What’s in a Name? The Search for Lewis B. Taylor of Brunswick County, Virginia

LBT Signature

By Fred D. Taylor

For decades, a number of Taylor family researchers have worked tirelessly to determine the parents of Lewis B. Taylor of Brunswick County, Virginia, who was born circa 1772 and died before December 1831.

When my father and I first began our own family tree quest in the early 1990s, this mystery was a source of almost heated debate among our cousins, spanning from family researchers very close to the source in Brunswick County, all the way out to the West Coast, and everywhere in between.  To say the search was both dedicated and committed is an understatement.  Countless hours were spent by dozens of individuals in libraries and courthouses across Virginia and North Carolina in hopes of untangling this genealogical roadblock.  From there, professional genealogists were employed to put an independent set of eyes on the project.  When that failed (or rather, did not succeed), researchers in the family decided a new route – that of DNA testing, at that time (the mid 2000s) a research tool in its infancy.

Through all of that, the ultimate goal of learning more about Lewis B. Taylor, and more importantly his parents, remained elusive.  During this time and up to recent years, I remained in the peripheral of this research, occasionally touching base with family across the country to see if they had uncovered any new leads of interest.  We also discussed the DNA aspect, as it was becoming trendy, but that seemed to be nothing more than the latest rabbit hole for genealogists.

For some years, I remained out of the loop, but in 2013 decided to renew my own research on the family.  My first objective was to not simply rely on everyone else’s records, or rather, their assumptions about certain information.  This is something I see all too often in the genealogical world.  Instead, I wanted to find the actual documentation of a certain fact, or at least be able to back-track a source to its origin.  The best example I can offer in this scenario is the name itself of our subject, Lewis B. Taylor.  For years, I had been told that his full name was Lewis Ball Taylor.  However, when it comes to the records for him, no court record, legal document, or other period account supports this.  Instead, what we find is Lewis B. Taylor or Lewis Taylor or L.B. Taylor.  So where did the Ball name come from?  From what I can now tell, it came from an assumption within the family that the “B.” in Lewis B. was Ball, because of the fact that he had a grand-daughter whose name was Minerva Ball Taylor and a great-grandson named Benjamin Ball Taylor.  Down the road, while we certainly may learn that Ball is his middle name, without more at this time, it is only conjecture.

But I digress from the main topic of this story.

In addition to starting from scratch on the research aspect of Lewis B. Taylor’s history, I finally convinced myself that it was time to do more with the DNA angle.  At that time, there had been one Lewis B. Taylor family descendant to contribute to the Taylor Family Project at Family Tree DNA.   To give those of you a little background on this project, I will quote from their website directly:

The Taylor Family Genes Project (TFG) — with more than 700 members — is the largest and best Taylor Surname DNA project offered by any DNA testing company. For a common, multi-origin surname like Taylor, database size matters; it increases your chances of finding a match within the project. Having begun in late 2003, we have members with various DNA tests and are growing daily. Among our >550 members with more than 12 markers of Y-DNA results, we have identified ~80  genetic Taylor families and more than 300 unique haplotypes (individual family lines).”

When it comes to DNA research like this, size matters, and this project is THE project if you want to be serious about your Taylor family origins.

Unfortunately though, even with this kind of resource at our disposal, our one Taylor DNA submittal had turned up no matches to any other Taylors.  Despite this, I decided that it would not hurt for me to submit as well, so at the very least we would know that our “control” subject for descendants of Lewis B. Taylor was accurate.  We also decided to upgrade the test for our early DNA submission.  Originally, he had only been tested at the Y-25 level, which while cutting edge at the time, was a less than helpful tool a decade later.

So what did we find out?  Well, not surprisingly, our original submission and I came back as the highest matches for each other.  For easier reference, I will refer to him as Taylor Test One.

To give you an idea of how this works, of Taylor Test One’s 111 Y markers tested, I tested as an exact match for 108 of them.  This is highly significant, as in scientific terms it carries a 78% chance of a common ancestor within the last 8 generations and 91% within the last 10 generations.  This testing also confirmed some of our “paper” genealogy, as we came from two different branches of the Lewis B. Taylor line, specifically: Taylor Test One was a descendant of William Ney Murat Taylor (1816-1896) and I am a descendant of John W. Taylor (1797 – ca. 1870s).

I will also note for you DNA nerds out there that we are labeled as Group 81 in the Taylor Family Genes Project, with the R1b group designation, and the R1b1a2 sub-clade.  Advanced Y-DNA testing also has the ability to dig beyond the R1b1a2 designation into further sub-classes, and specific SNP mutations that we share with smaller groups of people.  Think of it as a family tree descendancy chart.  Now I can go into a lot more detail here about the various sub-clades (and their designations) that we match up to (there are thousands), but at the end of the day, our classification comes down to a group designated as Z-253 and below that, FGC3222.  [Now, end of the scientific/DNA details.]

Unfortunately, while our DNA testing (at this point) has turned up no other direct Taylor family matches, it has allowed us to start eliminating some other Taylor families who resided in and around Brunswick County in the 18-19th Century.  This is a biggie for genealogical research, as it allows us to exclude some of those rabbit holes we had been chasing for decades.   So here is who we are NOT related to or descended from:

  • The Edward Taylor (1722-1784) and Jesse Taylor (1752-1800) Families of Brunswick County… In a prominent and often cited discussion on Genealogy.com, Taylor family historian Ed Dittmer theorized that Lewis Ball Taylor could be a son of Jesse Taylor. This was a great lead, based on the dates, location, and the fact that LBT had a son named Jesse.  However, DNA data proved this to be incorrect, as confirmed “paper” genealogy and later DNA showed that descendants of Jesse Taylor (specifically, Jesse Major Taylor (b. 1798) and George Edward Taylor (b. 1797/98)) are from the Y-DNA group I-M253.  They have been separately designated in the Taylor Family Genes Project as I1-001 Group 01, and appear to descend from Robert Taylor of Rappahannock County, Virginia, circa 1688.  See http://www.taylorfamilygenes.info/groups/grp_001.shtml for more information about this line.
  • The Thomas Taylor (1750/60–1820) and Benjamin Taylor (1780-1853) Families of Lunenburg, Brunswick, and Mecklenburg Counties and Elsewhere… Again, another prominent family that we originally believed that LBT may have had a connection to due to ages and similar family names.  Upon the submission of a Y-DNA sample from a descendant of this line, however, it was determined that this line has a Y-DNA of I-M270, and appear to descend from the Rev. Daniel Taylor, Sr. (ca. 1664-1729) of New Kent and King William Counties, Virginia.
  • The James Taylor, Jr. (1770-1827) of Mecklenburg Family. This was another potential “hope” of ours, as this family spread across Brunswick and Mecklenburg Counties, as well as into Halifax County, NC, in the late 18th  Again, we met a roadblock, as the DNA submission from a descendant of this line determined that this family has a Y-DNA of R1b-M269, with the Western Atlantic Modal Haplotype, and have as their most distant paternal ancestor, John Taylor (1627-1702) of Northumberland County, Virginia.  This line has been separately designated in the Taylor Family Genes Project as R1b-091 Group 91.
  • The James Taylor (1642-1698) Family (which includes the Rev. Lewis B. Taylor of Granville County, North Carolina). This is probably the most notable of Taylor families, and the one that many Taylors claim and wish to be descended from, as this includes the lines of such notables as Presidents James Madison and Zachary Taylor, among many others.  However, the reality is that very few are connected to this line, and ours is one of them that certainly is not.  This line is designated as group R1b-002 Group 2 in the Taylor Family Genes Project, and more information about this line can be found at:  http://www.taylorfamilygenes.info/groups/grp_002.shtml

[Note:  *Currently, we are testing two possible Taylor candidates through DNA submission (and with Brunswick & Mecklenburg County ancestry), with the hope that we may find a match to our Lewis B. Taylor family line.*]

Now, where does that leave us?

Much like those dedicated researchers before us, I and many other continue on our quest to discover new information about Lewis B. Taylor.  This has come with some reward.  For one, we have been able to locate the lands owned by Lewis B. Taylor that were situated in the White Plains area of Brunswick County, and discovered that his home place still exists.  While we do not know for sure, it is very likely that he is buried on this property.

Similarly, focused research on those period documents that relate to Lewis B. Taylor help to tell us more about the man himself, and his family.  For instance, an inventory of his Estate after his death, and recorded at the Clerk’s Office of the Brunswick County Circuit Court on December 31, 1831, relate that his personal property included such items as English furniture, numerous books, pictures, and a looking glass.  Based on other Court records, we also know that Lewis B. Taylor could read and write, had vast vocational skills that included carpentry and farming, and that he was very active in his community.  Unfortunately, those bits of information do not answer for us where and when he was born, his family, or even details about his upbringing.  Our earliest record of him comes to us from Brunswick County in 1793, so we can presume he was “of age” at that time, but we know little else.

For now, I have kept a log of “field notes” about Lewis B. Taylor, of which I share with you today in the file Lewis B. Taylor Notes – Jan 10 2016.

With this story, I hope to not only draw more interest from those already researching the Taylor family (and specifically Lewis B. Taylor), but cross my fingers that this information and that which remains to be discovered will lead us to eventually unraveling the mystery of Lewis B. Taylor of Brunswick County.

Have questions?  Want to aid in the search?  Please contact me! fred.taylor.va@gmail.com