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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

Sarah White

Updated: May 1, 2022

A few months ago I received my copy of the widow’s pension documents for Sarah Menear White Bolyard. My theory, based on circumstantial and DNA evidence, is that Sarah could be the mother of my 4th great-grandfather Thomas Wayman. White, who was born in Preston County, Virginia, in 1826. However, Sarah’s widow’s pension documents only exist because her husband John White died in the army during the War of 1812, five years after his marriage to Sarah. He clearly isn’t the father of Thomas W. White, who was born 13 years after John’s death. Sarah could still have been his mother…but was she?

Preston County civil records burned in 1869. The federal pension record was the next-best attempt at reconstructing any information on their life. It states that Sarah’s age was 81 in 1869 and 66 in 1854—both of which yield a birth year of 1788. It confirms that Stephen Bolyard and Sarah White were married October 23, 1831, in Preston County. That Stephen Bolyard died July 26, 1841. That Sarah Bolyard died May 6, 1877, at the residence of John R. Bolyard in Preston County, West Virginia.

John R. Bolyard and Sarah A. Bolyard are included in a few documents in Sarah Menear White Bolyard’s pension packet. John and Sarah had submitted a claim to the government for the elder woman’s care and burial. Also included among the documents is an 1880 statement by Sarah A. Bolyard, wife of John R. Bolyard, residing near Fellowsville, Preston Co. She states that she bore a portion of the expenses of the last sickness and burial of Sarah Bolyard, a deceased pensioner, but has not joined in the application for reimbursement. She also waived all claim against the government on account of such expenses. John Bolyard continued to seek reimbursement until 1882 at least. No relationship between the couple and the deceased is specified in the documents.

In fact, there’s no mention in the record of any relation to the widow Sarah White Bolyard beyond her two husbands. Whether she’s Thomas’s mother [or anyone else’s] remains unconfirmed by that bit of documentary evidence. Neither is there any description of Sarah’s life in the years between John White’s death in 1813 and her marriage 18 years later to Stephen Bolyard. So while the record doesn’t refute any details of my theory, it’s back to weighing circumstantial evidence against my now two-dozen DNA matches to the siblings and parents of Sarah Menear White Bolyard.


Sarah Menear White Bolyard died in 1877. Thomas W. White moved his family from West Virginia to Missouri between 1876 and 1878.

Sarah Menear White Bolyard was living with John R. and Sarah A. Bolyard at the time of her death. John R. Bolyard would have been a grandson of Stephen Bolyard and therefore a step-grandson of Sarah Menear White Bolyard. Other court documents indicate that John R. Bolyard and his wife Sarah had some marital issues—including a divorce and remarriage to each other. I therefore find it odd that John R. would be the best candidate to provide care for a step-grandmother. However, Mrs. John R. Bolyard was formerly Sarah A. White. My theory is that she’s independently connected to Sarah Menear White Bolyard. Perhaps Sarah Menear White Bolyard is the mother of Sarah White Bolyard and therefore also the mother-in-law of John R. Bolyard. Sarah Menear White Bolyard would have been about 42 when Sarah A. White was born—not an unreasonable maternal age.

Sarah Bolyard (84, PA) appears on the 1870 census in Lyon, Preston County. She’s the best fit for the Sarah I’m looking for (and there can’t be that many Sarah Bolyards of that vintage in Preston County). This one sources places her birth around 1786, two years earlier than the pension document ages. Even if this age is correct, Sarah would have been about 40 when Thomas W. was born and —which is still entirely possible.

Though I can’t find her on an 1860 census, an 1858 statement among Sarah’s pension documents states that she had lived in Preston County the last 40 years. If that’s correct, that places Sarah in Preston County since 1818. That could coincide with the formation of Preston County that year, or perhaps Sarah lived elsewhere for a while after her marriage. John’s service records say he fought for a regiment from Pennsylvania; it’s possible they lived there for some time.

I can’t find Sarah Bolyard on the 1850 either census. As an older widow, she may have been living with family members or as a servant. It’s interesting that I can neither find Thomas W. White on an 1850 census.

Stephen Bolyard’s household on the 1840 census—the year before his death--included one male (age 70-79) and a female (age 50-59) with one male (age 15-19), one female (age 10-14), one male (age 10-14). The older female would have been born between 1781 and 1790, a range which aligns with Sarah’s birth around 1788. Thomas W. White would have been age 13 or 14 in 1840, an age represented in this household. Sarah Ann White would have been either 9 or 10 in 1840, also an age and gender in Stephen’s household.

Stephen's entry on the 1840 census is followed by those of Nicholas C. Shaw (some relation to Thomas W. White’s future wife); Elias B Glenn (Thomas W. White’s future father-in-law); and James McGill. Sarah Menear and John White could be the parents of James Magill’s wife Matilda, whose maiden named had been Matilda White. She was born around 1809—the year after Sarah and John’s marriage and four years before John’s death. James Magill and Matilda White were long married by the time of the 1840 census. Their son Thomas Wayman Magill, whose name could have been inspired by Thomas Wayman White, was born around 1845. Again, Sarah’s pension does not include the names of any minor children at John’s death. The acts granting these War of 1812 entitlements, however, weren’t passed until the 1850s. Matilda White Magill would have been in her 40s at the time. [I’ve excluded Matilda as a possible—very young—mother of Thomas W. White. I’m not sure she would have had two sons, born about 20 years apart, both named Thomas Wayman. And she’s having her own children by about 1825.]

Sarah Menear White married Stephen Bolyard in 1831, when Thomas W. White was about 5 years old.

On the 1830 census of Preston Co., the household of Sarah White contained three children. One boy and one girl had each been born since 1825, and one boy had been born between 1821 and 1825. All would have been born well after John White’s death. It’s possible these children are wards or the children of another family member. However, they are the same age as the children living with Sarah and Stephen on the 1840 census—which could be Thomas, around age 4, and Sarah, a newborn. Is it possible that in the 18 years between the death of her first husband and the marriage to her second husband Sarah had [possibly three] children out of wedlock? She was a good 20-something years younger than Stephen Bolyard. Is it possible that he was the biological father of one or more of those children? I can’t find Stephen Bolyard [Sr.] as a head of household in 1830. Earlier details are few but remain a small mess to be sorted.

So while Sarah being Thomas’s mother [or anyone else’s] remains unconfirmed by documentary evidence among the pension records—the records don’t disprove that theory. The circumstantial evidence doesn’t conflict with it either.

There are no likely candidates for White ancestors among my DNA matches further back than Thomas. There are several matches with Bolyards of Preston County among their direct ancestors. However, the numerous and entangled family lines of Preston County are a larger mess that needs to be sorted.

Photo: The county clerk's certification of the 1831 marriage of Stephen Bolyard and Sarah White


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