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Genealogy Challenges: Searching for the Right Thomas Watkins

Last week was a battle of genealogical frustration. My goal has been to write mini-biographies for my Kentucky ancestors. I am most attracted to the Lewis Watkins (1850-1918) family. He was my second great grandfather who lived his adult life in Breathitt County, Kentucky. His father was Thomas Watkins, Jr (1813-1896?) and obviously his father was Thomas Watkins, Sr (1751-1856).

Using the Revolutionary War as Time Reference

To talk about Lewis, I needed to understand his family and have a comprehensive view of the family and why they were in Kentucky.

Geez! This task has been an exercise in frustration. I know more about his Revolutionary War career than what occurred most any other time in his life, but mainly because of his 1834 pension application. In his pension application interview, he states he lived in Rowan County, NC and always considered it home. He had spent 18-months in South Carolina during the war. Then he had moved to Floyd County, KY. He doesn’t say when this happened. A Thomas Watkins appears in the US Census in 1820 in that area.

Great, I will start in Rowan County, NC archives that Family Search has available when you look at Search > Catalog menu item.

Finding Thomas Watkins in Rowan County

I really needed a better attack plan, but I didn’t realize it. I naively thought how many Thomas Watkins could live in Rowan County in the late 1700s. The correct answer is more than one.

When Thomas Watkins left the military in 1783, he was 32 years old. It would make sense to start my search after 1783.

In the 1796 tax list, I found Thomas Watkins (remember to consider other spellings) listed. I wasn’t able to locate Hinkle on a map. Maybe I could find the deed and get a clue about who sold him the property.

Rowan County, Old Taxables List, 1796 showing Thomas Watkins


Rowan County, Old Taxables List, 1796 showing Thomas Watkins

The first Thomas Watkins that I found purchased property in 1796 from Jacob Black. I found this deed by searching for the index to the deed books. The index helped me locate the correct book to search. The handwritten deed is long. Here’s the most important part, which is the date, grantor, and grantee.

Here’s a screenshot of that NC deed.

NC Deed Book, 1796 - Jacob Black deeds Thomas Watkins Land for £90.


NC Deed Book, 1796 – Jacob Black deeds Thomas Watkins Land for £90.

Searching the Rowan County, NC Census Records

The census is the next logical place since I now have him in place at a certain time. There was a Mary Watkins, but not a Thomas Watkins. He was the deed holder, so I am expecting his name to be listed.

There are two Thomas Watkins in 1810 census. This must be him – notice that Jacob Black, who sold him the property, lives nearby. When I compare the dates to the family I have, it doesn’t line up well. Thomas, Sr’s family is too large and Thomas, Jr is too young. But I wanted more information before I abandoned him.

1810 US Census for Rowan County with Thomas Watkins Family Shown


1810 US Census for Rowan County with Thomas Watkins Family Shown

From digging through the probate records, I found a will written by Thomas Watkins in 1814. The name and timeframe met my criteria. In the will, the man lists his wife and his son, Thomas, as his executors. He names his boys and girls, which is important because it mostly aligns with the census.

I believe it is the will of the man shown in the 1810 census and that this Thomas Watkins is not my grandfather – but most likely he is a cousin. He was born in Louisa, Virginia. So, I will explore that area for more clues.

Keeping the Faith

Rather than being completely discouraged that I didn’t have a complete story for my grand-daddy, I realized I had an interesting story. The interview he did with the military provided an interesting view of his life. One takeaway from him was that he did not complain about the circumstances, even when he faced death multiple times on the battlefield. Read the Ancestor Bio for Thomas Watkins.

It also makes me proud to know my family fought to form this country.

About the author

Tricia Aanderud has been researching her Kentucky family since 2008. While the genealogy is interesting, the stories are what makes their lives compelling.

Surnames include Watkins, Hudson, Mann, Payne, Abney, Hollearn, Martin, Salyer, Spencer, and Hadley.


  1. Oh my gosh I ran into the same problem and gave up. My dad was Thomas watkins and they named my brother that also lol. Grandfather Wallace watkins was also from breathitt county

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