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My connnection to the Blakeney family of Chesterfield County, SC is based on the notion that a man named Thomas Blakeney, one of the early settlers of Smith County, MS, as well as several other counties in the area, was the son of Hugh Blakeney (son of Capt. John Blakeney).  Although there seemed to be agreement among researchers that this was the case, for some time I was only able to find information that was circumstantial, or was based on tradition.

Although I had accepted this premise on faith (that the other researchers knew what they were talking about), I admit to being a little nervous that I was basing my connection to Capt. John Blakeney’s family on nothing substantial.  Again, everything I had seen pointed in that direction, but there was still the nagging thought at the back of my mind that I would eventually come across something of substance – a will, or some other document – that would disprove the connection.

Recently, however, I was able to find some additional evidence that – while not proving the connection definitively in the form of a document stating “I am Hugh Blakeney, and my son Thomas went to Mississippi”, or something similar – has helped to greatly strenthgen the case, and making it (in my mind, at least) as airtight as we can possibly make it.

The website www.familysearch.org, created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has in their collections of Mississippi tax rolls for individual counties.  Since many of the county tax records go back to the 1820’s, and have records listed for most years, if not all, we are now able to glean much more information, including pinpointing the arrival of Thomas Blakeney, and others, to the area.

What We Already Knew…

As I had previously mentioned, it had been accepted as fact that the Thomas Blakeney who lived in the areas of Smith County and Jasper County, Mississippi by the early 1840’s, was the son of Hugh Blakeney of Chesterfield County, South Carolina.  Aside from tradition, some documentation existed that could at least give some credence that idea.

First, we must go back to Chesterfield County, South Carolina.  We know from documented evidence that Hugh Blakeney had a son named Thomas.  This can be found in contemporary documents from 1817 – 1819, when court papers were filed as part of a lawsuit to divide up the extensive real estate holdings of William Welsh, the late father-in-law of Hugh Blakeney.  The suit was filed in neighboring Lancaster County, where William and his family lived.  The suit is “Thomas Welsh vs. Samuel Jones, et al.”  Thomas was the only son of William, and Samuel Jones, as well as Hugh Blakeney, were the sons-in-law of William.  The papers state very clearly the relationship between the parties:  William Welsh’s daughter, Nancy, had married Hugh Blakeney.  All of their children are named as well.  They include Thomas, the only son, and daughters Jane, Mary, Nancy, and Eleanor.

We next find Thomas still living in Chesterfield County in 1820.  Although Thomas was a common name among the Blakeneys, we find only one living there by this time.  An older Thomas, the son of Capt. John Blakeney, and uncle of this Thomas, is believed to be the same Thomas Blakeney now living in Montgomery County, Tennessee.  Hugh, brother of the elder Thomas and father of our Thomas, is believed to be the same Hugh living in Montgomery County as well.

The Thomas Blakeney found in Chesterfield County appears to be a young man with a young family.  Although impossible to determine his exact age, since he is listed in the 26-45 year age range, as does his wife, we only find two children, a boy and a girl, both listed under the age of 10.

First, this would correspond with our Thomas and his wife.  Both are believed to have been born in or around the year 1794, which would make them about 26 at the time of the census.  In addition, by 1820, the Thomas Blakeney who later settled in Mississippi had children that would have corresponded in age and number with the children found in this census.  His oldest daughter, Matilda Arabella, is believed to have been born about 1817, and his oldest son, aptly named Hugh, is believed to have been born in or about 1820.  Later census records in Mississippi confirm this, as well as the ages of Thomas and his wife, Martha Matilda.

We next find Thomas and family in the 1830 census not in South Carolina, but in Mississippi.   He was not, however, in either Smith County, which would become his home in later years.  Instead, he is living in neighboring Covington County.  Since the census records at this time only give the name of the head of household, we can compare Thomas’ known children with the children listed by age groups in 1830.  Again, we find an exact match.  We find one boy under the age of 5 (Robert, born about 1826) and two boys between the ages of 5 and 10 (Hugh, born about 1820, and Jacob, born about 1823).  There are also several girls listed: two under the age of 5 (Elizabeth, born about 1827, and Martha Matilda, born about 1829), and one girl between 10 and 15 (Matilda Arabella, mentioned earlier).  The two adults are both between the ages of 30 and 40, again, corresponding with the approximate ages of Thomas and wife Martha Matilda.

Listed right next door to Thomas and his family is a younger man by the name of Alfred Shelby.  The Shelbys will be discussed more later.

In 1840, we find Thomas Blakeney and his family living in Smith County, MS, which is one of the counties that border Covington, where he was living in 1830.  Thomas and his wife are now both between the ages of 40 and 50, and they seven children living with them.  Their oldest daughter Arabella is living next door with her husband, Arlow Ainsworth, and their two children.

By 1850, census records list all inhabitants of the house, so we can begin to get much more information.  Thomas and his family are still living in Smith County, and we are now able to see for the first time, that he gives the place of his birth as South Carolina.  There is a small monkey wrench in this, however.  He is listed under the name James and not Thomas.  Is this a different Blakeney family, or is he going by a different name?  Many list him in online family trees as James Thomas Blakeney, but this is the only instance in which we find him listed under James.  We do find his oldest son Hugh living just a couple of houses away, but it does seem odd to find him listed as James.

Fortunately, the names of his wife and youngest son help to confirm that this is, in fact, the same Blakeney family.  Wife Matilda is listed under the same name in 1860, and their youngest son Alvin is still living with them, although Alvin’s wife and child are living in the household as well.  In 1860, we also see sons Robert and Jacob, along with their families, living alongside Thomas and Matilda.

One possibility is that there was a transcription error which confused Thomas with the James Blakeney who lived in neighboring Jasper County.  The presence of this James Blakeney does, however, help to prove the case that the Blakeneys of Smith County, MS were part of the Blakeney family of Chesterfield County, SC.

Who is this James Blakeney?  It appears that he is also a transplant from the Chesterfield County, SC Blakeneys.  He was the son of John “Jack” Blakeney III, who himself was the son of John Blakeney, Jr., Capt. John’s son.  This would mean that James’ father Jack was a first cousin of Thomas Blakeney of Smith County.  Besides the fact that his birthplace is listed as South Carolina in the census records, the identity of this John Blakeney is further confirmed by his wife and her family.

The Shelbys were another of the Chesterfield families that migrated to Smith and Jasper Counties in Mississippi, which means we find yet another Chesterfield family taking the same route and settling in the same location as Thomas Blakeney and his family.  While I will need to research this further, it looks as if the Shelbys of Smith and Jasper Counties consisted of Evan Shelby and his family.  Evan can be found in the census records of Chesterfield County, SC as late as 1820 before heading west to Mississippi.  Emily Croom in her book The Genealogist’s Companion and Sourcebook uses these Blakeneys and Shelbys as an example of connecting the dots in genealogical research.

According to the book, Evan’s son John married Matilda Blakeney, the daughter of John Blakeney III, and sister of the James Blakeney listed in Jasper County.  John, Matilda and their young children are living Smith County in 1850.  What makes this even more interesting is that living in the household with them is Robert Blakeney, the son of Thomas.

The Shelby/Blakeney connection is made again by the marriage of James Blakeney, brother of Matilda, to Harriet Shelby, sister of James Shelby, and daughter of Evan.

Again, a bit more digging will be necessary in order to confirm these connections as much as possible, without just relying on Emily Croom’s book, but one can assume that she has already been diligent in her research considering the topic of her book.

One more item I spotted in Ms. Croom’s book is something that floored me, in part because I’m completely surprised I had never heard this in my decade of researching the Blakeney family.  John O. Blakeney, author of The Blakeneys in America, the book which set the standard for Blakeney research in the United States, was born in Jasper County, Mississippi.  While it has been a bit difficult to find too many personal details on John O. Blakeney online, what I have found seems to confirm this.

I have always found it interesting that Thomas Blakeney of Smith County, MS, and his family, were listed in John O. Blakeney’s book as “Uncertain Blakeneys.”  I had always wondered how he had known about them in the first place, since he appears to have spent much of his life in Arkansas.  As it turns out, he probably knew them personally.

Why, then, wasn’t he sure of their connection to the Chesterfield Blakeneys?  Thomas Blakeney would have been a first cousin to John O. Blakeney’s grandfather, John Goodloe Blakeney (1795 – 1870).  It is certainly understandable that a young boy wouldn’t be quite certain how everyone of his grandfather’s generation fit together within such an extended family.  That is something most of us can relate to.

It is also interesting to note that family lore has it that Thomas Blakeney and his wife Martha Matilda eventually left Mississippi after the Civil War and moved to Arkansas.  Their son Alvin and his wife Lucy Ann (who would die there before Alvin returned to Mississippi) also accompanied them.  With no death certificate or other documents to confirm this, we can’t be sure how many of the details are correct, but it is thought that Thomas died in Des Arc, Arkansas on (or about) December 25, 1870.  Interestingly, John Goodloe Blakeney, the son of Capt. John Blakeney’s son James, and the grandfather of John O. Blakeney, died in Des Arc, Arkansas on December 14, 1870 (his gravestone does survive).  John O. Blakeney’s father, Benjamin Blakeney, also died in Des Arc in 1873.

While we don’t know if John Goodloe Blakeney, cousin of Thomas, lived in Jasper County,  he wasn’t far away before his eventual move to Arkansas. Earlier census and land records show him in neighboring Clarke County, which sits directly to the east of Jasper.

In the early history of the United States, it was a common thing for people of families who came from the same area to travel together when settling to another location.  Rarely did one family go it alone.  By not only looking at your own branch of the family, but taking a good look at the people who settled around them in their new location, the pieces can start to fall into place.   Even without taking undocumented family lore into account, by piecing together surviving records and families, I think we can conclude that Thomas Blakeney of Smith County, Mississippi and Thomas Blakeney, son of Hugh Blakeney of Chesterfield County, South Carolina, are one and the same.

On one final note – as I mentioned in a previous post, DNA testing can help to solve some family mysteries.  I have taken the Ancestry DNA test, and I find numerous Blakeney-related matches in my results.  One interesting match I have found is with a person with whom I am estimated to be somewhere between 4th to 6th cousins, and with whom I share a pretty large number of centimorgans (let’s just describe them as markers used to determine genetic matches).  This person is a direct descendant of John Shelby and Matilda Blakeney.  Looking at their family tree, I don’t appear to have any other family connections with them.  Case closed?  It pretty much looks that way.


Some of the information in this post comes from the book The Genealogist’s Companion and Sourcebook by Emily Croom