06 January 2019

Pass the Sorting Hat

2019—No. 2.
Prompt: Challenge

Pass the Sorting Hat 

By Myra Vanderpool Gormley © 2019 

The problem is not finding ancestors, it is the challenge of sorting them (Where is that enchanted sorting hat of Hogwarts houses fame when I need it?). Another challenge is proving that a particular Jacob is the one that belongs in my tree — and is not someone else of the same name. Additionally, men who marry women of the same given name, thus eliminating one sorting tool, should suffer serious penalties, such as being forced to translate a thousand Latin parish records or sort out my Marys, Elizabeths, and Annes. 

One of my challenges is to disprove all the twisted, gnarled trees out there — in print and online. I realize that will never happen, but I can dream. My Jacob Bankston dangles upon dozens, perhaps hundreds, of trees. He has been linked to several wives (most of them incorrectly); his date of birth is unproven, and so is his exact date of death, but he appears in many records and a great deal of valid information about him exists. Unfortunately, the good has been tossed into a mix with the bad, creating a gallimaufry. 

What has really thrown a monkey wrench into the works is once upon a time many years ago there was a genealogy published. Like all genealogies, it has errors, and too many family historians have relied upon this one source without verifying its material. To confound the problem, the compiler seldom cited sources, or did not do so specifically, so it is impossible to determine which records were used for individual facts. (An example is a citation of “Index Holy Trinity Church, p. 10” — there are thousands of churches in the USA of this name and what is this an index to?)

I, too, started with this old genealogy, but when an 1800 Family Bible of Isaac Autry/Awtrey and Araminta Bankston who married that year was found in a descendant’s trunk in the attic, it revealed that my 4-great-grandmother, Araminta Bankston, was the daughter of a Jacob Bankston. I was elated, thinking I had solved a problem. But, a challenge promptly popped up. According to this old genealogy, there were two Jacob Bankstons (father and son); one born in 1731 in Philadelphia and one born about 1760 in North Carolina. My Araminta was born in 1782 in Georgia (I had her date of birth from her tombstone and the family Bible). So, technically, either of these Jacobs could be her father. I had no idea which one, so I started digging in the traditional records — vitals, land, probate and taxes. 

Georgia land records rewarded me with a deed which provided a wife’s name for one of the Jacob Bankstons. The deed showing Jemima as Jacob's wife was made on February 10, 1798 (Hancock County, Georgia Deed Book A-B, page 501). Some church records in Clarke County show a Jacob and Jemima Bankston as members. However, I still did not know how old this Jacob Bankston was, or if he was the father of my Araminta. Purportedly, he had died about 1817 in Georgia, but no record of probate could be found, and no exit deeds for him, although he more or less vanished from the tax lists of Georgia about 1818. 

According to Dr. Peter Stebbins Craig (1928-2009), the Swedish Colonial Society’s world-renowned historian and genealogist who specialized in 17th-century Swedish and Finnish immigrants to the Delaware River Valley, my Georgia Bankston family was part of the group that is known as the Swedes on the Delaware. (www.ColonialSwedes.net). Thanks to him, I had fresh avenues to explore to identify my Jacob. 

Luckily for descendants, many of the records of these early Swedish families have survived and have been microfilmed. I found a marriage record for a Jacob Bankston and an Elinor Cox dated 14 June 1753 (Gloria Dei [Old Swedes] Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Marriages, Baptisms and Burials, 1750-1789, FHL #511,806, p. 11). That information matched what the old genealogy claimed. 

Gloria Dei (Old Swedes Church) Philadelphia
By Beyond My Ken - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

However, I also found in those records that a Jacob Bankston
died there on 5 August and was buried 6 August 1757. He was 37 years old. That created another problem — this makes his birth year 1720 rather than 1731 as the old genealogy claimed. Additional research in Philadelphia records turned up a 1757 Will for Jacob Bankston. This Jacob had a wife, Elinor; she was named in his Will along with a brother, John, his mother, and some other relatives, but no mention of any children. That fact clearly eliminated this Jacob and Elinor as the parents of my Jacob or the other three children listed in the old genealogy. In the process, it also suggested that the birth date of 1731 used in the old genealogy had no evidence to back it up. 

The Reconstructed 1790 Census of Georgia (De Lamar and Rothstein, 1985) lists only one Jacob Bankston. It had been an early indicator that there might be a problem with the old genealogy. Next I tackled the Georgia Tax Digests (Volume I-V) covering the years from 1789 to 1817. In order to keep track of the many Bankstons and the numerous counties in which I found them in northeast Georgia, I created a spreadsheet. My conclusion is there was only one Jacob Bankston, and he was not born in 1731, and he was not the son of the childless Jacob Bankston and Elinor Cox. 

When a thorough search in pre-1850 Georgia probate, land, and tax records failed to turn up a Jacob Bankston Jr. (born ca 1760), more challenges surfaced. Where had the compiler of the old genealogy found him and who was the Jacob listed in the Family Bible as my Araminta’s father? 

Little did I realize that this genealogical challenge had just begun. Stay tuned for the next chapter(s).

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