Good Reader, blame not the Wrytter for that . . . that is missing in this booke is not his faulte. What he hath founde . . . as near as possybell he coulde, he hath sett downe.
This is the story of my family through history. It contains just about all that I know about the numerous family streams that came together in my sister, Joan, and myself. For our respective children, this document represents half of their own histories. I have faith that all of us want to know "how did we get here?" and will enjoy reading something of that story. The title is meant to convey two meanings: the contents describe what I know about how my family developed over several centuries of time, but I also have tried to place my family into its historical context so that the reader can see it through history.
What I have produced builds on the inspiration and legacy of my paternal grandfather, Charles M. Neal, who began to study the Neal family just a few weeks before he died in 1956: after receiving an inquiry from a distant cousin, he began to collect information and laid out an ambitious plan to describe the history of his family – mostly for my benefit since I was the only one of his descendants who could carry the Neal name forward. He was primarily interested in the origins of the Neals, though he acknowledged that he knew very little about his other ancestors. When he died, the materials he had gathered came to me, and in time I took up the quest.
Needless to say, my document is built as well on the research of countless other persons – some of them related to me, many of them not. Other information came from census and tax records, land transactions, genealogies and other information collected by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), books, and many other sources. These sources include biographies or family histories based upon several of my forebears, including Matthew McCammon, Albert Andriessen Bradt, Pierre Chastain, Sr., Abraham Isaacse Verplanck, Aaron Stark, and Edward Neal.
There is a lot of information here. (I have been guided by a statement attributed to John Quincy Adams: "Posterity delights in details.") Yet undoubtedly this family history has not only plenty of gaps but many outright errors as well – wrong dates, erroneous relationships, and poor guesses. It is the best I have been able to do with the information at hand, and you should consider it an extended working hypothesis of what my family's composite history looks like. You should also feel free to point out mistakes, poor logic, typographical slips, and any other inaccuracies or blunders you find.
The information I have consulted has been at times useful, at other times tantalizing, and most often frustrating in some respect. Sometimes there is no record at all, as with the 1890 census – a grievous loss of information vital to understanding several of the families described here. Sometimes the records that do exist are contradictory (a marriage said to have taken place in three or more different sites), difficult to decipher (is that an 8 or a 0?), or simply inexplicable (as, for example, the ages shown on certain grave markers and census sheets). Wide variations in how family names were spelled – something not standardized until quite recently – can produce false leads and confusion. Information from contemporary newspapers is very sparse (even obituaries), in part because of the nature of newspapers then and in part because so few issues have survived. In fact, we are very fortunate that records referring to many of the individuals who appear in the text that follows are among the relatively few records that were created and survived.
Out of the many thousands of Europeans who came to America during the 18th century, only about 38,000 Palatine Germans and Swiss appear in the sparse immigration records that exist – and some of them are in my family. Many hundreds of ships brought passengers across the Atlantic, and only a few comprehensive and accurate lists of these passengers exist – and one of them is for the Huguenots who went to Manakintown, Virginia. Only a few detailed, firsthand accounts of the ocean passage exist – and one of the best is that of Anthony de Hooges. The Dutch settlers meticulously documented their administrative and legal history in New Netherland – and their records (or most of them) barely survived a 1911 fire in the New York State Capitol Building. Another fire, this one in the War Department in November 1800, destroyed most of the muster rolls and pay rolls detailing service during the Revolutionary War. We are indeed fortunate to have what we do have.
Even when we do have information, it can be suspect. Memory alone is not reliable, as we learn from personal experience. (How many of us can remember with any accuracy what happened years or decades ago?) Moreover, much of the information about such events as births, marriages, migrations, and deaths that has been passed along to us was not first-hand knowledge but had been passed along previously by others. Often the accounts of these events were transformed in the retelling, perhaps purposely but more likely as a result of the process that was at work. In addition, in earlier times people were not expected or required to remember the precise dates of events (let alone telephone numbers, passwords, PIN numbers, ZIP codes, and the like!) except on rare occasions, and so it was easy for these dates to slip away from them. Information furnished in times of stress – most particularly, at the time of a death in the family – can turn out to be quite incorrect.
Moreover, exact ages were not always regarded as important, estimates such as "about forty" being perfectly acceptable for most purposes. Nor did our ancestors always feel an obligation to produce accurate information for official purposes, even for the census takers who visited once every ten years, and sometimes they had reasons for deliberately obscuring the information they related. Even at best, people mix up details and get confused over relationships, and an error once repeated can in effect become the reality and is very difficult to detect and eradicate.
All this should remind us that the information passed along – and used in this family history – should be weighed against other information at our disposal (and also logic), and that we should not regard any memory as infallible. Uncertainty is simply part of the equation, therefore, and at times we can only get as far as identifying and analyzing the alternatives before us. In some cases, we just have to live with not knowing certain things for sure. In these instances, we should, as one historian said of another's work, take "pleasure in the past's multiple possibilities."
I have sought to set forth the most plausible explanation that the available evidence can support. This has often meant weighing the apparent options and eliminating what seem to me the least likely possibilities, leaving one or more surviving explanations. Where more than one of these exists, I have tried to lay out the salient points that argue for each. This is not always a neat process, unfortunately, but including some of my reasoning in this history itself at once gives the reader a taste of the research upon which that history is based, identifies for my successor(s) several avenues for potential research, and hedges my bets in case more evidence in fact does come along to disprove the particular explanation I have chosen. Thus it is that there may be some conflicting information in what follows. I have come as close as I can, but some of the puzzles are not solvable with what we know now.
Is all the evidence cited here? No, it is not. Is everything here fully supported by the evidence that does exist? No, it is not. My goal has been not an academic history of my family but a broad account of how it seems to have evolved, given the state of the evidence that has survived; judge it by that standard, therefore, and not by traditional scholarly standards. This does not mean that I set aside my historical training. Indeed, I believe that my academic training in history prepared me very nicely to handle the challenges I have outlined: I have sifted through what I could find (either in original materials or in the work of others), assessed the relative importance and accuracy of the evidence at hand, and used my scholarly judgment about what this evidence suggests regarding the history of my family.
There are a lot of informed guesses here (and not a few waffles, too). As a professional historian, I may be better equipped to evaluate the sources of information and make those conjectures than most people are; I hope that those who explore this document I have prepared will regard what I have brought to the evidence as my unique contribution to the history of the family.
This history will always be an unfinished product. My work on it continues, as I chase down facts and connections. The information available via the Internet grows in quantity and quality – and in accessibility. The information to be found in the LDS Family History Library and its genealogical database will also expand and become more accessible. (Regrettably, some of the information that individuals have contributed to that database is unreliable.) Already I have personally done research in the documentary records of nearly one hundred counties, but there are still more to visit. I hope to consult contemporary newspapers, which may include obituaries, and many other unofficial sources. I may come into contact with still more members of the numerous families discussed here who will have fresh information about those ancestors we share. Only the surface of what can be learned from DNA evidence has been touched so far. And who knows what else may turn up?
By the way, do not underestimate the challenge involved in building a plausible picture of one's family history. Remember that ancestral research confronts the tyranny of exponential progression: each generation back in time doubles the number of ancestors, and these numbers grow very large very rapidly. We are descended from many more persons than we realize, therefore. Going back four generations (some members of which might be alive at the same time) yields only thirty ancestors in sixteen different family lines, assuming no cousins have married. That does not seem so many. By ten generations, though, there are 256 pairs of ancestors and 512 family lines. Add five more generations and there are 16,384 couples – and twice as many families. By twenty generations (roughly four centuries is all) the number has reached 524,288 pairs and more than one million different family lines. And by forty generations the number of ancestors for each of us has exceeded a trillion – more than all the human beings who have ever lived on earth!
But all those lines are not so different, which helps to explain how our theoretical ancestors can outnumber all of the persons who ever lived. In instances where families lived for generations in the same general locale, and near other families similarly rooted there, intermarriage was so common (even within the same family – as we will see in our own, 18th-century American, case) that a single family might be entwined with certain other families, and itself, many times over. This reduces the overall number of ancestors and also the number of surnames, since there will be duplication. Recent research has shown, in fact, that most persons with European origins have very many recent (since 1400) common ancestors.
And because an ancestor ten or fifteen generations ago might have many hundreds or thousands of descendants today, with all of them having many other links, all of us are "related" in closer or more distant fashion to many, many other people today – millions of them, in fact. (Moreover, our own descendants will carry forward this phenomenon, so that some hundreds of years in the future – if there is one – each of us will be an ancestor of a sizeable portion of the human race.) No one can determine all these relationships with past generations: there are enough gaps in evidence that the problem of reconstructing one's complete family history is ultimately impossible.
Let me say a word about how the information is presented here. In general, the account of each major family begins in the most recent past and winds its way back as far as I can trace that particular line. This usually means that the shorter of the two lines (typically but not necessarily that of the female of the two parents) is extinguished first. Within each family, however, I have tried to present a chronological account, often stretching over several decades or more, for each generation that can be identified. This overall plan is occasionally violated when I have concentrated on the story of the family and have let the chips of the generational details fall where they may.
This approach makes for some inevitable confusion in the narration, which must shift from one family to another and occasionally must skip from generation to generation in order to present as complete and coherent a picture as possible. It may be helpful to have handy a printout of the family tree that the magic of genealogy software makes available. Finally, I have used footnotes to preserve some of the information that is not immediately germane to the main points the text discusses but that should be available for the sake of clarity, for completeness, or as leads to further research. The footnotes also mention photographs that I have taken of various sites associated with my families. Not every site has a photograph; for instance, where there are mulitiple (and similar) properties that were owned by a particular individual, views of some of them suffice.
I have long felt a special obligation to compile this family history, not just for myself but even more so for David and Peter and now for Quincy and Piper. They carry forward this branch of the Neal family that extends from my Grandfather Neal through my father to me. Whether sons or daughters, all of us carry the genes and traditions of the many families who are described herein, and it is my hope that from this modest document they will learn to carry onward with pride the identities and histories that are inescapably a part of them.
Shakespeare's Henry V, viewing a tally of the English losses in battle with the French at Agincourt, sums up the deaths as follows: "Edward the Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk, Sir Richard Ketly, Davy Gam, esquire: none else of name . . . ." Such is the fate of the unnamed, to appear (if at all) in an offhand postscript on lists such as this. It has been my quest to identify by name as many of my ancestors as possible, even if only tentatively while more evidence is sought, in the hope that they will live on in our family's historical consciousness. Beyond that I have sought to learn something more about these people, to bring them to life insofar as the evidence permits, to place them in their historical settings, and otherwise to preserve them as real persons and not merely as names. It may well be, as Peter Tchaikovsky wrote while reflecting upon his Fourth Symphony, that "it is sad, yet sweet, to lose one's self in the past." In the context of this family history, it is sad that we know so little about some of these our ancestors, even after years of stumbling around in the past they inhabited. Yet it is sweet to reflect that as a result of this wandering we have learned at least something about most of these people, and often much more, and I am thankful that I have been able to bring into being this ambitious but imperfect account of what we have discovered.
Think of your forefathers! Think of your posterity!
–– John Quincy Adams ––
About the author:
Donn C. Neal earned a B.A. in History summa cum laude from Alma College (1962) and an M.A. in History (1963) and a Ph.D. in History (1973) from the University of Michigan. He taught history at Elmira College (1967-1976) and the University of Michigan (1976) before becoming Vice President of the Great Lakes Colleges Association (1976-1981) and Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education (1981-1986). From 1986 through 1990 he was Executive Director of the Society of American Archivists. In 1990 he joined the staff of the Archivist of the United States and served in several leadership positions at the National Archives (including Director of Congressional and External Affairs and Director of the Office of Professional Development and Training) until his retirement in 2001. He is the author of The World Beyond the Hudson: Alfred E. Smith and National Politics, 1918-1928 and edited Consortia and Interinstitutional Cooperation. He has been involved in researching and writing family history since the mid-1990s.
This family history is lovingly dedicated to my dear wife, Margaret Louise ("Peggy") Emmert, who was not related to anyone in it except for her husband and their two children. Like most marital partners, she contributed to my project in many ways, both willingly and unwillingly. Like most such contributions, they are largely invisible unless attention is called to them as they are here.
She kept the household going while I focused on my obsession, identifying a bunch of dead ancestors in whom (with a couple of exceptions) she had no real interest – one of those few exceptions being "that Dutch woman who kicked around the Indian's head like a soccer ball." When necessary, she could pretend for the sake of others that she understood and valued the research I was doing; deep down, we both knew and accepted it was all simply beyond her ken. But despite her personal lack of interest in family history – I have had to write a short one for her own family, after all – she recognized and appreciated what working on mine meant to me, and to our own descendants.
She also tolerated my spending long hours at libraries and other research facilities, at writing on the computer we shared, and at agonizing over just which word or phrase or conclusion was the right one here, and here, and there. In fact, she was an outstanding critic of what I did write, and how I organized and presented my text, even if I did not accept every suggestion she made. She tolerated my frequent flights of theorizing about what might explain problems or paucity of information, even if she had little patience for wondering and guessing about such things. She tolerated my occasional research forays, from solo trips several weeks in length to days when she had to find something to do for a few hours in a small county seat or other place without a bookstore. She tolerated tiresome detours to find an obscure place where one of my ancestors lived, or might have lived, just so I could take a photograph of it. She tolerated the extra expenses I imposed on the family budget to make these special trips and sometimes crazy detours, to subscribe to obscure newsletters, to purchase all those U.S.G.S. maps, and so forth.
She also invented, implemented, and for many years maintained this website whereby I could "publish" my family history for others to read. This included creating ingenious systems for footnoting and for linking individuals to one another that made the website far more useful, both for me and for readers. Through the contacts that have come by having a website I have learned far more than I would have otherwise, and I also have gained some satisfaction by having helped others to learn more about our shared families. I suspect this satisfaction also gave to my wife a degree of gratification for the sacrifices she made in the development of the family history itself – I certainly hope it did.
All these were gifts that I treasure even more now, as I can see them in their totality and realize just how unstinting and thoughtful and valuable they were. I might have completed a family history of some kind without her, but it certainly would not have resembled this one in breadth and depth and readability. It is imperfect in any of these aspects even with her help, but the marks of that help appear on just about every page. Thank you, my true love, for all of this and so much more. RIP.
From an Old English Parish Register dated 1582 – and much loved by those doing family history. The photograph that follows is of Donn C. Neal, volunteer miller at the Burwell-Morgan Mill, Millwood, Virginia. (Photo by Dennis Grundman, November 2, 2002. Used by permission, Northern Virginia Daily.) Return to text
My files contain extensive documentation on some families, modest information about others, and only bits and pieces on still others. There are some very active family associations (especially for Chastain and Bradt) that publish newsletters, hold reunions, maintain web sites, debunk spurious information, and otherwise provide assistance. For information about Virginia's tithable and tax systems, which are cited in most of the chapters and are quite unusual by today's standards, see Appendix IX. Return to text
More than 99% of this census was destroyed (some by fire, the remainder by water damage) in 1921, while it was still in the possession of the Department of Commerce. In addition, about one-third of the 1790 census was burned (along with the Capitol) by British troops during the War of 1812.
The absence of clergy resulted in some marriages being formalized across a state line. Many births, marriages, and deaths were never officially recorded and, absent some Bible record or family memory, are probably lost to us for good. In analyzing census records, which would seem to be on their face reliable, it is important to keep in mind that the census taker did not always get his or her information from the family itself but from (possibly uninformed) neighbors or others; that persons living together were not necessarily related; and that many, many errors were made in recording or copying census data – or in compiling the indices that were prepared later. Furthermore, the enumerator was required to list the family members (and their residences and their ages) as of the official date of the census, not the day it was taken. Persons living on that date but since deceased were to be listed; persons born after that day were to be omitted. The official census dates were as follows: the first Monday in August for 1790 through 1820; June 1 for 1830 through 1880, and for 1900; April 15 for 1910; January 1 for 1920; and April 1 for 1930 and 1940. Censuses from 1790 through 1840 used only broad age categories (e.g., 10 years old through 20 years old). In such instances the upper age listed actually means those up to but not yet that age, so in this example the column would include those from age 10 through age 19. It was not until 1850 that, in theory at least, everyone in a particular household would begin to be tabulated by name. For many years, there are also copies of the "non-population" censuses for a number of states. The most valuable of these for this history are the agricultural censuses, which were used between 1850 and 1880, inclusive. These typically showed the quantity of animals, crops, and products the farm generated for sale, beyond what was consumed at home. (The agricultural censuses are not held and serviced by the National Archives but by individual states; some are housed in state archives, some by another agency or institution.)
It is not unusual to see even the same individual spell his or her name different ways, sometimes even within the same document. I will occasionally provide some of the major variations, not just for the sake of interest but to illustrate how in seeking relationships one must imagine and search under every potential variation.