It’s a Math Thing: Why John Colvin Can’t Be Charles Colvin’s Father.

In genealogy, just like real social-science, comparative analysis and calculations are necessary to achieve results and advance conclusions.  And recently I came across some data which suggested that John Colvin, born ca. 1741 and who married Margaret Day ca. 1765 was also the father of Charles Colvin of Fauquier.  It’s fairly well established that, probably post-1809 Charles went to Kentucky; he disappears from the personal property tax rolls in Stafford County and his Last Will and Testament is executed and probated the next year in Pendleton County, Kentucky. The records for these events are extant. Yet who his father was is far from conclusive and no record has yet been discovered to determine who he is. That hasn’t stopped some researchers,  however, from advancing some creative ideas.

The pertinent data came from the third paragraph of a researcher’s narrative regarding how her ancestors migrated to Kentucky in the early 18th century. To wit:

                The family members that came to Kentucky with Waller Minor were: his mother, Sarah Waller[1],     and his two youngest brothers, John Lewis Minor and James Minor; his mother-in law, Margaret [Day] Colvin with her daughter, Catherine Colvin, and sons John, Lewis, and Charles Colvin.

 Judging from the few footnotes accompanying her text, this claim is based on a reading by someone else who reportedly surveyed the well-known E.E.  Barton Papers at the Pendleton County library which has a full set.  The Barton Papers are extremely popular with genealogists working in Kentucky’s pioneering years because of how revealing they are in terms of who is related to whom. They are the result of years of interviewing by their author, eminent attorney, Evan Everett Barton,  who is credited with (somehow) compiling  family data on just about every living soul in Pendleton and Harrison counties between 1930-1940 – or so it seems.  So his work is extremely popular, frequently consulted, and everywhere cited and in many cases, reliable. And, likewise,  profitable for those who like selling other people’s work via compact discs, etc.  All fine and good; but the flaw in the above passage is that the arrangement implies a familial grouping that doesn’t work mathematically – at least according to extant records.  To understand why this is so, let’s examine the Colvin members from this passage’s cast of characters:

1. Margaret Day

2. Catherine Colvin

3. John Colvin

4. Lewis Colvin

5. Charles Colvin

1.  Margaret Day is considered by most genealogists to be the “wife” of John Colvin. Her estimated birth is usually given as ca. 1717-1746, in Fauquier County, Virginia.  John’s birth is never given – not even a range. But this couple is identified as husband and wife in a related land deed, so the fact that they were married can be shown.  What is also known is roughly when John died:  prior to 1794, when his heirs sold off land he bought in 1777 in Culpeper County.  What’s more; all of his heirs were named in that deed and the only Charles named was Charles Colvin who is identified with his wife, Hanna Routt,  and later as an heir to Charles Colvin in his Will of 1810. His father’s wife was Susanna Day – Margaret’s sister.  Further, Charles, (the elder) isn’t on that heir list of the 1794 deed. Why? He wasn’t an heir. What’s more, Charles Colvin (the elder) can be traced in Fauquier County personal property tax records beginning in 1766. And that means he had to be between age sixteen and twenty-one because he was someone else’s tithe in 1766.

2.  Catherine Colvin. This is interesting because she is usually assigned a birth year of 1792 and who married Goodrich Lightfoot on February 19, 1801,  in Pendleton County, Kentucky, with the consent of her mother,  Margaret. (If her father, John, was still alive he would have given consent.) But this also means Catherine was underage; under twenty-one years of age. Hence the consent needed.  Unfortunately, she is not among the heirs listed in the 1794 deed by her father, John Colvin. Wonder if she felt slighted?

3. John Colvin. It may be that this John was a brother to Charles. If that is so, there’s a problem because Charles — if on the Fauquier tax rolls of 1766 age sixteen to twenty-one that put his birthdate in the 1745-1750 range; which means his supposed father, John, (as given in the above passage,) was, at the early end of the range  about 3 years old when he sired Charles.

4.  Lewis Colvin.  It’s possible he is a son of John Colvin, brother of Charles. Lewis married in 1809 to Elizabeth “Betsy” Bell  but,  more significantly, he was named in the 1794 deed as an heir of John. No wife named, at that time.

5. Charles: See # 3.

So what does the math tell us?

1. Toddlers don’t have babies.  At least none that have been recorded since people have been studying the biology of reproduction.  And we are talking about humans.

2.  The father of John and Charles is not John who married Margaret Day. He is unknown.  If John was Charles’s brother, however, this implies they had to be somewhat close in age; John’s estimated birth year of 1741 and Charles’ similarly estimated birth year of 1745, based on their frequent and mutual appearances in land, court, and tax records make this entirely plausible. It also makes sense when you consider that, in 1777, John (if born in 1741) would be in his 30s — certainly of an age to be married and convey land.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions.


[1] Daughter of Col. William and Ann Standard Waller of  Newport Plantation in Spotsylvania County. William Waller was the Third Clerk of Spotsylvania County. He served eighteen years in the House of Burgesses, and was from a prominent family.


About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
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