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from the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill 3/13/2002

Rushing Around to Figure Sarah Out

Last Week's Article discussed the will of Sarah Turbervile from 1761 in Virginia. This week's article follows up on some reader mail and addresses some additional issues from this document.

A Rush By Any Other Name
I made an unstated assumption regarding the references to Rush Hudson in the Sarah Turbervile will. Unstated assumptions can get us into trouble and not just when we are in "genealogy land." The assumption I made was that each reference to a "Rush Hudson" indicated a reference to the same person. While this is a workable assumption, it may not be correct in this instance. There is a very real possibility that would also fit the scenario. This possibility also makes the point that an initial analysis may overlook potential clues.

Let's summarize the Rush Hudson references in the will of Sarah Turbervile:
--- A Rush Hudson is mentioned as the father of Mary and Elizabeth Hudson.
--- A "son Rush Hudson" is given a slave Winny and is named as the will's executor.
--- A "Rush Hudson Junr." is to receive the slave Winny upon the death of Rush Hudson, the son.

There is a reasonable chance that the Rush Hudson mentioned as Sarah's son is not the same Rush Hudson mentioned as the father of Mary and Elizabeth Hudson. It is possible that Sarah's "Hudson husband" was in fact named Rush and that these two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, are his by a previous marriage. Sarah could easily have been their step-mother for the vast majority of their life and effectively been their mother. This situation would obviously preclude Mary and Elizabeth being the granddaughters of Sarah.

I'm not going to get the answers to Sarah's family solely by analyzing Sarah's will. The Rush Hudson situation presented this week and last week are both reasonable. One should avoid the temptation to create "soap operas" based upon the details in one document. There are several far-flung realities that could be hiding behind this will. Time is better spent however working on locating additional records.

The plausibility of both scenarios clearly indicates the need for further research in wills, probate, land and church records. This research should begin in the Orange County, Virginia area and generally (based upon the time period and settlement patterns) work eastward as I work back in time. Sarah's family likely continued to spread out as time moved on, but her origins are likely in Orange County or somewhere between Orange County and the Atlantic seaboard.

In the "rush" to find answers, it is always worth remembering that in some families, the same first names were repeated (and repeated and repeated). These names may be repeated so many times that it takes on extensive search of a series of records to really distinguish one individual of the same name from another. And even then the lines of distinction may never be crystal clear.

Several readers pointed out that the reference to "stillards" in Sarah's estate inventory likely refers to stillyards or steelyards, an older type of weighing device. The brackets and question mark were my notation that the writing was difficult to read and that I was guessing as to the handwriting. The inventory reference to "puter" obviously does not refer a computer, but likely to pewter. Clerks were not always excellent spellers and ancestors in certain areas might have spoken with a drawl or an accent that might also have resulted in spelling irregularities.

No Real Estate?
I indicated that Sarah's estate inventory did not include any real estate. As was pointed out to me by one astute reader, there were times when the inventory required was one of personal property and not of real estate property or real estate. The estate law (and common practice) of the state or colony at the time of the probate would usually dictate if such real property is listed in an inventory and I am not certain of the law in effect at the time of this probate. In Illinois in the 1880s one would expect to find real estate listed in an inventory. However, Sarah's estate was not probated in Illinois in the 1880s, but rather Virginia in the 1760s. Sarah's will does not mention real estate either and it is this lack of reference to real estate or property that more likely indicates there is none. It seems likely that if she had real property that it would have been mentioned in her will. Sarah's bequests do not mention any real property and her bequest to her son Rush is for "all the rest of my goods[sic]," hinting that there was no real property. However, there is always a chance she had real property (lawyers and clerks do make mistakes) and land records in Orange County for ten or so years after her death should be searched for potential deeds drawn up by her heirs after her demise as a matter of completeness.

Literate Sarahs?
It was indicated that the books mentioned in Sarah's inventory and the sermon book specifically bequeathed in the will do not completely prove the literacy of Sarah the mother. There is a possibility that Sarah obtained them from a deceased husband and retained them as a memento and a remembrance. The possession of the books and the specific bequest of one of them does indicate that they were valued by Sarah and that her daughter Sarah Hawkins (to whom a specific book is given) most likely could read. Sarah the mother signed her will with her mark and may have also have done so if she were unable to physically handle a writing instrument at the time the will was written.

Turbervile Sarah's Maiden Name?
While I may be wrong, I'm still going to operate under the assumption that Turbervile is the name of Sarah's last husband and not a surname or her maiden name. In thinking of my other Virginia ancestors during this same time period, I don't have another female who reverted to a previous surname or to her maiden name. If other records are counter to this assumption, then I'll have to reconsider.

Make Assumptions?
Several wrote to politely throw "monkey wrenches" into my assumptions and as I re-read the article I threw in a few myself. Genealogists have to make assumptions to begin research. One must start somewhere. However, it can be extremely helpful to list the assumptions one has made when one is reading or interpreting a document. Listing the assumptions serves to remind you that you made them and assists you to more effectively evaluate the assumption's reasonableness in light of a "genealogical education" or of additional records. Reading articles in the genealogical literature can also aid in our understanding of the situation. In this case, articles in the "Virginia Genealogical Society Quarterly" or the "National Genealogical Society Quarterly" may be helpful, especially if the researcher has done no previous research in this state during this time period.

Sarah's will was probably debated more in the last week than it when it was originally probated in the 1760s. In future columns we'll follow up on Sarah, her husbands, and her children.

Virginia Genealogical Society

National Genealogical Society


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 by the author on his website with permission

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