In today's column, the 1760 will of Sarah Turbervile
of Orange County, Virginia, is analyzed. Sarah has been researched
by many genealogists and more is known about her and her family than
what is contained in her will. Sarah Turbervile's will is used as an
example of ways in which one document can be analyzed and entered into
a database. The will allows us to roughly sketch Sarah's family and
set a framework for future research. One would never stop with just
one document in analyzing any family, especially one that appears to
be this complicated.
From Orange County, Virginia, Will book 2, pages 310-311:
In the Name of God Amen I Sarah Turbervile of Orange
County in the Colony of Virginia . . . do make & Ordain this my
last Will . . .
I give to my Son John Willis one Shilling sterling . . .
I give to my son William Willis Ten Shillings . . .
I give to my son Henry Wood Two pounds . . .
I give to my son David Hudson one Shilling sterling . . .
I give to my son Joshua Hudson one Shilling Sterling
I give to my Daughter Sarah Hawkins all my wearing cloths with a
book Called William Beverage Sermons
I give to Rush Hudsons Daughter Mary one chest and his Daughter Elizabeth
I give to son Rush Hudson one Negro Woman named Winny during his
life & afterwards I give the said Winny & her increase to Rush
Hudson Junr Except the first born I give to Elizabeth Hudson and the
next to Mary Hudson. I give to my Son Rush all the rest of my goods
. . . ordain my son Rush Hudson . . . Executor of this my last Will
and Testament . . . this 18 day of June in the Year of our Lord God
Sarah (x) Turberville
Witnesses: Benjamin Hawkins Junr.
Moses Harwood (signed with an "x")
Kezia Roper (signed with her "x")
Sarah signed an addition to the will indicating that her estate not
Sarah's will was proven in Orange County Court on 28 May
1761, presented by Rush Hudson and proved by the oaths of the three
witnesses. Probate was granted to Hudson and his probate bond in the
sum of twenty pounds lists Joshua Hudson and John Morton as securities.
What About the Inventory?
Sarah's inventory (p. 319, Will book 2) is relatively
short. It includes the slave mentioned in her will, one bed and furniture,
three head of cattle, one trunk and chest, one small table, one pair
of [Stillards?], some old books, some old puter[sic], one cutting knife,
some bottles, one stone cup, one Earthan pott, and one Small Chair.
So ends Sarah's probate.
Sarah names seven children in her will. The sons have three different
surnames. Unfortunately these surnames are different from Sarah's surname
of Turbervile. To analyze the family, one has to make some assumptions.
And as has been pointed out, assumptions are fine as long as one remembers
that one has made them and as long as one continues to evaluate them
in light of new evidence and information.
I'll assume the words "son" and "daughter" when used in Sarah's will
denote a biological child of Sarah and not any other type of parental
relationship. I'm not certain if the order in which Sarah listed her
children has anything to do with birth order. In this case, it appears
that Sarah listed first those children who received "token" inheritances
(John, William, Henry, David, and Joshua) and then the children who
received something other than a token amount. The token inheritance
does not necessarily imply that these children had fallen out of Sarah's
good graces. The five sons given listed first might easily have already
received an inheritance from their respective fathers.
I'm also assuming daughter Sarah is married at the time the will
is written. If she's not, then Sarah Turbervile had an additional
husband, which would bring the total to five (for now I'm comfortable
leaving the number of husbands at four, but will keep my eyes peeled
for an additional husband). The will offers no proof of daughter Sarah's
marriage, but there is a Benjamin Hawkins Junr. listed as a witness
to the will. He should be kept in mind as a potential candidate for
daughter Sarah's husband. I'll keep my eyes peeled for him, too, but
for now he is just a man with the last name Hawkins who witnessed Sarah's
will—which is what he will remain until further research has
Based upon the will and our assumptions, it looks like Sarah was
married four times:
Once to a Mr. Willis, with whom she had John and William.
Once to a Mr. Wood, with whom she had Henry.
Once to a Mr. Hudson, with whom she had David, Joshua, and Rush.
Once to a Mr. Turbervile. Based solely upon the will, one can not
precisely determine the order in which Sarah married these men, other
than the fact that her marriage to Mr. Turbervile was her last marriage.
One cannot also determine the father of daughter Sarah.
Based solely upon the will, one can not precisely determine the order
in which Sarah married these men, other than the fact that her marriage
to Mr. Turbervile was her last marriage. One cannot also determine
the father of daughter Sarah.
Entering This Into the Computer Database
First of all, I use Sarah's will as the source of the information
and should document the relationships when entering the information
by creating appropriate citations. Based upon the will and upon my
assumptions, I would give Sarah the following husbands:
Willis—with children John and William
Wood—with child Henry
Hudson—with children David, Joshua, and Rush
Turbervile—with no children
Unknown—with daughter Sarah
On the surface, this is inconsistent with the assumption that Sarah
had four husbands. However, I'm not certain who the father of Sarah
Hawkins is at this point and I want to enter her in the database somehow
as Sarah Turbervile's daughter. Consequently, I create an "unknown"
father for Sarah Hawkins. In the notes for daughter Sarah's entry,
I list my assumptions (i.e., that Hawkins is Sarah's married name)
and my belief that one of Sarah Turbervile's four husbands is Sarah's
father. I should create notes regarding my assumption in mother Sarah's
file as well.
I would enter Sarah's death date as being between the date the will
was written, and the date the will was proved in court. It seems very
reasonable that Sarah's place of death was Orange County, Virginia.
Why Not Just Say Grandchild?
There are several reasons why the phrase "Rush Hudson's
daughter Mary" is used in place of the more generic term "grandchild."
The most likely reason is to distinguish between grandchildren of the
same name. Sarah had three sons surnamed Hudson, each of them could
easily have had a daughter named Mary. Using the phrase "Rush Hudson's
daughter Mary" make the intent clear.
I need a map of the Virginia county boundaries for 1761 and back
until Sarah's likely birth. Her Orange County residence of 1761 does
not mean she lived in part of present-day Orange County until I have
determined when the county boundaries became fixed (based on a preliminary
study, it appears that Orange County only spawned one county after
1761: Greene County in 1838). Orange County was formed in 1734 from
Spotsylvania. If I determine that Sarah's family lived in the area before
that time, I will have to search the records of Orange's parent county,
even though the family might not have moved.
No House for Sarah?
The estate inventory for Sarah lists no real property or any buildings.
It seems reasonable that Sarah was not living by herself at the time
of her death and likely was living with one of her children. Her estate
inventory does not include the number of household items that I noted
in many other estate inventories in the same will volume.
How Old Was Sarah?
While the will does not list Sarah's age, it appears
reasonable that she was at least sixty at her death in 1761, and probably
significantly older. At least two of her children were married at
the time she wrote her will. Given the time period, there is a reasonable
chance that all records related to Sarah and her husbands do not lie
in Orange County because of boundary changes. Additionally, there
is a reasonable chance that given the time period, Sarah did move, likely
from the eastern, more settled areas of Virginia. Personally, I'm
not going to enter any birth date for Sarah in my database at this
point—I just don't feel I have enough information. And the will
certainly does not indicate where Sarah was born.
Could Sarah Read?
Sarah did sign her will with her mark and to many this indicates
illiteracy. However, making a mark simply means the person made a
mark. Conversely, signing a name does not necessarily prove literacy;
some people learned how to "draw their name." However, Sarah's estate
inventory includes several books and one is specifically mentioned
by name in her will. Personally, I give more weight to these two items
and feel reasonably certain that Sarah was literate. Interestingly
enough, some of Sarah's great-great-grandchildren have been documented
What of the Sermon Book?
William Beveridge was a seventeenth century Welsh minister
who wrote many tracts. An on-going project of mine is to locate a copy
of the book Sarah is likely referring to in her will. This is a personally
interesting reference as I descend from Sarah the mother and Sarah
the daughter. And while I won't be able to have the actual book in
my hands, a copy of the likely tract will be better than nothing.
Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical
Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois,
and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg,
Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the
editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly.
He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical
and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications,
including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can
e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit his Web site at: http://www.rootdig.com/
, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2002, MyFamily.com.