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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

Thomas W. White

Updated: Sep 30, 2018

The Preston County, West Virginia, courthouse burned in 1869, taking the county’s civil records with it. Gone are the court records, probate documents, and land transactions that are vital to reconstructing the past.


It’s therefore been difficult to find the parents of Thomas W. White, a 4x great grandfather on my mother’s side. According to his Civil War service and pension documents, he was born in Preston County in 1826 and married Martha E. Glenn there in 1851. The family moved to Missouri in the 1870s. I can only find his reported middle name in one source: his son George’s obituary from 1946, 95 years after Thomas and Martha’s marriage.


Thomas doesn’t appear on the 1850 federal census of Preston County. He’s believed by many of his descendants to be the Thomas W. White in Halifax County, Virginia, that year. This other Thomas W. White is another person (Dr. Thomas Wistar White) and 300 miles away from Preston County. Also, personal property tax lists from Preston County did survive, and Thomas W. White appears on the list as early as 1845.


But there are 19 years missing between Thomas’s birth and his appearance on the 1845 tax list. There’s another White family in Preston County around the time of Thomas’s birth and youth, but they have their own son named Thomas and don’t appear to intersect with Thomas W. in any way.


For years, I’ve believed that Thomas would ultimately be connected to the family of Stephen Bolyard (formerly Balliet). Stephen served in the Revolutionary War and was reported to have married a widow named Sarah White later in his life. One of Stephen’s grandsons also married a White roughly Thomas’s age, and Thomas W. White’s eldest daughter Rebecca married another of Stephen’s grandsons. Certainly these people were geographically related; based on circumstantial evidence my theory had been that Thomas W. White could be a step-son to Stephen Bolyard. The 1840 census shows that the Preston County household of Stephen Bolyard, then in his 70s, included a female in her 50s and three children, one of whom would have been the same age and gender as Thomas W. White. And there is a household in Preston County on the 1830 census that is headed by Sarah White and includes just three children-- three children of the age and gender as those in Stephen Bolyard's 1840 household. But all of that was formulated from near misses and conjecture, and there seemed to be no existing documents that would ever support it.


I had tested my DNA several years ago with one of the first services to offer it. It was pricey and has still never yielded a relative to whom a relationship could be explained, so I was hesitant to buy another kit through the AncestryDNA service. I finally decided to spend the money for the test last year and have had my results for several months. I tinkered with the DNA match features and found that my shared matches to known relatives (both near and far) didn’t lead me anywhere new. I tried my own approach to analysis recently, and it’s generated promising leads for two of my biggest brick walls.


One of the leads is the discovery that through my mother I share DNA with 14 descendants of William Menear, who died in Preston County in the 1830s. I had never encountered this name in all the searching for any branch of my family. The name of his presumed wife (Henderschott) isn’t familiar to me either. These DNA matches connect through three of William’s children, whose descendants don’t align with any of my known ancestors. I do share DNA with other descendants of Thomas White as well as Martha Glenn’s family, suggesting that there are no surprises of parentage in my line after the birth of their daughter Sarah, my 3x great-grandmother, in 1859. I don’t know who else in my family line would have intersected with the family of William Menear of Preston County. Of the many Menear children, the least is known about Sarah.


Sarah Menear was married in February 1808 in Monongalia County (the parent county from which Preston would be formed in 1818). The groom was John White. No family trees include any data after that for Sarah, including any possible children, and her estimated birth year is more than a decade off.


One of the Preston County folks that I’ve tried to connect to Thomas is Matilda White Magill. She had a son named Thomas Wayman Magill. Although I have not found a connection between Thomas Wayman White and the geographically closest Thomas Wayman, the name appears to me to imply a connection between Thomas W. White and Matilda White Magill. Matilda’s birth around 1809 could connect her as a child of Sarah Menear and John White.


Several sources prove that Sarah Bolyard continued to draw a widow’s pension on her former husband John White into the late 1870s. A singular census record indicates that Sarah was born around 1786, which would have made her 40 when Thomas W. White was born. It seemed the pieces were fitting together to connect the Whites and Menears.


However, military land warrants and a war burial suggest that Sarah White Bolyard’s husband John White died in 1813 as a soldier in the War of 1812. A death 13 years before Thomas’s birth is obviously a wrench in my theory that Sarah and John White could be Thomas’s parents. The math doesn’t work for them to have been Thomas’s grandparents in any conventional way. But my DNA is related to at least 14 descendants of William Menear of Preston County. That is, to 14 people who have also elected to mail their saliva to a laboratory and publicly share the results. I must be related to many more of William Menear’s descendants. Somehow.


I’ve finally spent the money and ordered the widow’s pension documents for Sarah White Bolyard. In an estimated 120 days, I should know more about her life. Perhaps there will be some clue in the material that connects her with Thomas W. White. It might be a breakthrough, or it might be a ‘penalty tax’ for having tried to stretch some facts too thin. Either way, I’ll post the results here. If Sarah Menear White Bolyard isn’t my link to the missing past of Preston County, she might be someone else’s.


Photo: A page from the family record of Thomas W. White and Martha E. Glenn. It can be found among Thomas's pension documents, and I have no doubt it was torn from a family bible and surrendered with the pension application. The births of their 11 children are recorded among its pages.

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