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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 3/6/2002

The Oft-Married Sarah

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 one Trunk

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 1760

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 be appraised.

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.

The Assumptions
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 been undertaken.

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.

    Got Maps?
    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 as illiterate.

    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: or visit his Web site at: , but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

    Copyright 2002,

  • Used with permission.       

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