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Barking Up The Wrong Tree or How I Was Seduced By Jabez Whitaker

March 18, 2012

I have broken more rules of genealogy research than have ever been made. Some of them were because I didn’t know any better, and others were because of my wishful thinking and hardheadedness.

My worst offense has been spending two years working on a branch that turned out to be not mine after all. My time was consumed with not time or thought to posting on my blog. Just look at the date on my previous post!  All because I thought I was related to someone relatively famous and with a lineage that would have ancestors who signed the Magna Carta, married into the powerful families of England, and even went back to William the Conqueror and Charlemagne.

This is a cautionary tale to other family historians.  You can’t cut corners. You have to check your facts and have as much documentation as you can before you make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Dr. Melton P. Meek, the pre-eminent genealogist on the Whitaker Family of Holme-in-Clivinger, Lancashire, England, gently reminded of this. Bless Dr. Meek for finally setting me on the right track and to Joye Boardman for graciously sharing the correct information.

How did I get so far astray? Well it’s the fault of my 4th great grandfather, Richard Whitaker. He had the audacity to be living in North Carolina at the same time as another Richard Whitaker, who was born around the same time and lived in Halifax Co. NC. The Halifax Richard was the son of Richard, Sr. and Elizabeth Cary. These Whitakers could trace his ancestry back to Jamestown and Jabez Whitaker, who married Lady Mary Bouchier, whose illustrious ancestors went back to Charlemagne.  Jabez’s father, Dr. William Whitaker, was a famous cleric in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and his half-brother, Rev. Alexander Whitaker was the minister who converted Pocahontas to Christianity and then performed her marriage to John Rolfe.  As a former history teacher, I was seduced by all of this. Besides, as I looked at hundreds of web resources with convincing historical data, many researchers had this lineage as credible.

As Lee Corso, my favorite college football analyst says, “Not so fast, my friend.” My Richard may have been in Halifax County, but he settled in Rowan County, and later Lincoln County North Carolina. He married Rachel Bentley, and ended up being grafted onto the wrong branch because of name, geographic proximity, and confusion.

I corresponded with Dr. Meek, who is THE authority on the Richard > Jabez > Dr. William Whitaker line whose family originated in a Lancashire hamlet with the quaint name of Holme-in-Cliviger. His book, The Descendants of Thomas Whitaker of Holme-In-Clivinger Burnley Lancashire, England 1400-1996, is considered to be the Bible on this branch of the family.  Dr. Meek and I were exploring the possibility that Rachel Bentley was Halifax Richard’s second wife, since we knew his first wife was Nancy Ann Peete.

In the meantime, I was in a frenzy of research, locating the ancestral home in Lancashire, and learning about Dr. William Whitaker’s contributions to the Protestant movement and to Cambridge University. I corresponded with the parish church in Holme-in-Clivinger, and received wonderful photos from a local photographer of the ancient church, the countryside, and the pub.  My nonagenarian mother, who is like Betty White on steroids, was ready to make a pilgrimage to the homeplace in Holme-in-Clivinger. I use the term nonagenarian because my mother is quite sensitive about her age, but if you don’t know the meaning, just look it up to get what decade her age is. I don’t want to be disinherited, and after all, she does have the legendary mountain Whitaker temperament.

Then I got the email followed by mailed written documentation from Dr. Meek with the proof that Halifax Richard never married Rachel Bentley and my Richard was a different person entirely, not related to the “famous” Whitakers. It dawned on me with stunning clarity. I had been careless, going after a quick fix, following the crowd, sharing shoddy information and not following good genealogical practices. Dr. Meek gently showed me an experienced genealogist in action, working slowly and methodically. By the way, Dr. Meek and my mother are close in age, and are good role models in mental activity and having a zest for life. They are what I want to be when I grow up.

Now I was back to square one. Where had my Richard come from? What about the descendants of his 11 children with Rachel? I found an out-of-print publication, Richard Whitaker of North Carolina and Washington County, Virginia by Joye Boardman. I contacted her about getting a copy, but she didn’t have any more. She kindly emailed a text copy and it provided excellent information along with documentation. We began corresponding, and I encouraged her to make her information available on the Internet so that others wouldn’t make the same mistakes I had.  She said she didn’t have time or expertise, but graciously gave permission for putting her research on my

The moral of this story is wishful thinking and conjecture are no substitute for research and documentation in doing your family history.  The other lesson learned is experienced genealogists can be our best teachers if we let them. Family history is more than collecting names and filling in the missing blanks on a pedigree chart.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2012 2:17 pm

    This is a great article. Thanks for sharing. Genealogy is full of such cautionary tales.

  2. Leah permalink
    January 28, 2014 5:00 am

    I believe I am related to Jabez Whitaker, but never know until tonight that they might be “famous!” Thank you so much for sharing this. I can’t wait to tell my mother all about it!

    • January 28, 2014 5:12 am

      Glad I was able to help, Leah. Jabez father, Dr. William Whitaker, was the most famous of the family. His theological works are still studied today.

      • William Read permalink
        August 30, 2014 7:53 pm

        I have been researching the Whitaker family of Jabez for years. My mother’s grandmother was a Whitaker and we can trace her back to John Whitaker and Martha Gough who were the parents of Richard Whitaker who married Elizabeth Cary.

        Many people have concluded that William Whitaker, the ” Viewer of Tobacco Crops ” was the son of Jabez and Mary Bourchier. Other than his name William and the fact that he was a tobacco inspector ( Jabez bought and sold tobacco) I can not find any connection of William being the son of Jabez. In fact I have found nothing to indicate that Jabez had a son.

        Have you ever seen any evidence to support William being the son of Jabez? At the time William was in Jamestown there were a few other Withakers.

        Can you help me?

        How can I get in touch with Dr Meek?

        Thanks William Read

        Just as a PS: I met the daughter of the last Whitaker owner of the Holme. I have visited the Holme twice


      • August 31, 2014 7:49 pm

        Off the top of my head, I can’t recall having seen definitive truth about William being Jabez son. I’m corresponding with another Whitaker researcher on an Avis Whitaker who was an indentured servant. However, circumstantial evidence based on their higher class status in VA society and it continuing as they migrated into NC may be the best we can hope for, unless we can get DNA confirmation.

        I’ll be honest, once I left Jabez in my rearview mirror, I never looked back.However, the Holme has an irresistible pull, I just hate it that it has burned and sits as a relic until someone has the funds to restore it. You must have some wonderful photos and stories about your visit.

        I googled Dr. Meek and found he died in April of this year. Here’s his obituary.

        I am so sad to learn of his death. He was so generous sending me information and updates of his work. And I will be forever grateful to him for setting me on the right track about Jabez. His genealogy collection was donated to the Lawton, OK Library.

        Wish I had better news about Dr. Meek. It may be the research librarian at Lawton Public Library may be able to help you since they house his collection.

        Happy hunting,

      • Bill/Linda Read permalink
        August 31, 2014 8:56 pm

        Hi Cheryl: Thanks for the fast response. I was so excited when I read that blog, now all of the air is out of my balloon. Some time you win and some time you lose.

        I have seen so many books on the Whitakers and I* don’t recall that one by Dr Meek. Do you know if he shows William as being the son of Jabez?*

        * Yes we do have a few stories and photos of the Holme. The first time we visited was in 1977 and the new owner invited my wife, daughter to have dinner with him and his wife. We took lots of pictures of the inside and outside. Unfortunately the drug store lost the ones of the inside. We went back in 2001 when it was a nursing home. We were not allowed inside at that time.. It is a shame that the place is a wreck now. We have met twice with the daughter of the last Whitaker owner of the Holme. She was our house guest for a night. She works in Washington DC for the European Union and has a home in Belguim. We live in Plant City FL.*

        * Is it possible that I could get your email address? Do you know where I could find a copy of Dr Meek’s book. Even if I could get past William as Jabez’s son it is still not real clear as to the next two generations Richard and John.*

        *Talk to you later*

        * Thanks Bill Read*

        On Sun, Aug 31, 2014 at 3:49 PM, Appalachian Aristocracy: Adventures

      • September 1, 2014 6:08 am

        Hi, Bill, I sent you a message from my genealogy account with the subject line on Dr. Meek. Please check your spam folder if you didn’t get it.

        I know you were just sick to lose the photos of the interior of the Holme. But you have the visual memories of your visit, but you can’t share those with others. How wonderful you’ve maintained the connection with the last family to live at the Holme. From the old postcard I found on line and from the modern photos, it looks like a grand old place with much character.

        Please keep me posted with what you find.


      • Bill/Linda Read permalink
        August 31, 2014 9:20 pm

        Hi Cheryl, again: I just found a copy of the book on the family history center web site.

        Thanks. Wish me luck.


        On Sun, Aug 31, 2014 at 3:49 PM, Appalachian Aristocracy: Adventures

      • September 1, 2014 6:01 am

        Glad you found a copy, Bill. Hopefully Dr. Meek’s research will provide some clarity to your question. You might also take a look at what the results are on Whitaker DNA studies. I’ve gotten some nuggets and leads for my line from them.

      • Bill/Linda Read permalink
        September 1, 2014 2:16 pm

        Hi Cheryl: Dr Meek’s book on the Whitakers provides no support that William is the son of Jabez. He just refers to other books that conclude that William is the son of Jabez. I have copies of those books and and they provide no evidence at all. Do you know of any other researchers of these Whitakers that may be of help.

        I have never found that Jabez even had a son or daughter. I know that he had a child. And I also found that ” his wife and children were living with him in Jamestown” This comes from a statement that he made in court. I guess Dr Meek is not the authority on the Whitaker family that I hoped for.

        Any suggestions? Sure would appreciate any help. Do you know if there is a blog out there just about the Holme Whitakers?

        Thanks Bill Read

        On Mon, Sep 1, 2014 at 2:01 AM, Appalachian Aristocracy: Adventures

      • September 1, 2014 6:44 pm

        Well rats, Bill. I guess there is no evidence or documentation to prove William as the son of Jabez has been found to this point. I also found it curious that the names Jabez and Alexander didn’t continue into the other generations. There could have sons given the name who died in childhood, but with the “fame” of Jabez and Alexander I would have thought that some child named Jabez or Alexander would have survived in the succeeding generations. So people are making a leap of faith, relying on proximity and supposition, wanting to make a connection to the wonderful Whitakers of the Holme. I admit I also fell under the spell.

        I searched, but I haven’t been able to discover a blog about the Whitaker’s of Holme. I found one, but it’s inactive. I’m including the link in case it becomes live later.

        Here’s another book that may be helpful if you haven’t already familiar with it.

        Whitakers of the Holme, Lancashire, England (1431) to America (1988),Melvin Dodson Whitaker
        Gateway Press, 1988, 211 pages.

        I think DNA is going to ultimately solve the mystery. It’s a matter of comparing the DNA on the known Dr. William Whitaker descendants in the UK and those in the US. Here’s the link to the Whitaker DNA site. There are a couple who say they are descendants of Jabez.

        The results from FamilyTree DNA

        Hopefully, I’ve pointed you in a productive direction. Please keep me posted on what you find.

        Happy Hunting,

      • Bill/Linda Read permalink
        September 1, 2014 7:46 pm

        Hi Cheryl: On page 6 of Dr Meek’s book he states that all of the info about the Whitakers in the book is ASSUMED. I have seen the book by Melvin Dodson Whitaker. No help. Talk to later. Thanks. Will let you know If I get lucky. Please keep me in mind if you come across anything.


        On Mon, Sep 1, 2014 at 2:44 PM, Appalachian Aristocracy: Adventures

  3. parafighter permalink
    August 1, 2014 4:18 pm

    Love this article..I worry if I am “barking up the wrong tree” family rumor that my gggrandfather changed his name from Angell to Briggs. For 19 yrs I have been researching this. I can’t find Briggs from his birth until 1892 when he shows up in NJ and his move to Missouri. But I find an Angell who has the same birtdate, mothers maiden name, occupation and born in the same area in Ma., I can find him from his birth to 1885 when I can no longer find anything on him. I visit Ma. every summer and dedicate several days to just do research. I have had many pro genealogist tell me they are 99 % sure I have found him but finding proof and/or when & why is my brick wall. I worry I have spent all this time on this and without proof, am I wasting my time. Of course no one out there is researching the Angell family, if they are, they have they stop with his father and know nothing more!

    • August 1, 2014 5:52 pm

      It sounds like you’ve done all your due diligence in trying to solve this mystery. If the pros are saying you’ve found him in MA, then I would take that as confirmation. Have checked local newspapers for information? It could be he got into some legal trouble or there was a scandal that caused him to change his name.

      • parafighter permalink
        August 2, 2014 1:02 am

        I have been checking newspapers and haven’t found anything. This past June I spent 7 hours in Taunton at a historical society reading newspaper (they are not index in any form) and couldn’t find anything but only got through 2 years worth!! I talked my dad into doing a DNA testing. We just sent it in this week, at this point I am trying anything! Thank you for your response and I am open to more suggestions!!

  4. August 2, 2014 1:12 am

    Let’s hope DNA gives the leads you need. You definitely have put in the effort of exploring all the usual options. Happy Hunting!

  5. Bonnie Yates Schow permalink
    December 8, 2015 3:09 am

    Hello! I am a bit late to the party, but I have the same questions and concerns as Bill/Linda Read, and am wondering if they ever found out anything more in the past year. I am thankful for your great article. I looked at the DNA links and honestly, I don’t understand what the charts mean! I do agree that DNA is the only way that this will ultimately be proven or disproved and I hope someone is working toward that. If there’s a way for you to give my email to Bill and Linda, I would like to touch base with them about this. Thanks again for your honesty and bravery to find the truth!

    • December 8, 2015 5:15 am

      Thanks for the positive feedback, Bonnie. I’ve sent your email address to Bill and Linda. Let me know how it goes.

      Still hunting,

  6. Susan Whitaker Capparelle permalink
    December 26, 2016 1:10 am

    I am a descendant of the Whitakers of The Holme. My father was Francis C Whitaker of Camden, SC. We have a genealogy book that spells it all out.

    • William Read permalink
      January 1, 2017 8:42 pm

      Could you please provide me with the evidence that supports the claim that William is the son of Jabez. What is the name of the book? Where can I get a copy. Bill

      • January 3, 2017 7:42 pm

        Bill, alas I don’t know of a book or any research that supports Jabez had a son named William. From your previous posts, the sources like Dr. Meek’s book and Melvin Dobson Whitaker’s book don’t provide definitive evidence like a will, land records, court case, letters, etc. I don’t have that evidence, and after I determined this wasn’t my Whitaker line, I left it alone. Unfortunately, all of the other researchers go with the assumption that this William Whitaker of Jamestown was the son of Jabez.

        The only way I know of proving this is though DNA. Here are the links to two DNA sites what have folks saying they are descendants of Jabez and Dr. William Whitaker:

        To be honest, I’m not conversant enough on the DNA test results to make any determinations of the results and their import. But I think to get the answer to your question, DNA will be the best way of getting the proof you are seeking.

        I applaud you for wanting evidence rather than duplicating what others have assumed.

        Wish I could be more help,

    • January 4, 2017 7:20 pm

      Susan, please tell us more about the book you have on the Whitakers of Holme. There are several other researchers who are very interested in what you have and are interested in purchasing a copy.

  7. William Read permalink
    January 4, 2017 4:10 pm

    Hi Cheryl:
    Thanks for your response. Hope all is well with you. I was wanting to hear something from Susan. She states that she is related and they have a book that spells it all out. Unfortunately she appears to be like all the others just accepting what others have stated without any support.

    have a good new year

    • January 4, 2017 7:18 pm

      Happy New Year, Bill. This may be one of those mysteries that never get solved. Curses on Jabez and his being inconsiderate for not leaving a paper trail for his descendants! Thank you for being a “doubting Thomas” and wanting some sort of proof, rather than replicating assumptions. Please keep me posted if Susan shares anything new.

      Always hunting,

      • Jean Whitaker Hutson permalink
        May 7, 2019 4:18 pm

        Hi Cheryl
        I am just finding this blog and web site of Appalachian aristocracy. What a God send. I am a descendant of Julie Lenard and Giles Whitaker of cave springs Tazwell, Tennessee. He was my great grandfather on my paternal side. My maiden name is Whitaker. I grew up hearing stories about the family in Tennessee. My grandfather joined the service at 16 and never moved back and my father also continued in a service career. I have been working on my geneology for three years and until recently was at a standstill making the connection to England. Weldon WHITEAKER was instrumental in getting me there. He hasn’t answered recent emails so unsure if he has died. As I live in England and planning a visit to Dewesbury next week I have been trying to sort everyone out over here. I too got side tracked with William Whitaker from Cambridge. Pretty interesting he was. I am glad to see we most likely aren’t related at least I know, but what confuses me is what is the Holme.? I see you mention Holme of Lancashire but there is also a Holme not very far from Dewesbury it was an ancient village. Church is still standing I believe. Can you sued any light in that? I only have overnight there this time and really don’t need to spend too much time as you’ve done quite a bit of the work yourself. Is there any pictures you would like for me to take? I’d be happy to. I’m not sure if we are already connected through ancestry where I’ve been doing most of my research. I recently had my dna done from them and I don’t recall any numbers or markers so when I look at your link to the dna tree I don’t understand it all. Is there another test I should take? As I recall my dna did not give numbers it just said percentages of what I was such as 47% English Scots. I have no doubt at all that I am descended from Giles Whitaker of Tazwell. So I am sure we are related. How can I understand who you are exactly and where you fit into the tree? I would love to talk to you more about all this.
        Jean Whitaker Hutson

      • May 8, 2019 2:05 am

        Jean, I’m replying to you by email.


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