Saturday, February 3, 2018

What A Tangled Web Genealogy Weaves

Digging and prying into my fifth great-grandfather's ancestral origins keeps turning up curious clues.

I've uncovered a sticky web of connections that link a cast of characters to my ancestor, Thomas Kirk. Each player not only shares the Kirk surname, but also a slew of ties that bind them and hint at a likely family relationship - perhaps even siblingship.

There are four persons of interest in this tangled web: 
  1. Margaret (Kirk) Beard
  2. Mary (Kirk) Geiger
  3. Ann (Kirk) Ford
  4. Vachel Kirk.

Margaret (Kirk) Beard: With no corroborating documentation, some genealogies claim that Margaret was an older sister to Thomas Kirk. Born twenty years before Thomas, indeed she would be a much older sister. The large age gap doesn't preclude them from being siblings, but it seems more likely - to me - that they would be aunt and nephew (or cousins).

According to an unsourced published history (The Beard Family Genealogy: The Beard Family From Virginia to Ohio and West), "John Beard married Margaret Kirk who was born in Cork County, Ireland April 12, 1758 and who died July 7th 1850 in Ohio."

The Beards lived in Licking County, Ohio - where Thomas Kirk made his home - and are buried in the Beard-Green Cemetery - just steps from Thomas' final resting place.

In 1812, the Beards sold 100 acres in Licking County to Thomas Kirk.

Mary (Kirk) Geiger: Mary Kirk, born in about 1774, married Anthony Geiger in 1797 in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). John Beard was named a surety (bondsman) on their marriage bond, linking the two couples.

Mary and Anthony also lived in Licking County, Ohio, and she is buried in the Beard-Green Cemetery just steps from the graves of the Beards and Thomas Kirk.

Several descendants of Thomas Kirk are autosomal DNA matches to descendants of Mary (Kirk) Geiger, confirming a genetic link that estimates the common ancestors to be the parents of Mary and Thomas - strongly hinting that they were siblings.

Ann (Kirk) Ford: Ann Kirk was born in 1777, and married Hugh Ford in 1800 in Brooke County, (West) Virginia. They eventually moved and settled in Licking County. 

They named one of their sons Vatchel Ford. The unusual first name was also the name Thomas gave to his eldest son.

In 1838, my Thomas Kirk moved from Licking Township to Monroe Township (both located in Licking County). His new farm was south of the Fords who also lived in Monroe Township. In 1847, following Thomas' death, the Probate Court appointed Hugh Ford to appraise the value of Thomas' estate.

In The Genealogy of the Ford Family, a letter from their son Hugh Ford Jr. - who consulted a family bible in the possession of his sister - noted that Ann Ford was the daughter of Joseph Kirk. Of the cast of characters, this is the only one to have a parent named by an immediate family member who would be best positioned to know. Descendants of Mary Geiger often allege - without documentation that I've seen - that her father was also a Joseph Kirk.

If naming conventions are of import, it's worth noting that Thomas Kirk, Margaret Beard, Mary Geiger, and Ann Ford all named a son Joseph.

Vachel Kirk: Vachel Kirk was born in 1783 and settled in Butler County, Ohio. His unusual first name was the same that Thomas gave to his eldest son (and Ann Ford gave to one of her sons). 

Vachel's eldest son was named Thomas Kirk.

A living direct male descendant of Vachel Kirk is a close Y-DNA match to nearly a dozen direct male descendants of Thomas Kirk, confirming a shared paternal ancestor.

Untangling the Family Web
I could continue to trip over these similarities forever trapped in this web, but if I could just identify autosomal DNA matches between Thomas Kirk's descendants and those of each of these characters then I could begin to assign familial relationships. 

Of course, the priority would be linking to Ann (Kirk) Ford because she's the only one with a named parent.

The challenge, of course, is twofold: 

First, finding the descendants who have DNA tested. 

Second, hoping that enough autosomal DNA has carried through the many generations and still appears in test results in a sizable enough amount to identify matches.

Neither is an easy task, but when has unraveling a centuries-old genealogy mystery ever been easy? But the stakes have never been higher. Untangling this web may be the only key to revealing Thomas Kirk's family and ancestral origins.


  1. Looking forward to you adding the rest of the family in there!

  2. The first thing that occurred to me was whether or not Margaret was really born in 1758 because how often did people live to their 90s back then? Is is possible she was born in 1768 or even 1778, making her closer in age to the other Kirks?

    1. It does seem incredibly unusual for someone of that era to live so long. It's my understanding, though, that her age was inscribed (and documented) on her now missing headstone.

      Also, the Beard family has a pretty thorough genealogy, and the birth year for Margaret's first child is consistently given as 1773, which could fit with her purported 1758 birth year.

      I suppose the only next logical step is for me to exhume everyone's remains and have them all DNA tested... :)

  3. Oh, well---it was one of those grasping for straws theories!

  4. You may be joking about exhuming the remains to have them tested but this may one day be normal. Love the graphic!

    1. You may be right, Cathy. I was recently reading about scientists analyzing dirt from cave floors and successfully extracting DNA from ancient humans...without any physical remains. It’s crazy what’s possible.