The ancestry of Julia Chew and Thirza Chrisman

Michael A. O’Neill
First published 20 January 2015
Last updated 27 November 2016

Redmond, King, Washington, USA

If you find this article helpful to your own family history, please don’t copy the full text to ancestry.com or other genealogy site. I try to keep all articles current, and update them if/when I obtain new information. Instead, please link to the article and include–at the most–a copy of the article’s summary section, which is unlikely to change.

Summary

Julia Chew and Thirza Chrisman were the illegitimate daughters of William Huggins and Rebeckah Minser née Henshaw.

Julia Chew, wife of Thomas Chew (1801-1879), was born on 2 March 1804 in Virginia, and died on 2 September 1876 in Hamilton County, Indiana. She is buried in the Quaker graveyard at Hinkle’s Creek in Noblesville, Indiana.[1]

Thirza Ann Elizabeth Chrisman, wife of George Chrisman and widow of Barton Hancher/Henshaw,[*] was born about 1806 in Virginia.[2] She died on 22 May 1882 and is buried in Shelby County, Iowa.[3] Thirza’s Chrisman’s journey through two marriages and four states, combined with an abundance of spelling creativity from different record keepers,[†] makes Thirza challenging for amateur genealogists to track.

Julia Chew’s maiden name is commonly listed in family trees as Huggins, based upon the Highland County, Ohio will of William Huggins (d. 1835) which lists three children: Julia Chew, Thirza Henshaw and Doctor Benjamin Franklin M. Huggins (referred to hereafter as B.F.M.).[‡]

William’s will lists no spouse, so the easy conclusion is that all three children shared the same mother who passed away between B.F.M Huggins’ birth in 1813 and William’s death in 1835. This conclusion is not correct.

While William Huggins was Julia and Thirza’s father, Thirza’s (and Julia’s) documentary trail leads to the conclusion that their mother was Rebeckah Minser née Henshaw, who was very much alive in 1834, and who never married William Huggins. Rebeckah’s 1856 intestate settlement recorded in Frederick County, Virginia gave both Julia and Thirza—referred to therein via their then husbands’ names—the same monetary share of Rebeckah’s estate as those received by her children with Jacob Minser, signifying that Julia and Thirza were Rebeckah’s daughters. According to Virginia law at the time, all of a woman’s children inherited from her estate, regardless of whether she was married to their father(s).

William HugginsWilliam Huggins

On 1 March 1834, William Huggins of Paint Township, Highland County, Ohio, made out his will, which contains two critical statements, and a third that is helpful to the final conclusion.[4]

  • He identified his three children: “my daughter July Chew and my daughter Tirza G. Hancher and my son Doctor Benjamin Franklin M. Huggins.”
  • He established a connection to Frederick County, Virginia, stating that his “property in Paint Township shall be sold, also any land in Frederick County, Virginia.”
  • He created a connection to one of Rebeckah Minser’s sons by stating that “the notes and due bills in the hands of Samuel Rowland for Collection and also in Wm. Minser’s… be settled.

William names Bennett Simmons to be the executor of his will, but indices of Highland County Common Pleas Court filings show Thomas Chew was the actual executor of the estate.[5]

The final disposition of William’s estate was decided in litigation: the sale of William’s personal property was insufficient to cover his debts, including one related to a land purchase in Paint Township where a payment was due in 1836. The terms of the will prohibited Thomas from selling that tract of land until 1838, and Thomas had to petition the Court to allow him to sell the land. In the filings, Thirza is described as the “widow of Barton G. Henshaw, dec’d.”[6] This is the first clue to tracing Julia and Thirza’s maternal lineage.

Following Thirza Henshaw’s trailThirza Minser

Barton Henshaw’s will was made out in Highland County, Ohio on 28 August 1835,[7] but he was a recent arrival to the state. The 1830 U.S. census recorded him living in Berkeley County, (West) Virginia[8] (which is immediately adjacent to Frederick County, Virginia) with a woman between the ages of 20 and 29, and one boy under the age five. The woman was certainly Rachel Hyatts, whom Barton had married in April of 1829 in either Berkeley or Frederick County (the records agree on the month and year, but conflict as to county and as to whether it was the 14th or 16th).[9] The boy was certainly Daniel James Henshaw, born in 1830 in Virginia[10] and named as the eldest son in Barton’s will.[11]

Rachel must have died shortly after giving birth, as Barton signed a marriage bond signaling his intent to marry Thirza A. E. Minser on 4 June 1832 in Frederick County, Virginia.[12]

Marriage bonds were often required by states/colonies to mitigate the risk that either party might not be eligible to marry.[13] This was not a risk in static and established populations, where everyone knew everyone else. It was, however, an issue in frontier populations where young men and women were frequently arriving and departing, and whose families and history were not known to the rest of the community. If it turned out that one party was ineligible to marry (for example, they were already married but had abandoned that spouse), then the groom and a second party, called a bondsman, would be required to pay a substantial sum as a penalty to a third party, typically the governor of the colony or state. While there was no requirement for the bondsman to be a relative of the bride or groom, this was frequently the case.[14] The bondsman for Barton Henshaw’s and Thirza Minser’s marriage bond was a Franklin Higgins, who is almost certainly Thirza’s younger half-brother, B.F.M. Huggins (he also appears as Franklin Huggins when providing surety on the execution of his father’s estate).[15]

A quick review of Frederick County, Virginia marriage bonds also reveals a 30 November 1823 bond signed by Thomas Chew and William Huggins for Thomas’ marriage to Julia Minser.[16]

After Barton passed away, Thirza was the mother of an infant child, David C. Henshaw,[17] and step-mother to the now orphaned Daniel James Henshaw (Rachel Hyatt’s son). On 9 September 1837 in Highland County, Ohio, Thirza married George P. Chrisman, also a widower with two children from an earlier marriage.[18]

By 1850, George and Thirza Chrisman had moved to Knox County, Illinois, where the U.S. Census recorded them living in Salem Township with their children from their previous marriages, as well as the five children the couple had since had together.[19] Barton Henshaw and Rachel Hyatt’s orphaned son, Daniel, remained in Ohio.[20]

George died in Knox County on 15 July 1871, according to his War of 1812 pension file, which also named Thirza as his widow.[21] Thirza subsequently moved to Shelby County, Iowa with her daughter, Matilda Gooding, and passed away on 22 May 1882.

Rebeckah HenshawRebeckah Minser née Henshaw

Returning to Julia’s and Thirza’s surname on their Frederick County, Virginia marriage bonds, there is a single family with that surname living in the area around the time of their marriages. Jacob Minser married Rebeckah Henshaw in Frederick County, Virginia on 28 June 1787,[22] and the two had at least five children together prior to Jacob’s death (which occurred sometime before his initial intestate probate record was recorded in May of 1799).[23]

Rebeckah Minser died intestate before 18 May 1850,[24] and her estate settlement, recorded on 10 December 1856, distributed equal shares of $23.09 from the sale of her personal property to John Minser, William Minser, Jacob Minser, John C. Howe & wife, William Grimes & wife, Thomas Chew & wife, and Geo. P. Chrisman & wife.[25]

While Thomas Chew and George Chrisman (and their wives, of course) are familiar names, the others are new:

  • John Minser, born 1789[26] married Tamson Butler in 1811.[27] Rebeckah “gifted” him land in 1834 and 1837.[28] They remained in Frederick County, Virginia.
  • John C. Howe married Hannah Minser on 11 August 1817 in Frederick County, Virginia.[29] Hannah was born about 1794.[30] John Howe and his family appeared in Paint Township, Highland County, Ohio in the 1830 U.S. census,[31] ahead of the early 1830s arrival of William Huggins, B.F.M. Huggins, and Hannah’s half-sisters & their families.
  • William Grimes married Lydia Minser on 10 February 1823 in Frederick County, Virginia.[32] Lydia was born about 1796.[33] They remained in (West) Virginia.
  • William Minser, born 1789, spent a good part of his life in Darke County, Ohio,[34] and was likely the same William Minser that William Huggins referenced in his will. Darke County is in southwestern Ohio, but a few counties northwest of Highland.
  • Jacob Minser, Jr., born about 1799,[35] married Nancy Wilkey in 1822[36] in Warren County Ohio, which is almost adjacent to Highland County.

Those five children were all born between Rebeckah and Jacob’s marriage in 1787, and Jacob’s death in late 1798 or early 1799. (Jacob Jr. may have been born after his father’s death, which could have invalidated his father’s will, if one had been made.[37])

Virginia probate laws have their roots in British Common Law, and during the colonial period, they followed the practice of primogeniture, where only the eldest son could inherit real property. But primogeniture only applied to real property: personal property (e.g. furniture, clothing, produce, livestock, specie, financial instruments, etc.) could be distributed however a testate decedent wished.

After the Revolution, Virginia updated its intestate inheritance laws, extending equal inheritance to both men and women for real property when the decedent had not left a will.[38]

More important, when Rebecca passed away, Virginia law stated that “Bastards also shall be capable of inheriting… on the part of their mother, in like manner as if they had been lawfully begotten of such mother” in cases where the mother did not leave a will.[39]

The fact that Julia Chew and Thirza Chrisman received shares in the residue of Rebeckah’s personal property means they were Rebeckah’s direct descendants by blood, even though Julia and Thirza—born in 1804 and 1806 respectively—could not be Jacob Minser’s children.

More importantly, they received shares of equal size with Rebeckah’s and Jacob’s children. If Julia and Thirza had received half of what her other children received, this would suggest the two were Rebeckah’s grandchildren (the daughters of a son who pre-deceased her). But their shares were equal, meaning they were Rebeckah’s daughters.

Could William and Rebeckah have been married?

There is no record of such a marriage in Frederick County’s well-indexed corpus of public records. But for the sake of thoroughness, assume for a moment that all Frederick County marriage records from 1799 to 1835 were lost.

B.F.M. Huggins is the key in this case. If he were Rebeckah’s child, Virginia probate law would have required that he receive an equal share in the estate. But he does not appear in Rebeckah’s estate settlement at all, let alone receiving a share of any kind.

For Rebeckah Minser and William Huggins to have been married without B.F.M. receiving a share in her estate, they would have had to have obtained a divorce between 1806 (Thirza’s birth) and 1813 (the year B.F.M. was born[39]). Then, Rebeckah would have had to find another man named Minser to be her third husband so that her surname in her 1850-1856 probate records would be Minser.

Of course, there is a way around the need for a divorce (which would have been difficult to obtain in between 1806 and 1813). B.F.M. could have been the illegitimate child of William and a woman who also had the surname Huggins (illegitimate children retained their mother’s surname, not their father’s). In this case, Rebeckah would have been widowed by William’s death in 1835 (free to find another Minser to wed), while B.F.M. could carry the Huggins surname, and be William’s son but not Rebeckah’s. In this scenario, Rebeckah could have challenged William’s will for not leaving her 1/3rd of his estate during her lifetime, but this would have been her choice.

Both of these are complex and unlikely scenarios, and there are no easily discoverable marriage or probate files in Frederick County, Virginia’s public records to support either one.[§]

As a final note, B.F.M. Huggins—whom William explicitly names as his son in his will—could not have been adopted, since adoption did not exist as a legal concept in the United States until 1850.[**]

The simplest explanation that fits the facts is that Rebeckah—who was probably in her early- to mid-30s when she was widowed in 1799—chose not to be celibate for the rest of her life. As to whether either she or William wished to marry the other, who knows? At least one of them did not, if not both.

Huggins vs. Minser: Which surname?

William Huggins’s and Rebeckah Minser’s probate records show that Julia Chew and Thirza Chrisman were their illegitimate children.

In British Common Law of the time, and in the laws of the colony of Virginia, illegitimate children remained so, even if their father recognized them as his children (as William Huggins did in his will). There was no way for William to adopt Julia and Thirza, as the concept did not even exist in U.S. law until 1850. In fact, Julia and Thirza may not have been able to inherit anything from their father without a will making explicit provisions for it (I am not sure of the state of Ohio probate laws in 1834). Most important, an illegitimate child retained her mother’s surname, not her father’s, regardless of whether the father recognized the child. Even if Julia and Thirza wished to be known by the surname Huggins, the legal mechanisms to change their names did not exist until decades later. That is, unless you count convincing a state legislature to pass, and the governor to sign, a so-called “private” bill that in this case had no purpose other than to change your name. This did happen, but not frequently.[40]

In other words, the maiden name of both Julia Chew and Thirza Chrisman was Minser.


[*] Hancher and Henshaw were used interchangeably at the time.

[†] Examples: Thurza, Thursa, Thirsa, Thursey and Therese. I settled on Thirza as this is the spelling that appears on the gravestone of her niece, Thirza McCoppin née Huggins (1837-1911).

[‡] “Doctor” was not a title—B.F.M. was a cobbler. I believe “Doctor” may actually have been his first name. I have no idea what the “M” stood for.

[§] To be thorough, there is a third scenario: that William raped Rebeckah multiple times, fathering both children in that manner. This is an even more improbable event than the others. Even if Rebeckah chose not to demand legal action, Frederick County authorities would have required her to identify the father so that the County could compel him to issue a Bastardy Bond (designed to prevent the children from becoming a drain on parish coffers). If William had raped Rebeckah in 1803 (fathering Julia), the community would have learned of it via this legal process. Even if William had not been convicted and executed for rape the first time, it’s hard to imagine how he could have escaped the hangman’s noose the second time. Not only that, but the well-connected and influential Henshaw clan would not likely have been disposed to forswear vigilante justice after the first incident. William would not have lived long enough to marry, have a son, and move to Ohio. It also seems extraordinary to think that Julia and Thirza as adults would have established a relationship with their mother’s rapist such that he and his son would serve, respectively, as bondsmen for their marriages.

[**] I’m not sure who B.F.M. Huggins’ mother was. There were several William Hugginses alive and residing in the Frederick County, Virginia area at that time.


End notes

[1] Julia Chew’s gravestone reads “In memory of Julia Chew, wife of Thomas Chew, died Sept 2, 1876, aged 72 years 6 months.” A date calculator yields a date of birth 2 March 1804. U.S. census records support the calculation. (Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Cemetery Records, 1800-1990 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=11310633&ref=acom)]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.) See also, e.g., U.S. Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Jackson, Hamilton, Indiana; Roll: M432_148; Page: 137A; Image: 599.

[2] See, e.g., U.S. Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Township 9 N 4 E, Knox, Illinois; Roll: M432_113; Page: 461A; Image: 508.

[3] Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=38780249&ref=acom)]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

[4] “Ohio, Probate Records, 1789-1996,” images, FamilySearch ( https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-27614-21180-62?cc=1992421&wc=9GMR-N3V:266275001,266585701 : accessed 25 Aug 2014), Highland > Wills 1809-1849 vol 1-4 > image 175 of 476.

[5] See, e.g. McBride, David Newton and Jane N. McBride. Records of the Recorder’s Office of Highland County, Ohio (1805-1850). Edwards Letter Shop. Ann Arbor, Michigan. 1969.

[6] Ohio, Highland County, Court of Common Pleas records, Court record, vol. 4 1829-1836, pp 676-678. FHL 1303083.
Also McBride, David N. (comp.) and Jane N. McBride. Common Pleas Court Records of Highland County, Ohio (1805-1860). The Edwards Letter Shop. Ann Arbor, Mich. 1959. p. 152.

[7] “Ohio, Probate Records, 1789-1996,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-27614-19982-12?cc=1992421&wc=9GMR-N3V:266275001,266585701 : accessed 16 December 2014), Highland > Wills 1809-1849 vol 1-4 > image 183 of 476; county courthouses, Ohio.

[8] U.S. Census. 1830; Census Place: Berkeley, Virginia; Series: M19; Roll: 189; Page: 222; Family History Library Film: 0029668

[9] Ancestry.com. Virginia, Marriages, 1740-1850 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999; citing Dodd, Jordan R., et al.. Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850. Bountiful, UT, USA: Precision Indexing Publishers.

Also Ancestry.com. Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014; citing Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

Also Ancestry.com. West Virginia, Marriages Index, 1785-1971 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011; citing “West Virginia Marriages, 1853–1970.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2008, 2009.

[10] See, e.g. Year: 1900; Census Place: Cincinnati Ward 27, Hamilton, Ohio; Roll: 1280; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 0231; FHL microfilm: 1241280.

[11] “Ohio, Probate Records, 1789-1996,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-27614-19982-12?cc=1992421&wc=9GMR-N3V:266275001,266585701 : accessed 16 December 2014), Highland > Wills 1809-1849 vol 1-4 > image 183 of 476; county courthouses, Ohio.

[12] Virginia, Frederick County, Marriage registers, 1773-1907, p 75. FHL 31459.

Also, Ancestry.com. Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014; citing Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

Also Ancestry.com. Virginia, Marriages, 1740-1850 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999; citing Dodd, Jordan R., et al.. Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850. Bountiful, UT, USA: Precision Indexing Publishers.

[13] Library of Virginia. Research Notes Number 26. “Early Virginia Marriage Records.” Accessed online via http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/guides/Research_Note_26.pdf.

[14] See e.g. Pence, Richard A. “Bonds that Bind: What’s a Marriage Bond – and why?” Accessed on 17 January 2015 via http://www.pipeline.com/~richardpence/bonds2.htm; or TNGenWeb Project. “Banns, Marriage Bonds and Licenses, and Bastardy Bonds.” Accessed on 17 January 2015 via http://www.tngenweb.org/law/bond.htm.

[15] McBride, David N. Wills, Administrations, Guardianships and Adoptions of Highland County, Ohio (1805-1880). The Edwards Letter Shop. Ann Arbor, Michigan. 1957. Page 19.

[16] Virginia, Frederick County, Marriage Bonds, v. 10-14 1811-1828. FHL 31457.

[17] “Ohio, Probate Records, 1789-1996,” images, FamilySearch ( https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-27614-19982-12?cc=1992421&wc=9GMR-N3V:266275001,266585701 : accessed 16 December 2014), Highland > Wills 1809-1849 vol 1-4 > image 183 of 476; county courthouses, Ohio.

Also, U.S. Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Township 9 N 4 E, Knox, Illinois; Roll: M432_113; Page: 461A; Image: 508.

[18] “Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-1997,” index and images, FamilySearch ( https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-17963-49128-55?cc=1614804 : accessed 16 December 2014), Highland > Marriage records 1830-1839 > image 232 of 255; county courthouses, Ohio.

Also “Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-1997,” index and images, FamilySearch ( https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-17962-43029-46?cc=1614804 : accessed 16 December 2014), Highland > Marriage records 1821-1837 vol 1-3 > image 230 of 240; county courthouses, Ohio.

[19] U.S. Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Township 9 N 4 E, Knox, Illinois; Roll: M432_113; Page: 461A; Image: 508.

[20] See, e.g., U.S. Census. Year: 1860; Census Place: Cincinnati Ward 15, Hamilton, Ohio; Roll: M653_977; Page: 442; Image: 279; Family History Library Film: 803977.

[21] War of 1812 Pension Applications. Washington D.C.: National Archives. NARA Microfilm Publication M313, 102 rolls. Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group Number 15. Accessed via Ancestry.com. War of 1812 Pension Application Files Index, 1812-1815 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.

[22] Virginia, Frederick County, Marriage registers, 1773-1907, p 113. FHL 31459.

[23] CITATION REQUIRED.

[24] Virginia, Frederick County, Will books, volume 23, pp 123-126, 1853-1859. FHL 31358.

[25] Virginia, Frederick County, Will books, volume 25, 1853-1859. pp 87-88. FHL 31359.

[26] See, e.g., U.S. Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: District 16, Frederick, Virginia; Roll: M432_945; Page: 238B; Image: 83.

[27] Virginia, Frederick County, Marriage registers, 1773-1907. p. 114. FHL 31459.

[28] CITATION NEEDED.

[29] Ancestry.com. Virginia, Marriages, 1740-1850 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999; citing Dodd, Jordan R., et al.. Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850. Bountiful, UT, USA: Precision Indexing Publishers.

[30] See, e.g., U.S. Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Paint, Highland, Ohio; Roll: M432_694; Page: 171B; Image: 259.

[31] U.S. Census. 1830; Census Place: Paint, Highland, Ohio; Series: M19; Roll: 133; Page: 83; Family History Library Film: 0337944.

[32] Virginia, Frederick County, Marriage Bonds, v. 10-14 1811-1828. FHL 31457.

[33] See, e.g., U.S. Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: District 45, Preston, Virginia; Roll: M432_969; Page: 371B; Image: 223.

[34] See, e.g., U.S. Census, Year: 1850; Census Place: Twin, Darke, Ohio; Roll: M432_674; Page: 411A; Image: 340.

[35] See, e.g., U.S. Census, Year: 1860; Census Place: Monroe, Grant, Indiana; Roll: M653_261; Page: 14; Image: 18; Family History Library Film: 803261.

[36] Warren County Genealogical Society – Marriage Records 1803-1834 (pg. 233 & 205).

[37] “Laws in Early Virginia”, accessed on 17 January 2015 via http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mobjackbaycolemans/v02laws.htm.

[38] “Wills, Intestates, & Probate”. Bob’s Genealogy Filing Cabinet. Accessed on 17 January 2015 at http://www.genfiles.com/articles/wills-intestates-probate/.

“Laws in Early Virginia.” Accessed on 17 January 2015 via http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mobjackbaycolemans/v02laws.htm.

[39] Lomax, John Tayloe. A Treatise on the Law of Executors and Administrators Generally in Use in the United States and Adapted Particularly to the Practice of Virginia. Adolphus Morris. Richmond, Va. 1857. p. 361.

[40] See, e.g., U.S. Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Brush Creek, Highland, Ohio; Roll: M432_694; Page: 352A; Image: 619

[41] “Orphans, Adoption & Inheritance.” Bob’s Genealogy Filing Cabinet. Accessed on 17 January 2015 via http://www.genfiles.com/articles/adoption/.