As everyone can probably see, I have used the past few days to play “catch up” with my genealogy posts! This spring has been surprisingly busy for me, and yesterday was the first day that I took some time to work on a project. Two of my project stars, Thomas Bills and Mary Collins, will also be the stars of this post!
Looking at my family tree, my ancestors either had very large families (I will call 8 or more large), or they had very small families (1 or 2 children). Very few fall in the middle ground, which to me is quite fascinating. Thomas and Mary Bills fall in the large family category, being the parents of at least 11 children that lived to adulthood. This definitely qualifies as a large family!
Who Were Thomas and Mary?
As I said earlier, Thomas and Mary are two stars of my most recent research project, and I find them particularly interesting because Thomas Bills was a Quaker and Mary Collins was not. Thomas’s paternal family were originally from Monmouth, New Jersey. In the 1760s, the Bills moved to a Quaker community in Surry County, North Carolina, and they eventually made their way to Maury and Marshall Counties, Tennessee. Thomas’s maternal family were also Quakers for many generations, but they came to North Carolina from Virginia.
Mary Collins is a bit of a mystery for me. I know almost nothing about her background except that she was not a Quaker. I have seen potential parents on other researchers’ trees, but as I have not been able to research her myself, for now, I will just leave that part of her story out. She was born in North Carolina between 1794 and 1799 (her ages are not very consistent throughout the census records).
Thomas Bills and Mary Collins became acquainted with each other while living in Surry County, and their courtship and marriage caused some ripples through the Quaker community. The younger generation of Bills were marrying men and women outside of the faith, which resulted in their dismissal. Twelve Bills cousins were dismissed between 1794 and 1816, including Thomas.
Thomas married Mary Collins on 11 Feb 1813. His bondsman was his uncle, Gersham Bills, one of his father’s younger brothers.
On 3 April 1813, Thomas was dismissed from the Deep Creek Quaker community:
Move to Tennessee
I wonder how Thomas’s parents and grandparents reacted to his marriage. Were they unhappy? Were they shocked? Were they mad? Whatever their feelings, the whole Bills clan packed up and moved to Tennessee in about 1816 or 1817. Even if his marriage was controversial, the extended family did not split up and no visible ruptures (at least, from what I can see) happened to the family.
About three years into their marriage, Mary gave birth to their first documented child: Jonathan D. Bills. Jonathan was the only child (whose name I have found) who was born in North Carolina. The next documented child, Lucinda, was born about 1817 in Tennessee. Below is the 1820 Census:
Thomas Bills is the male between 26 and 44, and Mary is one of the females between 16 and 25. One of the males under 10 is Jonathan D., and one of the females under 10 is Lucinda. So that leaves 3 people unaccounted for: 1 male under 10, 1 female under 10, and 1 female between 16 and 25. Who are these people?
This will require some more research, but the older female could be one of Thomas’s sisters or one of Mary’s sisters (if she had any). The other two children could be the other female’s children, or they could be two of Thomas and Mary’s children who were alive during 1820, but whose names I do not know. By 1830, the mystery daughter has disappeared. If they are Thomas and Mary’s children, that means Mary might have given birth to 13 children!
Ten years later, the family had grown larger:
Thomas is the male between 30 and 39, and Mary is the female between 30 and 39. Jonathan D. is the male between 10 and 14, and Lucinda is the female between 10 and 14. That leaves 1 male between 10 and 14 whose name I do not know. He is likely the same child as the one in the 1820 census under the age of 10. The new children include: Daniel and Matthew (ages 5-9), Rachel and Annie (under 5), and William J. (under 5). This leaves 1 male between 5 and 9 who is another mystery. The count now is 14 children, 3 whose names I have not been able to determine.
After another 10 years, the household has grown once more. First, the easy ones to identify: Thomas is the male between 50 and 59 and Mary is the female between 40 and 49.
The oldest son, Jonathan D., is one of the males between 20 and 29. Again, the mystery other older son is recorded, also between 20 and 29. Daniel is one of the males between 15 and 19, and the other mystery son in the same age range is also recorded. Matthew is the male between 10 and 15, and William J. is the male between 5 and 9.
The daughters are a little easier to identify. The little girl alive in 1820 never makes another appearance, so I can assume that she died early. Lucinda and Rachel are the two daughters between 20 and 29, Annie Catherine is the daughter between 10 and 14, Mary and Sarah are the females between 5 and 9, and the youngest daughter, Alsey Mahaley, is the youngest child under 5.
And here is my large family in 1850. Immediately, I spot an issue with Mary’s age. It is listed as 35 which, of course, cannot be possible. This is just a census taker error. The newest addition is John C., born in about 1842.
Some Observations – Marital Status
After combing through theses census records, what I found most interesting was how old many of the children were to still be living at home, unmarried!
The oldest son, Jonathan D., married for the first time when he was 57 in 1873.
Sadly, I lose both Lucinda and Rachel after 1850, so either they married and I haven’t found records for them, or they both died before 1860.
Daniel W. never married, and lived with his mother, brother Jonathan, and Jonathan’s wife during his adult life.
Sarah also remained single and lived with her mother and unmarried siblings.
The other children were a bit more conventional; they married in their late teens and twenties, and had children. This large family expanded some in the third generation, but not as much as might be expected.
More Observations – Naming Patterns
The Bills family were very close, and this is possibly best demonstrated by their naming patterns. Here are four generations of the family:
Daniel Bills m. Deborah Denman, whose children were:
William, Gersham, Hannah, Elizabeth, Sarah, Isaac Newton, Rachel, Patience, Daniel, Jonathan D., John
William Bills m. Susannah Hutchins (daughter of John Hutchins and Alice Stanley), whose children were:
Gersham, Daniel Baxter, Jonathan D., John, Deborah, Thomas, Mary Jane, and Alcey
Thomas Bills m. Mary Collins, whose children were:
Jonathan D., Lucinda, Rachel, Daniel W., Matthew W., Annie Catherine, William J., Sarah H., Mary J., Alsey Mahaley, and John C.
Thomas and Mary’s children were clearly named after family members. Mary J. shares a name with her mother and paternal aunt, while William J. has the same name as his paternal grandfather. Jonathan D., Daniel, and John were all named for their paternal uncles, paternal great uncles, a great grandfather, and a great-great grandfather. Alsey was likely named for her paternal aunt and her paternal great grandmother, Alice, and Rachel for her paternal great aunt. (As you can see, everyone mentioned is named for their father’s side because I don’t have the maternal line to compare. Hopefully I will make the maternal connections in the near future!)
There are so many benefits that come from researching ancestors with large families and extended kin networks. Much of a direct ancestor’s motivations, personality, and life experiences are shaped by his or her family members. Thomas and Mary’s family are a good example of this and having 14 children certainly qualifies as large. I hope to add more information to their large family’s story soon!