16 August 2015

The Search for John Yeoman McKenney

Distortion of facts plagues a genealogist when recovering history to track down a missing ancestor.  Family stories passed down from one generation to the next coax us to research in a certain state or country. However, if the information isn't accurate it can derail progress in uncovering your ancestors.

Recently, we were able to sift through jumbled information to find my great great great grandfather.  The information given to us from a very knowledgeable cousin was correct, but instead of belonging to just one ancestor, the information was a mix of facts from several ancestors.   Assigning all these facts to a single ancestor threw up a brick wall.

Several years ago, my cousin sought out my father to compare family notes and heritage, and he left my father pictures of our shared family branch.  When I began researching our family history, my father gave me the pictures.  I was very excited and called my cousin for more information. We learned from him that John Y. McKenney was my great great great grandfather and the grandfather of Lucy Ellen McKenney, my great grandmother. 

My husband and I interviewed my cousin. He too is descended from John Yorman McKenney and he wanted information on John's father.  The information he did have was:

  • John Yorman McKenney
  • Born 10 Nov 1800 in Donegal, County Claire, Ireland
  • Educated as a priest at Oxford and studied medicine.
  • Arrived in New York from Northern Ireland In 1830s, after breaking with the Catholic Church, he left "quickly" to avoid persecution.
  • Traveled to Indiana, tending to the sick,  then to Virginia.
  • Married Lucy Dew in Virginia.
  • Teacher in Covington, VA
  • Died in 1862
  • Buried beside his wife, Lucy, at The Old Greenbrier Church, Alderson, WV, in unmarked graves.  
  • Judson Mckenney, his son, is buried there in a marked grave.
This information needed to be verified with a final goal of finding his parents, and continuing to unravel our family tree. One of the first records we located was a survey completed by Bess L. Blanche in 1938, titled “Survey Report, John Y. McKinney home site”, http://image.lva.virginia.gov/VHI/html/01/0023.htm.

From this report we extracted the following information:
  • John Y McKinney, County Claire, Dunegal, Ireland
  • Graduate of Oxford University, studying to be a priest and medicine
  • Broke with Catholic Church
  • Traveled to New York
  • Settled in Indiana and Virginia
  • Married Lucy Dew, daughter of William Dew
  • Lived in a home on the land of William Dew
  • Worked as an educator
  • Son by the name of Galvana
The report cites Mrs J P Sullender (my great aunt)  and the Allegheny Court Records as sources. Mrs. J P Sullender was the granddaughter of John Y. McKenney.  The information matched what my cousin had said almost exactly.
However, we still wanted to obtain records that would validate the history and possibly list John Y McKenney's parents.
David and I traveled to Ireland and visited genealogy centers. The genealogy center in Galway, Ireland, was unable to locate records for John McKenney. We didn't find a birth record.  Oxford University’s list of alumni from that time period didn’t list John McKenney as a graduate or a student  We didn't find a definitive immigration record. We didn’t find him listed as a Catholic priest in Ireland.  We didn’t find information in historical books from that time period.  We didn't find a death record. 
The records we did locate were: 
Marriage certificate:  John G. Mckenney married Lucy Dew on 14 June 1838 in Virginia.
"Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/XRC2-52C : accessed 28 Sep 2014), John G Mckenney and Lucy Dew, 14 Jun 1838; citing Alleghany, Virginia, reference P. 8, No. 201; FHL microfilm 30523. 

1840 United States Census, John G McKenney, Botetourt, VA.  An adult female is listed but the 1840 census did not list family members by name.  

1850 United States Census, John Y. McKinny, 50 years old, born in NY, wife Lucy, two children listed.  He was a teacher.

1860 United States Census, John G. McKenney, 54 years old, born in New York, wife Lucy, with six children, including Judson as a twin of James, and my great great grandfather Galvani McKinny, Mary, Ellen, and Stuart. He was a teacher.

1870 United States Census, Lucy Mckenney and his children were listed without John Y Mckenney, which should indicate he was deceased or not living with his family.

David and I traveled to the cemetery reported to be the final resting place of John Y. McKenney, his wife Lucy, and his son, Judson.   We located the memorial for his son, Judson P. McKenny born 24 Mar 1852 died 4 June 1888 in the Old Greenbrier Baptist Church Cemetery in Alderson, West Virginia. The oral history reported that his parents were buried in front of him in unmarked graves.  We have searched records and talked with church officials, but we haven’t located proof of their burial with their son.  
As a last ditch effort to find John Y’s parents, David and I decided to use only the records obtained from his lifetime instead of relying on the oral history of descendants. That eliminated my cousins history and the verbal history from the survey in 1938.  
Two census records listed John Y McKenney's place of birth as New York.  We are normally skeptical of census data, and the reference to New York may have been the port of arrival instead of the place of birth.  He is also listed as a teacher, and not a priest or doctor.  This information was given to the census taker by John Y. McKenney or his immediate family.  During each known census of John Y. McKenney, his date of birth was listed as New York.
David and I decided to ditch the “born in Ireland” factoid and concentrate on New York records.  We immediately located a christening record for John Yeoman McKinney, son of James McKinney and Serah Hunt, in the New York Births and Christenings, 1840 - 1962. The  baptism was on 30 Aug 1801 and the birth was listed as 10 Nov 1800.  Further investigation pointed to some of facts assigned to John Y. McKinney were actually historical facts for his parents and grandparents.
At this point, we decided we had the tree correct by just following records.  Yet we didn't want to cause friction amongst the family historians, so we decided to search for more data to prove his ancestry before revealing our new information.  We continued to dig on and off for several years.  
Eventually I had my DNA tested with Ancestry.com.  When I got the results, I was disappointed not to be matched with any McKinneys or McKenneys.  But Ancestry is continuously updating DNA data and search alogrithms, so David and I worked past John Y McKenney of New York, and developed a tree of his ancestors, and waited.  Finally, just recently, my DNA matched with another descendant of Johann Weller and  Anna Lowegeth, my sixth great grandparents and John Y McKenney's great grandparents.  This gave us the confirmation we needed that we had the correct John Y McKenney.
In retrospect, if we would followed only the records and not relied on the history given by a family born after the death of John Y. McKenney, we would have probably found the right person instead of trying to find records to match the person depicted. 
Here is what we believe to be the accurate line to me from shared ancestors, Johann Frederick and Anna Margaretha Kochin Weller:

Johann Frederick Weller Anna Margretha Kochin
6th great grandparent 6th great grandparent
Elsje Weller
Daughter of Johann Weller and Anna Kochin
James McKinney
Son of Elsje Weller and Matthew McKinney
John Yeoman McKenney
Son of James Mckinney and Serah Hunt
Galvani B. McKenney
Son of John Yeoman Mckinney and Lucy Dew
Lucy Ellen McKenney
Daughter of Galavani McKenney and Cornelia Boone Helmintoller
Willie Weston Jack Goolsby
Son of Lucy Ellen Mckenny and William E. Goolsby
Goolsby Son (name private)
Son of Willie Weston Jack Goolsby and  Kathleen Norris Bruebaker
Sherry Lynn Goolsby Winant

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