My great-great-grandfather William Willis (1805-1855) was born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Although we believed his grandparents were Richard and Drucilla Barnett Willis [mostly because they were the only Willis family that remained in Spartanburg], we had been unable to place him within a specific family of their sons. Although the 1810 and 1820 census records for their son John Willis had tick marks for a male child born between 1800 and 1805, other Willis lines have placed another William Willis born about 1813 into that family; without supportive documentation, I could not justify adding another William.
Then a few weeks ago, my daughter, son, grandson, brother and I all either submitted or transferred DNA samples to a genealogy DNA matching website and a couple of weeks ago a matching descendant made contact with me showing our match with him to be through the wife of Richard and Drusilla’s son John – Martha ‘Patsy’ Smith Willis. We had already had a YDNA match with a descendant of John’s brother, Hezekiah, who was born in 1806 but that match still only validated the presumed connection to Richard and Drucilla and did not validate which of their sons was our William’s father. However, a DNA match with John’s wife eliminates the other families and validates what we had thought was logical from the records.
With that background, I can now write about my 4th great-grandmother, Martha ‘Patsy’ Smith Willis. Patsy was a common nickname for Martha and she apparently used both those names intermittently. She was born July 21, 1780 in Louisa County, Virginia to Edward Smith and Sarah ‘Sally’ Holman Rice. Her family moved to the Gaffney area of Spartanburg County sometime after 1784. She married John Willis, according to the International Genealogical Index, on November 21, 1799.
The names of the children of John and Martha/Patsy are incomplete and with little documentary support, but based on tick marks from the census records they had about nine sons and two daughters. Sons names associated with John and Martha/Patsy include Smith (1804), my 3rd great-grandfather William J. Willis (1805), Hezekiah (1806), Daniel (1810), Mitchell (1811), Richard (1814) and John C. (1815). Two other names but without suggested birth dates are Edward and Irvin. The two daughters were Mahala (1807) and Malissa (1812). Another daughter may have been born in 1808 but no name is known.
Martha’s father died in 1815 and John Willis was listed among Edward’s seven children as a son-in-law in his will; this was typical of the time since the husband of a married woman generally had control of all property.
John and Martha belonged to the Unity Baptist Church in Spartanburg; this was known from the minutes where they were listed as dismissed from that congregation in December 1820, indicating they had moved their membership to another church.
Martha became a widow in October 1835. In the 1840 census, she was listed as a head of household with one male born between 1810 and 1820 living in the home with her and her sons, Richard and Daniel, were enumerated on either side of her.
Martha was not enumerated in the 1850 census and her death is presumed between 1840 and 1850. I have not found burial locations for either Martha or John.
This blog was prepared as a part of Amy Johnson Crow’s No Story Too Small 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.