, the British crown found itself feeling rather broke. To their minds, they had just spent ghastly sums of money defending the Colonies, and the Colonies should therefore pay for it with taxes. To the Colonists, they had paid with blood, sweat, and tears. And anyway, they were broke too, especially on the frontier. Many families found themselves starving in the face of outrageous tax bills, while men such as Governor Tryon built luxurious houses and threw lavish parties. (which to the Governor’s mind was a pitiful attempt at maintaining the lifestyle he was born to) Adding insult to injury, corrupt government practices such as over-charging for marriage licenses, deed filings, etc. were rampant, unavoidable, and arbitrarily enforced.

Underscoring this was the fact that the people had no say in their government. There was no representation in parliamentary affairs in far-off London. By about 1764 the Carolina people had had enough, and wisely or not, they decided to regulate the government. Thus the Regulators were formed. Things came to a head at the Battle of Alamance in May 1771, where the Regulators were ultimately defeated and disbanded. Wikipedia even states “Delays prevented approximately 300 reinforcements under Captain Benjamin Merrill from arriving in time to help the rebel cause.” (

And so the life of Benjamin Merrill came to an end. He was hung, and although he surely thought that his name would go down in history as a disgrace as he stood at the gallows, I feel exactly opposite. I’m proud of him...whether he’s my ancestor or not.

And here is where my blog pertains to my genealogy. I had previously believed that Benjamin Merrill had a daughter named Nancy born about 1756 who married Joseph Clark about 1778. After Joseph Clark’s death about 1793, Nancy remarried to Benjamin Mendenhall.

I believed Nancy was the daughter of Benjamin Merrill and Jemima Smith because published sources said so. Oops. I will name, and go into detail about necessary corrections to these publications, after I’ve finished and documented the correct ancestry of my Nancy Merrill.

At the Rowan County library I found a book Captain Benjamin Merrill and the Merrill Family of North Carolina by William Ernest Merrill, M.S. (which I probably had in Salt Lake all along, but that is beside the point. The point is that I failed to verify what was printed elsewhere). According to this source, Benjamin was married to Jemima Smith, as I had believed, but they did not have a daughter named Nancy. Uh-oh.

Since it was interesting, I went to the Jersey Settlement near Lexington anyway. ( Although it was looking like Benjamin might not be my ancestor after all, I was right there. Couldn’t pass it up. Again, I tromped around the cemetery happy as a clam and took pictures of the remaining Merrill family headstones just in case.

From there I went North working on other lines, but several days later stopped at the historical site of the Battle of Alamance on my way over to Raleigh. (

Aside from being such an interesting place, the man there was incredibly helpful.

He pulled out a vertical file on Benjamin Merrill and although his photocopier was not working well, he made a copy of the whole file for me on his ink jet printer. What a pain for him, but I’m so super grateful and I promise it will not go to waste.

The documents in this vertical file include:
  • Family Group Sheet of Capt. Benjamin Merrill compiled by B.J. Patterson in 1990
  • “Captain Benjamin Merrill: A Pre-Revolutionary Revolutionist,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol LIX 1928, pages 215-217.
  • “A Narrative History of Merrill Ancestors” by Thea M. Fabio Merrill of Houston, Texas. This document directs to other Merrill sources online including, and another site which was hosted at geocites but whose link is now broken.
  • Transcribed manuscript of letter 16 Jul 1844 in Ripley County, Missouri, possibly written by Elizabeth Merrill (maiden surname unknown), second wife of Douglass Merrill. This letter documents the known whereabouts of Merrill family members at the time of its writing. The file copy source is undocumented. It appears to have been addressed to Jacob Malone of Illinois State, Fulton County, Cuppola [illegible]
  • Descendants of Richard Merrill (printout from Genealogy Software) contained in email to Battle of Alamance Historical Site from Suzy Parker on 1 Apr 2006, as well as another email from Suzy with same date.
  • Photocopy from “The Regulator Papers” page 528-529. (No cover page showing publication information; title printed on page header.
  • Contact information for various descendants of Benjamin Merrill who have visited the site.

Based on the information contained in this file, it does appear that Benjamin did have a daughter named Nancy, but she did not marry Joseph Clark. This Nancy married Boyd McCrary. Not Joseph Clark or Benjamin Mendenhall.

So, I have my work cut out for me. What can be gleaned from this trip is that Benjamin Merrill was probably not my direct line ancestor. There were several Merrill family members in the area; my job is to figure out which of them really was mine. Benjamin was probably an uncle or cousin. Although he’s not my distant grandfather, I still appreciate him and look forward to setting the record straight.

More adventures still to come. It will be expensive, I’m sure, but there’s really not much I’d rather be doing.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Not from Roanoke, North Carolina

While in North Carolina last month for the annual National Genealogical Society conference, I spent some time researching the possibility that the Sartor family came to Roanoke, North Carolina in 1687, just to be sure.

As I suspected, it does not appear that the Sartor family came to Roanoke Island, North Carolina in 1687. I did do some other cool things besides stopping in Detroit on the way home to visit my adorable nephew, but they do not pertain to the Sartor family so I'll write about the results of my wanderings and research into my North Carolina family branches later.

The question at hand was: "Is there any evidence in the North Carolina State Archives to suggest that the letter attributed to William Sartor b. 1759 which was published in Juanita Sample Taylor's The Sartor Search refers to Roanoke Island, North Carolina? Said letter indicates that the Sartor family came to Roanke from Wales in 1687." The answer is that although there are pre-Federal mentions of a Salter Family in North Carolina, they were contemporary to the known ancestral branch who lived in South Carolina by the late 1760's. No connection between the Salters of North Carolina and the Sartors of South Carolina has been found.

The key "takeaway" to be remembered for future consideration is that an Edward Salter received a grant in Beaufort County 9 March 1761. [Granville Land Grants] This is of interest because of the timing and location. It's in about the same place the Salter family is listed in the Mosely map of 1733. Church of England records [1] show Edward and William Salter in the area as early as 1748 and as late as 1763, but the timeframe of the publication (1742-1763) does not preclude an earlier and/or later presence. However, by this time "my" branch was in South Carolina, and there is no evidence yet tying Peter Sartor/Salter [etc] to his contemporary Edward Salter in North Carolina.

Taken together, this suggests, although I have not had time to explore and prove, that the Edward Salter family had likely been, and remained, in this area from pre-1733 [Moseley Map] through at least 1763 [1]. Which really doesn't say anything absolute yet, but it's good to remember. I haven't had time to dive into this. I scratched the surface to see what was there since I was in the area, and it didn't seem promising so for now, it's tabled.

The search goes on!

P.S. This research thanks (as always) to the sponsorship of my father who is working hard in Afghanistan so that I can a) be free to wander safely around the world with freedom and liberty for all and b) afford to investigate where that freedom came from. Love you, Dad.

1. Robert J. Cain and Jan-Michael Poff, editors, The Church of England in North Carolina: Documents, 1742-1763 (Raleigh: Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2007), North Carolina State Archives.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Roanoke or Rappahanok?

Today I found a possible validation of the Virginia-origins of the Sartor family proposed by Juanita Sample Taylor. Let me recap the critical foundations of research found in a letter attributed to William Sartor b. 1759 in The Sartor Search. He (allegedly) states:

The Sartors came from Wales in 1687 to Roanoke, Va. My grandfather attended law school in (name illegible) and while there met my grandmother who, I am told was Miss Mary Gray. The Grays were very prominent people. My Mother died when I was an infant. I want the people who come after me to know this little that I have gathered. My Grandfather after marrying came to South Carolina and settled on the Broad River and turned his attention to farming. He was also in the war with the Indians. My Father, John Peter Sartor was born in 1733. He had one sister, Elizabeth.

I would dearly, dearly love to see this letter or at least a copy of the original. I am working clue by clue through this letter trying to find supporting documentation. Other posts will address other points of the letter in the future as I continue gathering evidence.

The first statement, that the Sartors came to Roanoke Virginia in 1687, is pretty much impossible. This was at least 50 years before that general area was inhabited by colonists, and even then it remained the western frontier of Virginia until the Revolutionary War, at which time our Sartors lived in Union District, South Carolina. Eventually this area became a busy frontier hub when the Great Wagon Road was constructed, but in 1687 it was nothing but trees, chiggers, and bears with the occassional Indian family.

The question then becomes "Did William mean Roanoke, North Carolina?" This too is pretty much impossible. Following the late 16th century failure of the lost colony, Roanoke Island was not settled for several hundred more years. The Mosely map of 1733 shows a tiny settlement on Hatteras Island south of Roanoke, but no settlement, port, or other signs of life on Roanoke.

So, what does this mean? And what did I find today? Still no evidence, but an interesting possibility. It is possible that the Sartor family arrived in Rappahanok, Virginia in 1687. I examined Nugent's Cavaliers and Pioneers, the authoritative source on early Virginia land. Volume II covers the 1687 timeperiod. Nugent painstakingly lists the names of passengers transported by those to whom land was granted under the headright system. (Headrights were a land reward to patrons and/or ship captains for transporting colonists to the new world in efforts to create larger settlements and a stronger labor force.)

Before going into more detail, let me establish one more thing. In the course of research I have seen the Sartor name also spelled Sarter, Sorter, Sortor, and Salter. The Salter surname is particularly of interest because John Peter Sartor III's Revolutionary War Pension file (filed by Sarah Hughes) gives both the Sartor and Salter spelling.

Therefore, I went through a list of possibilities in Cavaliers and Pioneers and came up with one very interesting entry. A George Salter was in the company of Phillip May and Thomas Potts of Gloucestershire. They were granted land in Rappaannock County in 1687. This excites me for five reasons:
1. It's the right year, and it's the only entry so far that was in the right year. (according to the letter cited above)
2. Gloucestershire, England, borders Monmouthshire, Wales.
3. Rappahannock County was in the same general area as what later became Fairfax County. If the Union District Sartors did indeed come from Fairfax County, as The Sartor Search suggests, this is an exciting geographic proximity.
4. It would be easy for William Sartor to write Rappahannock wrong, mis-remember it, or for Ms. Taylor (or whomever first transcribed the letter) to have mis-read it.
5. George is a family name handed down through many generations. Most often it is given as George Washington Sartor, believed to be in tribute to "the" George Washington. But what if it was a family name to begin with?

So, I still have no concrete evidence that this is true, but it is a stronger connection than I have found elsewhere and cannot be ignored.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sartor Branches Website

This month I created as a central storage place for Sartor family documents and research. I also created a Facebook group to reach out to modern Sartor descendants. I'm calling all Sartor descendants who may have documentation pertaining to their origins. It's a huge ongoing project, but it's a start. This way the various descendants of the Sartor family have a dedicated repository and handy solution for "send me everything you've got." Which is a lot. I estimate that I alone have collected approximately 500 documents pertaining to the various branches of the Sartor family.

So far, I have identified ten branches of the Sartor family who will be documented forward in time from the Revolutionary War, when John Peter Sartor and his sons John Peter Sartor Jr. and William Sartor lived in Union District, South Carolina. This much I have proven. Central to the project is the question of the Sartor family's colonial origins before the Revolutionary War. This I am still researching.

In The Sartor Search, Juanita Sample Taylor publishes a tantalizing letter which was attributed to William Sartor, son of John Peter Sartor Sr. In this letter he states that the Sartor family came to Roanoke from Wales in 1687 and provides additional family clues. I dearly, dearly wish to know where this letter came from and where it is now.

Ms. Taylor indicates that the Sartor family came to South Carolina from Fairfax County, Virginia. Unfortunately, she lived in a time when citing sources was cumbersome and unpopular. Therefore according to modern genealogical proof standards, I can't accept her conclusions without further evidence. While I was in Raleigh last year for the National Genealogical Conference, I visited the Fairfax County archives and copied documents which do show that a John Peter Sartor Sr. and John Peter Sartor Jr. lived there in the 1750's - 1770's. I am in the process of proving that this John Peter Sartor I and John Peter Sartor II. I believe that it is John Peter Sartor II who was John Peter Sartor Sr. of Union District, South Carolina, but belief is not enough to satisfy scholarly research standards.

If you have any information pertaining to the Sartor family's colonial origins please contact me. I am also interested in original documentation of the various Sartor family branches including those former slaves of the Sartor family who adopted their surname following the Civil War.

Hopefully if we all pool our documents, the true story will emerge.
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