Sunday, June 19, 2011

John William, Another Farthing

As discussed in my last post, my great-great-grandfather Ruben T “Fred” Farthing (1857-1932) was a blacksmith.  This is an important link in tracing his ancestry, because starting with his parents and working backwards it gets increasingly difficult to pin down any facts with certainty.  Records are scarcer, and prior to 1850 the US Federal Census listed only the name of the head of household.  Fortunately he appears on both the 1860 and 1870 censuses with his parents John William and Louisa [Cheek] Farthing.  “Fred” was their second child, and the oldest son.

Part of Orange County Marriage Records
John William Farthing (1820-aft1880) and his wife Louisa Cheek (1825-aft1880) were my 3g grandparents (that’s 3 “greats” before the word “grandparents”!)  John William’s early years are somewhat uncertain, but based on census and marriage records he appears to have been born in 1820 in Orange County, North Carolina.  I have a family tree, undocumented and with no citations, which says his parents were Reuben Farthing and Joanna “Anne” Holloway.  There is a listing in Marriages of Orange County, North Carolina, 1779-1868 (Holcom, Brent H.; Baltimore, MD, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001; and available with subscription to at this link) that shows a Reuben Farthing and an Anne Holloway showing they married in Orange County on 12 Dec 1816 with Thomas Holloway as best man.  The same source and page is the first reference to John & Louisa, stating that John Farthing and “Louiser Cheek” [sic] married on 7 July 1849 in Orange County, North Carolina, with James F. Gattis as best man.  As a side note, the Farthing family tree I have says that there is a will for Reuben Farthing filed in Orange County on 30 May 1839 but I haven’t seen or ordered that will yet.

The first federal census I have for John shows John Farthing, aged 30 and a blacksmith, with Louisa Farthing, aged 24. living in Orange County, North Carolina, on 16 July 1850.  If the birth years of 1820 and 1825 are correct this means that John’s birth date falls in the first half of the year and Louisa was born in the second half.   Interestingly, they live next to James H. Gattis (39), a carpenter, and his wife Nancy Gattis (also aged 39).  Was there a transcription error in either the marriage listing or the census record?  Could this be the same James Gattis that was John Farthing’s best man?  There is probably no way to know for certain, but it’s an avenue for future research.  One thing is clear from the census records of 1850, Orange County, North Carolina, was just brimming with Farthings.  So John packed up and moved southwest to the state of Georgia.
Census images courtesy of
The 1860 census, on the eve of the Civil War, show John & “Luisa” [sic] living in or near Monticello, in Jasper County, Georgia, with their children Anna, Reuben and John W.  In 1870, the growing family now lives in Rockville (near Eatonton), Putnam County, Georgia, and consists of John, Louisa, Annie W, “Frederick” [i.e., Ruben], John W, Mary H, Lucy B, Ada C and Wm [William].  By 1880 they’ve moved again.  Now living in Morgan County, Georgia, in Militia District 397 (southwest of Madison), the family is listed as containing John, Louisa, Annie, Molly, Lucy and Ada, along with Louisa’s father Stanford Cheek, and two boarders, William Clay, a 24-year-old blacksmith, and “Thos. F. Davis” [Thomas F. Davis], a 21-year-old farm laborer from South Carolina.  It’s possible that William Clay was apprenticed to John Farthing.  If so, there may be court records of the indenture in either Putnam or Morgan Counties, so that’s another avenue for future research.  I also need to keep these surnames in mind as I research future collateral lines; they may be relatives of John or Louisa, or one or both might marry into the family at a later date.
Census images courtesy of
SideTrack: OK, here’s why it sometimes takes me so long to write these posts!  I couldn’t leave it alone.  A quick search for “Clay” in the Morgan County marriage book for 1879-1907 on Georgia’s Virtual Vault website turned up W.F. Clay marrying Lucy Farthing on 14 Jan 1886 (page 99).  By 1900 (there is no surviving 1890 census here) William & Lucy Clay have moved to Fenter Township, Hot Spring County, Arkansas, where they live out the remainder of their days and raise a fine family.  Their oldest daughter Mamie Clay was born in November 1889 or 1890, depending on the source, and the next child, son John Clay, was born in Arkansas in October 1894, so they moved during that 4 or 5 year window.  In my quick detour here I found 3 census records through, two tombstones (one for William & Lucy on and one for daughter Mamie by following one of’s “shaking leaf” links; Mamie apparently married a Hunter Andrew Tyler in 1906 and they share a headstone).  I haven’t confirmed any of this with additional research, but the leads look promising, and you can see how easy it is to get distracted from your primary goal.  That detour took a couple of hours by the time I had entered the new information into Ancestry, saved a few images, and made a few notes for further research.

As rewarding as such meandering may be, though, I need to finish up with Mamie’s parents, John William and Louisa.  One reason for following up with Mamie, a process I will need to repeat with each of their other children, is that the 1880 census is the last record I can find of them.  It’s entirely possible that they passed away by 1900 (John would have been about 80, and Louisa about 75 by then), but I don’t have anything to prove that.  I can’t find any cemetery record or gravestone posting that belongs to them.  It may be that they are buried in Morgan County.  It may be that there is an extensive cemetery survey for Morgan County such as I’ve found previously for other counties.  But I haven’t located any yet.  I’m still searching.

There are discrepancies, of course, from decade to decade on the census, and from source to source.  Lucy Farthing, for example, is given the middle initial “B” on the 1870 census, but every other census that gives her middle initial and her gravestone give her middle initial as “T”.  Sometimes people gave their first names to most census enumerators, but most other records have the middle name they generally were known by.  It can get confusing, but you have to make a judgment call as to where most of the evidence is, or sometimes even against the prevailing tide of most evidence (such as ancestors who seemed to get younger and younger with every census year!)  you don’t want to make a decision too soon, but don’t be afraid to make your best call if the situation seems to warrant it, as long as you note the discrepancies and why you made your decision.  And don’t be afraid to go back later and change that call if you find additional evidence later.

That’s about it for now.

Here’s your summary:
  • Always cite your sources, even in your research notes.  It’s amazing how much you can forget about where you read or heard something, even after just a short time. (I’m repeating this one and the next one because they’re so darned important!)
  • The U.S. Census is still probably your most valuable source of information (after family resources) for the period from 1850 to 1930.  Just exercise some caution and common sense, weigh the possibilities, and remember the census isn’t perfect.  Even with a relatively uncommon name you can find people with the same name or initials.
  • Marriage and death records can often be found online at Georgia’s Virtual Vault, a digital document resource from the Georgia Archives and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.  It’s worth a quick search many times before pursuing other avenues, especially when you’re trying to chase down female lines.  Unfortunately most books don’t have “bride” indexes, but it’s still worth a search if you have a likely groom candidate in mind.
  • Don’t ignore all the “shaking leaves”, or hints, on  Just treat them with care as you would any unverified lead until you find proof to support the claims.  Even if you have ten or twenty bum leads in a row, the next one just might provide the hint you need to go to the next step in your research.

 Later y’all,


No comments: