A Review of the Genealogical Section of
Oren Morton's A History of Pendleton County, WV
by Jeff Carr

For twenty years now, I have been referring to this work. Given that 75% of my ancestors, and all of my wife's (which are still some of mine), are from Pendleton County, Morton's HPC has become my genealogical bible. The hardcover is barely attached; when closed and looking at the page profile, the genealogical section is easily identified by the brown stain from use by dirty hands. I first want to recount my evolution of perception regarding this book. Then, I will discuss some of the particular, and sometimes more subtle, characteristics of his genealogical accounts.

Over the years, I have cycled through a variety of attitudes regarding Morton's work. The first was one of appreciative awe. I was greatly impressed to have such a voluminous source of genealogical data; I was happy to accept it at face value as "real." The first thing with which I had difficulty was his descending structural organization of the families. However, I referred back to his own introduction of the genealogical section, and was able to decipher his system. It wasn't long before I began to notice discrepancies, inconsistencies, and plain old mistakes. My attitude then developed into one of frustration with this obviously "flawed" source. This soon evolved into an attitude of scorn and condescension. I mean, after all, if I as a fairly new genealogist could find mistakes and sometimes research the family to find the correct structure, how good could this guy have been? Sometimes I found families that he hadn't even included. For several years after that point, I automatically cast doubt on whatever Morton had to report on a given family. In my arrogance, I was left to "start from scratch" with most families, and research them in great detail. In hindsight, this was a blessing in disguise, because it forced me to get skilled at primary research. After about 10-13 years of such research, and really getting to know the families of Pendleton, I was able to rethink my assessment of Morton's work, and arrive at a new-found respect. I now find it to be an invaluable guide and tool for delineating the families therein. It is even instructive in how mistakes can be made (i.e. confusing the families of men with the same name), when the proper depth of consideration is not given; this is an ongoing problem for all of us. One particularly amazing aspect about his work is that he reported on all families in the county, regardless of class, education, and achievement. What a task! Especially in the age of the self-aggrandizing style of county histories. Even more impressive is the fact that he seems to have accomplished this in about one year! Continuing in his excellence and originality, in 1922 he published a follow-up supplement to his Pendleton and Highland Histories, called A Handbook of Highland County and A Supplement to Pendleton and Highland History, which included omissions from and corrections to the original works. While now rare, both WVU and Pendleton County libraries have this supplement. I dare say that he was brilliant.

Oren Morton discussed the general principles of organizing family group histories on pages 143-49; only now can I appreciate the depth of his comments there. He developed his own style of structuring families; while it is awkward at first, it does seem to be the most efficacious system for his purposes. He explains and gives examples of this on pp. 150-4. The most obvious errors in this book are ones of classification or typography. Admittedly, it is often difficult to distinguish between the families of men with the same name, especially if they were of the same generation; there is an abundance of this among the Pendleton families. In compiling the families, it was very easy to carry out a family at the wrong "subset" level, such as listing them as "Br[anch]. of John," when it really should have been a "Ch. of John" or "Cc. of John." Examples of this are seen on p.279, where "Br. of' Michael and Adam Propst are given, but they should have been "Line of..."; their correct placement would thus go back to the "Family of Frederick" that straddles pages 277 and 278 (though son Adam was omitted there). The only way to have identified this was to first reconstruct the family oneself, and then use examination and logic in viewing Morton's organization. Since many of us are reluctant to do so, it is unfair to blame Morton for the confusion.

Sometimes there were simply typographical mistakes. Morton had multiple people going out and collecting the family data; I'm sure that sometimes it was difficult to read a given person's notes and/or handwriting. Thus, we have mistakes like a "Gabriel Collet" listed as unplaced in that family, when in reality it was a record of Gabriel Coile [Kile]. On p. 259 there is an unplaced Edmund "Mick" that married Mary Collett in 1797; this is especially confusing because there was an Edmund Mick in the subsequent generation. In reality, Edmund Wiat married Mary Collett, a mistake made because Wiat and Mick look very much alike in cursive handwriting. William Penninger got included in the Pennington family. In the Hoover subsection, a Nicholas with wife Margaret was included as a ninth child of Sebastian Hoover Sr.; again, in reality this person did not exist as such--there was no Nicholas Hoover. This must refer to Nicholas Harpole and wife Margaret; I can only suggest that a misorganization of notes on the "H" families accounts for this mistake. Morton did go on to carry out that line on the next page; the family listed for Nicholas actually belongs to Sebastian Jr. The same mistake probably applies to some confusion in organization of the Puffenbargers; the unplaced Henry and following "Ch. of 1" on p.282 should actually be grouped back at "Br. of Henry" on p.281.

Sometimes the old clerks and census-takers themselves produced confusion; similarities between handwritten a's and o's, or Germanic consonants with similar pronunciations created much variety in the recording of names. Take the families with similar names, like Varner and Warner, and Grogg and Gragg. These families certainly had no confusion between themselves; if one studies them in detail, they are fairly distinguishable to us as well. The Varners and Groggs were Germanic, and lived in the upper South Fork area; the Warners and Graggs were British and lived on the North Fork. The early form of Varner was indeed Warner, with the "w" pronounced like a "v"; in fact, all of the "Warners" on the 1810 Pendleton Census were Varners. Only an examination of their locales, wills, and family clusters distinguishes them from the Warner family of British descent, which he could not do in one year.

Morton made reference to many Pendleton marriages from 1787 to 1800. In many cases I have been able to verify these via wills, quit-claim deeds, and/or intense family research. I have come to the conclusion that he had access to a now non-extant, first marriage record for the county. In fact, I have found only two of these reported marriages that can be refuted, and one was probably a typographical mistake. In the other instance, my guess is that he saw a marriage bond for the couple for which the marriage was never carried out; I have seen a few other cases of that in Pendleton. It also appears that he made use of the 1850 and/or 1860 Census of Pendleton. In some instances, there is evidence that he also read some of the court minute books; he occasionally included people and dates that I have been able to find only in the court records. For reasons that are not clear to me, Morton sometimes omitted whole branches of a given surname, especially when there were several unrelated families of that name in the county. Most notably, some of these were Smith, Miller, Huffman, Johnson, and Lamb. I do not know how to account for these omissions, unless it was simply because of the sheer number of names with which he was working.

Then there are the illegitimacies. He was well aware of these, as is evidenced in the p.145 quote, "Illegitimate births have never been few in Pendleton, and the present ratio of about ten percent is apparently lower than in earlier times. Such instances seldom now occur except singly, whereas in former years entire families were reared whose paternity was outside of wedlock." He goes on to tell how many descendants of these are now worthy members of the community, how they complicate the work of the local historical compiler, and that he didn't want to ignore them, nor did he want to participate in attaching a label or stigma to them. Morton continued by saying, "No person of illegitimate parentage is therefore mentioned as such in the following pages.., no one rule has been followed [in placing such people into a given family]. The person who has knowledge of a particular instance can read into the sketch where it occurs, the necessary modification." In some cases, where the disclosure was so obvious, he withheld their mention completely. Unfortunately, it took me fifteen years to learn the variety of ways in which he made these inclusions. The most obvious ways were to include illegitimacies either in his "Unplaced" sections of a given family, or to have the illegitimate child as a "B" family (or subsequent letter). Some examples of this latter style are found with Christian Hevener and Absolom C. Nelson. An even more confusing example of this is found in the Lamberts. The "B" family there actually belongs to John Lambert Jr., whose first wife was named Nancy; John Jr. left her and three children to run off with Winnie (Nelson) Summerfield, by whom he had the "B" section of children. I have no doubt that Morton was aware of this. In an adjacent incident, John Jr.'s brother George first had five children with Jane Warner, before he left her to make a family with Eleanor Johnson. Thus, the parents of the Warner children on p.314 are not given, nor is any connection described to the preceding Warner generation (Jane's father, John) that was described on p.325 in the "Certain Extinct Families." That family is far from extinct in Pendleton! In fact, some of those first five Lambert-Warner childrens' deaths were reported with parents of "George and Virginia [an odd corruption of "Jane"] Warner; descendants have spent years unsuccessfully looking for a non-existent George and Virginia Warner.

As is seen in this last example, Morton sometimes grouped an entire illegitimate family together without the benefit/identification of the parent, calling them "a group of siblings"; examples of this can be found in the Cunningham and Harper families. One of my ancestral families, the Butchers, who have been in the county from the 1760's to the present, produced at least three generations of illegitimate families at one point; that part of the family was omitted completely. He sidestepped this by placing the pioneer family in "Certain Extinct Families" and the single mention of Uncle George Butcher in the "Recent Families" section. A variation of this was repeated with the Dunkle family. While it was a custom in the first half of the Nineteenth Century to give the sons their mother's maiden name as a middle name, this was also practiced in illegitimacies. Since illegitimate sons were often known by both parents surname, one of the names would eventually recede and become a middle initial. If you've come to a standstill with an ancestor who has a middle initial and no clear connection to the rest of the family of that name, consider that they may have been illegitimate. Researching that particular family's connections to other surnames that start with that middle initial can give you some clues. An easy example of this is the already mentioned Absolum C. Nelson; his mother was definitely Delilah Cunningham, and it is likely that his father was Absolum Nelson, with whom Delilah was living in 1850.

Morton used a very subtle and immensely helpful strategy for identifying illegitimate women; again, this employs the fact that illegitimate children were often known in the community by both parents' surnames. When an illegitimately born woman later married with one of the two surnames, Morton often identified her with the other parent's surname, at her inclusion in the family group of her husband. One example of this is when Henry Puffenbarger's first wife is listed as "Frances Stone," when the marriage record identified her as "Frances Wilfong." Another example is found at the bottom of p.291 where William Simmons' (son of Frederick) wife was reported as "Sarah Bodkin," while the marriage record called her "Sarah Simmons"; she was the daughter of Sarah Simmons and Joseph Bodkin. So, if you run into an apparent contradiction between Morton's account and a public record, the discrepancy may be more purposeful than just simply being a typographical mistake. As a last note on this topic, many of the daughters/women in a given family group that were identified as having been single (e.g. "Joan Miller -S") often had illegitimate children.

Of course, there is additional genealogical information in other sections of the HPC, though the focus there tends to be more on history. Since Morton did not index his book, one had to read the whole book thoroughly to see if there was any mention of a given ancestor or family. Fortunately for us, Mrs. Madeline Crickard has created an index for the HPC and is offering it for sale. It is a great reduction in time-consuming reading. In closing, I have noticed that too many times we unconsciously and naively treat a historical work as "reality," rather than a fallible description of the reality to which it refers (our ancestors); thus my frustration in my early work with Morton's HPC. No matter what, we will never have a totally accurate and inclusive account of our ancestors; even the most documented genealogies are just approximations of the real people and their lives. As I stated near the beginning of this article, I now treat Morton's History of Pendleton County, WV as it should be, an invaluable and useful guide to the families of Pendleton County.

Comments regarding this page to: Deborah Johnson.