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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

Walters Houseworth

On every branch of the family tree, at some point, you'll hit it: The end of the line.

Walter Houseworth has been the end of the line for nearly 100 family trees, I discovered recently, when I tried to build out one particular branch of one particular family. He was born around 1800 and has countless descendants, but none of them appear to have any clues to Walter's parents or family of origin. I decided to change that. The first record I found for him was his 1834 marriage to Elizabeth McMullan in Orange County, Virginia.

1834 marriage record
The marriage register of Orange County, Virginia

The marriage was before that crucial 1850 cut-off, at which point you can finally see all the names of the members of a household rather than just tick-marks. So that's the first disconnect between this ancestor and his family--an inconveniently timed marriage in terms of historical record-keeping.

The marriage record itself has some information, however:

  • It appears to say that his name was Walters Houseworth. Records of his lifetime agree that his first name Walters, not Walter. That's an indication that his first name might have been inspired by a surname.

  • The witnesses to the marriage were Henry McMullan, Neal McMullan, and Reynolds Chapman. The first two men were connected to the bride, Elizabeth McMullan. Reynolds Chapman witnessed many marriages at that courthouse--on the same page of the register as William and Elizabeth's, Chapman was a witness to 10 of the 18 marriages. The first assumption is that Chapman must have been a court official or worked nearby the courthouse. His obituary from 1844 states that he had been a clerk of court for many years. He would have been a handy witness to a lot of civil activity, but he provides no clues to Walters's family.

Speaking of marriages, the next place I'll look is to see if any other Houseworths were married in the same location around the same time. There were two: Valentine M. Houseworth married Martha A. Brooking in February 1824, and Valentine M. Houseworth married Susan Winslow in December 1826. The Valentines were undoubtedly the same man. There are fewer records for Valentine than for Walters. However, based on their ages and location, an early theory might be that Valentine and Walters were siblings.

Walters appears on his first federal census in 1840, a few years after his marriage and a couple of years after the western part of Orange County was bisected into Greene County. Walters would live in Greene County past the 1860 census, but his life after that is unknown. (A September 1864 death record often assumed to be his is that of a Captain Scott Houseworth.) The two records of his lifetime that contain an age place his birth around 1800-1801 in Virginia.

Walters is the only Houseworth on the 1840 census in that location; Valentine is the only Houseworth on the 1830 census in that location; and there are no Houseworths on the 1820 census in that location.

That's as far as the census tracking can take this search. The years before 1820 can be a challenging time period of Virginia history to research. Its federal census records from 1790 are now lost, most from 1800 are also gone, and only part of the records from 1810 still survive. Fortunately the personal property tax lists of the era are good substitutes. The only Houseworth on the lists of Orange County around the time of Walters's birth is Abram.

My next search is through the deed books of Orange County. I just love deeds. Once in a while you can find one that is incredibly informative. The rest of the time, they can be the little breadcrumbs that hopefully form a trail when reviewed as a group.

There's a 1797 deed from Orange County concerning what was essentially a gift of land to Abram Houseworth. The grantors were Michael and Sarah Walter, and the language identifies Abram as their son-in-law. Other deeds from the time and place tell us that Abram was married to Margaret. And Michael's 1797 will states that his daughter was Margaret Houseworth.

Based on these clues and more, I believe Walters is probably a son of Abram Houseworth and Margaret, whose maiden name was probably Walters rather than Walter.

Abram and Margaret moved to Shelby County, Kentucky, by 1816. Many of their children relocated with them. Walters would have been a teenager then. Perhaps he went with his family but later returned to Virginia, or he may have remained in Virginia. The earliest record I've since been able to find in his name is an 1830 Orange County deed, in which he purchased with John Williamson a lot of land near the Orange County courthouse. His connection to John Williamson isn't clear. If they purchased a lot in town, they may have been business partners of some kind.

As we learn more about Walters's history, we see how entwined it is with the time and place of the world around him.

  • The 1850 Slave Schedule lists the following under his ownership: Female, age 40; Female, age 28; Male, age 10; Female, age 7; Female, age 6; and Female, age 4. The slave schedule did not include the names of those enslaved persons, but some names were recorded elsewhere.

  • An 1855 record is one page of the Greene County, Virginia, death register. Line number 33 is the death of James A. Houseworth, age 19, who died of pneumonia. The death was reported by his father, Walters Houseworth. Line number 34 is the death of George Anna, a female of 12 years old, who also died of pneumonia. Her mother is identified as "Luentia." The death was reported by George Anna's owner, Walters Houseworth.

  • A book of Virginia slave births includes an entry for Frank, born September 24, 1857, in Greene County, Virginia, His parents are identified as Moses and Ann, and his owner as Walter Houseworth.

  • On the 1860 federal census, enumerated in the household of Walters and Elizabeth is "Lucina", described as a mulatto, age 35. Also living with the Houseworths in 1860 are what looks like Manaa, who is listed as a girl aged 2, and Georgiana, a girl aged 2 months. They are likely Lucina's children, as they are also described as mulatto. The mother may have been the female age 28 on the 1850 schedule, as ages were fluid for most people in general, and had to be especially so for enslaved persons. The badly spelled L-name also suggests that this mother is the same as the Lucina on the 1860 census, and that she had two daughters named some variation of Georgianna.

  • Walters's and Elizabeth's son William W. Houseworth volunteered to serve for the Confederate States during the Civil War. William was wounded in battle in May 1862, was a prisoner of war a period of time, and died of disease at his home in November 1862, aged about 23 years old. The last document I find regarding Walters's lifetime is dated December 1863, which concerned a claim with the war office for the remainder of the pay due to William. Walters was awarded $50.53.

This isn't the most complicated genealogical problem out there, but there are a lot of descendants of Walters Houseworth. His enslaved woman likely has descendants too.

Perhaps descendants of both can be reunited with their history.


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