Friday, October 10, 2014

Reviving our Ancestors

This is not a blog about my personal Vance genealogy, but I recently tried a nice trick I read about reviving old pictures and I thought I'd share it.

A few years ago I had the luck of meeting a far-off cousin a bazillion times removed who was also researching our common Vance ancestors.   I had dates, wills, and other records to share, but she had something even more exciting - an album of pictures going back to my 3rd-great-grandparents!  Suddenly I had faces for many of the people that I had thought would always be just names on my family tree.  I felt like I had stumbled on to pirate gold.

Photography didn't start becoming widely available in the US until the 1840s, and even then the early daguerreotype and other methods often produced washed-out, blurry black or sepia-toned images that haven't held up well after over 150 years.  Many of the pictures in my exciting new album fit that description, like one of my favorites here of my 3rd-great-grandfather, John Vance:

John Vance (1786-1869)

John Vance was born in county Donegal, Ireland, in 1786 and emigrated at 18 with his parents to Pennsylvania where he became a farmer until his death in 1869.  This picture was undated, but appears to be from around 1860-65 when he was in his 70s.  The picture is actually in pretty good shape, although it's faded and his features and hair are difficult to make out.  But it's still one of my favorite pictures especially because this is my earliest Vance photograph.

Recently someone shared on Facebook a list of famous black-and-white photographs that had been colorized, and I realized the power of using color to bring out detail in old pictures.  Many people have realized that before me, of course, but I started playing with a scanned copy of this favorite picture of mine.

Meet the same John Vance again after some amateur cosmetic computer retouching:


John Vance with added color


I will always like the original, of course, because I completely understand the purists who would say it's the "truest" reflection of the times that John Vance lived in.  And the colorized version isn't perfect, but I think it adds a new dimension - it really brings his portrait "to life", even though I had to guess at some of the colors.

You need a serious graphics package like Photoshop or GIMP to colorize an old picture yourself, but honestly there are many professional photographers or photo restoration websites that could do a much better job than I did with this one.  I just might check out a few.  

So, if you have old black-and-white pictures of your ancestors too, you might consider getting them colorized.  To me it feels like now I have two pictures of my 3rd-great-grandfather where I used to have only one.   And it almost feels like I'm meeting John Vance again for the first time.

Now if I could just get him to share some stories...



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Oldest Vances


Detail from Blaeu's 1645 map of the Luxembourg area, showing the town of Vance and its bridge over the Semois River

In the hills of the Ardennes in southern Belgium not far from where the Battle of the Bulge was fought in World War II the small village of Vance sits in a quiet spot on the Semois River away from major roadways and tourists.    The village dates back to Roman times and depending on sources it was first called Veen or Wannen but for nearly a thousand years now its name has been spelled Vance.   It is the oldest use of the Vance name that has been uncovered so far.

In the 10th century after the death of Charlemagne the local area was split up into counties with Vance falling into the newly-formed county of Chiny.  A fief system developed with knights ruling villages and their surrounding regions, subject to the local Counts.  One knight became the Seigneur (Lord) of Vance and following local tradition from that point forward his sons and grandsons adopted the last name "de Vance". 

The Lords of Vance flourished in the 1200's and 1300's.  It was the age of the Crusades, when chivalrous knights would feast, joust, and fight endless battles in the service of their local rulers.  Surviving records show that the de Vance knights were well-respected both in peace and in war, and educated enough to keep an enviable library.   Two castles were built in Vance over the centuries, but no trace now remains of either.

Seal of the Count of Chiny

The county of Chiny was eventually absorbed into Luxembourg in 1364 and soon afterwards the lordship of Vance passed through marriage to men of other names.  But the surname "de Vance" continued down other family lines until the last local person of that name was recorded in 1667.  It is believed that the surname died out after that.  

Although these Vances might be ancestors of any of us, it's unlikely that we got our surname from them.  But long before the Irish Vances or German Vances adopted that exact spelling of the name, one European family carried it with respect and honor.  And the village of Vance survived them all and still sits there today.

The village of Vance in Belgium today

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A word of caution about Vance DNA

I'd like to throw some caution out there about what DNA tells us about the Irish Vances.  Over the past few months I've seen several comments on Facebook, public forums and via email from well-meaning researchers who are unwittingly cutting off potential avenues of research because of assumptions about what DNA results mean.

Here's how it starts.  As you can read in the Vance Surname DNA Project, (also summarized here under DNA Project Resources), the Vances of Irish descent belong to at least 5 different DNA Groups (I'm thinking of Groups 1, 2, 3, 6, and 8, but there may be others).   Two other things we know about the Irish Vances are:

  1. The best-known origin of the Irish Vances is from the Rev. John Vans of Kilmacrenan, who apparently came from the Vans of Barnbarroch line in Scotland, and according to the best available records they descend from the de Vaux of Scotland and England.  
  2. And the current Laird of Barnbarroch has been DNA-tested and matches Vance Group 1.

Those are the "simple facts".  So therefore based on DNA results, the Vances in Group 1 descend from the Rev. John Vans and the Vans of Barnbarroch and from the de Vaux.  And the Vances in the other Groups don't.  That's the only possible conclusion, right?

Wrong.  It certainly is one perfectly logical conclusion.  It's just not the only conclusion.

Why not?

First of all, let's eliminate the Rev. John Vans from this DNA discussion.  We have no family lines that reliably connect back to him, so we don't know what DNA Group he belonged to.  We don't even have a hint about who his parents were.  We do know he was Scottish and he went to Ireland, and that he sealed his will with a coat of arms that looked a lot like the Vans of Barnbarroch arms.  So certainly he could be the ancestor of the Vances in Group 1.  But we don't have any actual evidence of that, so it's really just conjecture.  He could also be from any or none of the other DNA Groups.

We do know the Vans of Barnbarroch share a more recent ancestor with the Vances of Group 1 than the Vances of any other DNA Group.  So at least we can say that a man from the same family as the Vans of Barnbarroch went to Ireland, maybe in the early 1600s, and all the Vances in Group 1 descend from him.   Although maybe it was more than one man who went to Ireland.   And maybe it was later than the 1600s, or some in the 1600s and some later.   Ok, there are still many possibilities for how Group 1 got started, but they did come from the same family as the Vans of Barnbarroch.  That much we do know.

But we don't know anything about the earlier DNA of the Vans of Barnbarroch before that or about the DNA of the de Vaux.  In genetic genealogy terms, Group 1 is called R1b-L193, which is concentrated in Scotland especially in lowland Scotland near the border with England and includes many other surnames like Little, Clendennin, and McClain.  The best analysis so far says that one man in early medieval times probably started the whole line.  Unless it was one of the de Vaux, that would eliminate any DNA link between the de Vaux and the Vans.  But we don't really know anything for sure.   Maybe there were different de Vaux family lines, too.  The possibilities are still endless.

Why am I bringing all this up?  Several Vance researchers in the other Irish Vance DNA Groups besides Group 1 have made statements recently like "we don't descend from the Rev. John Vans", or "we don't descend from the de Vaux".  My point isn't that those statements are true or false, only that we still don't really know.  You can still make a case for any Irish Vance DNA Group, including Group 1, to be descended from them.  Or maybe none of them are.  Just don't eliminate possibilities for yourself or others.

One person even went so far as to say that they didn't join the Vance Family Association because their DNA test said they "weren't part of those Vances" - i.e. the Vans of Barnbarroch line.  So let me be clear about that too.  The Vance Family Association is for ALL Vances and their descendants, regardless of origin.  It says so right on their website.   Yes, when the VFA started in 1984, the Rev. John Vans etc origin was the only one anyone knew about.   But for decades now it has included everyone whether of Irish, German, or any other Vance descent.   There is a lot of information in the VFA on many lines.

People using DNA for genealogy are fond of saying "DNA doesn't lie" but the truth is that after so many centuries what it's saying is pretty garbled and you can interpret it in many ways.  I'm not saying that any interpretation is better than any other.  Just remember that without traditional research to back it up, there are always multiple interpretations.





Friday, July 25, 2014

Infamous and Violent Vances



I recently came across a reference to the 1827 Carson-Vance duel in western North Carolina (see below) and it got me wondering how many Vances in history became infamous through violence.

All of the Vances that I'm aware of who famously met their end through violence are, for some reason, in the U.S. (does that mean something?).   Most of us of course are familiar with James "Jim" Vance and his role on the Hatfield side of the Hatfield and McCoy feud along the West Virginia/Kentucky border in the late 1800s.  But did you know his grandfather was also an infamous Vance?  Here are the ones I know of in chronological order:

Abner Vance (c. 1760 - 1819)


Abner Vance's story has become a legend of the American frontier.  He lived on the Big Sandy River in Russell County, VA, where in 1817 he was arrested and indicted for the murder of Lewis Horton  (the usual folk story says his daughter Elizabeth ran off with one of the local Horton boys, but the court records don't mention that at all).   Abner was convicted of murder in his first trial, but won the right to a change of venue and a second trial.  Unfortunately he was also convicted in the second trial and was finally hanged in July 1819 in Abingdon, VA.

During his long imprisonment Abner composed "Vance's Song", a folk ballad about his plight still considered the oldest known song composed west of the Blue Ridge mountains.  More about Abner's life and trial is available on the Internet, for instance here and here.

Abner's daughter Elizabeth never married but went on to have at least two sons and a daughter.  One of her sons was Jim Vance of Hatfield and McCoy fame.

A personal note:  DNA testing has shown that these Vances are related to me, but our common ancestor is before the 1750's somewhere back in Ireland!

Edit 08/03/14:  In a timely coincidence, a new article has appeared on the Blue Ridge Country blog site about Abner Vance and the in-depth research on his life by long-time Vance family researcher Barbara Vance Cherep.  I have updated Abner's story above to better match the evidence, but you can catch the first article of a three-part series by Ryan Hardesty here!

Robert Brank Vance (1793 - 1827)


Robert Brank Vance was NC Gov. Zebulon Baird Vance's uncle and a successful politician in his own right who served as a U.S. Congressman for North Carolina in the 1820s.   While campaigning for re-election in 1826, he exchanged insults with his (eventually successful) opponent Samuel Price Carson.  The exchange grew so rancorous that Carson finally challenged Vance to a duel, which was held on Nov. 5, 1827 at Saluda Gap (apparently across the state line into South Carolina because dueling was illegal in North Carolina at that time).  While both men were considered good marksmen, Carson had better aim that day, and Vance died from his wounds the next day.  

Because of the prominence of the two men the duel attracted much attention.  It is said (although I have not verified it) that Davy Crockett was one of those present at the duel.

More information on Robert Brank Vance can be found at Wikipedia or here (starting on p. 359).

Zebulon Baird Vance (1830 - 1894)


Zeb Vance was the Confederate Governor of North Carolina and is still arguably the most well-known American Vance in history.   While he did not meet his end in violence, he DID come close - in 1855 he criticized his cousin James Baird enough so that Baird issued a challenge to a duel.  Vance accepted, but relatives stepped in at the last moment and stopped it.  Then in 1859 just like his uncle before him, Vance and his campaign opponent David Coleman traded insults until they exchanged formal letters and agreed to a duel.  This time it was friends of both men who intervened and prevented the tragedy.

James "Jim" Vance (1832 - 1888)


A note:  I have avoided calling him "Crazy Jim" or "Bad Jim" because there is considerable debate over whether those nicknames were ever applied to him during his lifetime.

The Hatfield and McCoy feud story has filled many books and I won't go into all that history here.  Jim Vance was the brother of Nancy Hatfield and both were children of Elizabeth Vance, and while their father was never documented, it has recently been shown through DNA testing that the father of their brother Richard Vance was John Ferrell.    As to the feud, although the role that Jim Vance played is still debated, there is no doubt that the McCoys saw him as an active player.  In 1888, Frank Philips (a McCoy partisan) led a party of men from Pike County, KY across the border to Vance's home in Logan County, WV where they first wounded and then killed Jim Vance.  The feud itself would go on for another three years and the resulting trials lasted another decade after that.

Some information on Jim Vance besides the usual feud story can be found here.

Does anyone know of other infamous Vances?

An Older Case


The legendary ancestors of the Irish and Scottish Vances, the de Vaux family of England and Scotland, have more than one case of infamous ancestors who may be in our family trees.  One example is Robert de Vaux of Cumberland in northern England, who lived in the 12th century.  The de Vaux family had been granted the barony of Cumberland by King Henry II in 1158, but were struggling to hold on to it because it was still full of Scots who thought it belonged to them.   According to the story, Robert de Vaux invited the Scottish chieftain, Gille Bueth, to his home for a reconciliation, but then treacherously ambushed and killed him.  That story was repeated for centuries, but has more recently been dismissed by later historians.

Whether true or not, the story of the murder has long captured local attention.   A late as the 19th century Robert de Vaux was the subject of a fictitious ballad called "The Bridal O'Naworth" where, after the murder, the ghost of Bueth appears to him on his wedding day and frightens him so much that he founds the priory of Lanercost on the spot in remorse!

I know every family tree has its nuts and bad apples, but the Vances (in stories, at least) certainly have their share of infamous ancestors!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Vances of the Past: The Rev. John Vans of Kilmacrenan

Today's blog post is a musty dive into old books, so I thought I'd start with a fun fact:  did you know that on Ancestry.com there are 38,948 public family trees that include the Rev. John Vans of Kilmacrenan?  The man is probably more widely known as an ancestor than he ever was in real life! (And if YOU don't know who the Rev. John Vans is, read the Irish origins of "Vance" in our Short History of the Vance Surname)

The story goes that a Protestant clergyman named John Vans (variously spelled Vauss, Vaux, Vaus, and Vanse in old records when spelling was variable) who was somehow connected to the Vans of Barnbarroch in Scotland came to minister in Kilmacrenan in Ireland in the early 1600s, and is credited with being the original ancestor in Ireland of a whole modern group of Vances.  But what do we really know about the man?

William Balbirnie certainly didn't do us any favors in his Vance book from 1860 when he speculated freely about the Rev. John Vans and his offspring.  By now there is a ton of confusing information about him out there - many trees have him born in 1617, or married to an Elizabeth Shaw, or show his exact father and mother from the Vans of Barnbarroch in Scotland, or other details that are really all just speculation.

There actually IS a surprising amount of historical evidence about the Rev. John Vans.  For those of you who may want to add evidence to your records, here is a list of recorded facts:

1.  Rev. John Vans graduated with a B.A. from St. John's College in Cambridge in 1605 (his birthdate is not recorded, but presumably he was therefore born about 1585-1590).  He received a Master of Arts (where is not recorded) and was ordained as Church of Ireland deacon and priest in Kilmacrenan on Feb 7, 1613.  He also became rector of Movagh in 1615.   The reason that we know all this is that he was remembered in a history of Church of Ireland clergy in Raphoe, which also references his graduation from Cambridge, and the graduate rolls of Cambridge do show a John Vaux graduating that year.

2.  This part is speculation because the Raphoe Clergy book above doesn't list where "our" John Vans received his Masters of Arts, but the graduate rolls for the University of Edinburgh record a "Joannes Vaus" graduating with a Masters of Arts on July 27, 1611, which would certainly fit the timeframe for the Rev. John Vans of Kilmacrenan.  Is this the same man?  It fits, but we don't know for sure.

3.  In order to own land in Ireland at that time, non-Irish citizens had to be granted "denization", and the record of "John Vanse" being granted denization in Kilmacrenan on Nov 28, 1617 still exists in the Irish Patent Rolls ("clerk" at the time meant "cleric" or local religious figure).   Note:  not related to Rev. John Vans, but on this same page (Scots-Irish Links, Vol. 3, page 195) is a record of "Patrick Vans, of Libragh,  second son of Sir Patrick Vans of Barnbarroch...was granted Irish denization on 11 Aug 1610..."

4.  Abstracts of destroyed records from the 1922 fire in Dublin have survived, some of which were made by St John D. Seymour and entitled "Notes relating to the Ministers of the Gospel appointed by the Commonwealth Government to minister throughout Ireland".  This includes an entry from Sept 5, 1660:
Petition of John Vance.  Referred to Solicitor General.  There was produced a document dated 17 May 1615, whereby Andrew, late Bishop of Raphoe, conferred upon him Kilmacrenan and Movagh.  Another document was produced, dated 25 May 1615, ordering Thomas Bressy, clerk, to induct him.  Ordered to enjoy the livings.
Note:  Many Irish clergymen left their parishes during the Commonwealth period of 1650-1660 for religious reasons; this may be a sign that the Rev. John Vans did as well and was petitioning to be reinstated.

5.  There is an odd mention in the 1654 Civil Survey of Donegal, which recorded landowners from 1640 and was compiled between 1655 and 1667.  In that survey, the "clerk"/cleric of Kilmacrenan is recorded as "William Vans".  The Rev. John Vans is known to have had a son William mentioned in his will.  Did the Civil Survey mis-record the cleric's first name, or was Rev. John Vans' son perhaps administering his lands while his father had left his position during the Commonwealth years?   We don't know.

6.  Of course, we also have William Balbirnie's book from 1860, who references the Rev. John Vans' will from 1661.  That will was part of the Prerogative Wills which burned in the fire in Dublin in 1922.  However, another set of abstracts of the prerogative wills made by Sir William Betham in 1810, has survived and Rev. John Vans' will is also referenced in Betham's Abstracts - including a picture of the coat of arms that Balbirnie says sealed the will in red wax!!

It turns out we actually know a lot about this 400-year-old clergyman.  What don't we know?  Well,  we don't really know his parents or where he came from.  William Balbirnie makes a convincing case that he WAS connected to the Vans of Barnbarroch (although probably not the eldest son and heir as Balbirnie suggests), based in large part on the coat of arms sealing the will.  However, the arms as drawn by Betham above are actually closer to another related family, the Vaus/Vans of Menie, who died out in the 17th century but were related to the Vans of Barnbarroch (this theory was first advanced by Jamie Vans and is very possible).

We also don't really know the Rev. John Vans' wife's name or whether he really had all the children attributed to him by William Balbirnie.  And no one (to my knowledge) has really shown their ancestry back to him.  But we DO have a large group of Vances today who through DNA have proven that they share the same ancestry as the Vans of Barnbarroch (whether directly or through the Vaus/Vans of Menie).  So that large group of Vances certainly shares a common ancestor, and it could be the Rev. John Vans.

In the meantime, the story of the Rev. John Vans continues to spread today.  I know of at least 38,948 people who have heard it.  Some people hear it through older researchers in their families, others discover it on their own.  Had you heard it before?  How was the story told to you?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Another Vance of the Past: Gilbert Vance, fl.1630-1641

Was a man named Gilbert Vance in counties Cavan and Fermanagh one of the first Scottish Vance immigrants into Ireland?

In the early 1600s the British started a massive immigration program of Scottish and other Protestant settlers into the north of Ireland in what would become known as the Plantation of Ulster.  The large Protestant landlords were required to keep the names of the able-bodied settlers that they could assemble to fight if the need arose, and these "Muster Rolls" have survived for 1630.

In that year Sir Francis Hamilton, a Scottish knight and baronet, listed Gilbert Vance among his men in the Barony of Tulknock (Tullyhunco) in County Cavan, near its border with County Fermanagh.  While the men on these lists were mostly of Scottish origins, nothing is really known of Gilbert's background except that his "sword and musket" were available to fight in the Protestant cause.  

Ireland's counties, showing Fermanagh (now in Northern Ireland)
and Cavan (now in the Republic of Ireland)

Then in 1641 the local Catholic populations rebelled and a short bloody uprising followed.  Sir Francis Hamilton and his men were forced to flee, and only regained their barony in the 1660s.  

In the years after 1641, the British government collected witness testimonies from (mainly Protestant) locals documenting the loss of goods and alleged crimes committed by the rebels.  These "1641 Depositions" have also survived and have recently been digitized by Trinity College in Dublin and are available on their website here.  

A Gilbert Vance is mentioned in two separate depositions describing the same event in 1641.  While there is no proof that it is the same Gilbert Vance as the one from the 1630 Muster Rolls, the events described in the depositions took place in County Fermanagh less than 30 miles from the Barony of Tullyhunco, and it is certainly likely that an able-bodied Protestant man of arms would have been a focus for the rebels' rage.  

The deposition of Thomas Wenslowe was given in January of 1644, and he tells that in 1641,
one Rory MacBrign McShane Maguire of Ramone in the County of Fermanagh...& his souldjers about the begining of December 1641 at a place nere Cordiller in the same County slew & wickedly murthered by hanging them to death one Gilbert Vance of Portoran (gentleman) a Scotchman: Michell Belfore of the same (gentleman) another Scotchman Edward mc Bright of the same (gentleman).

"Portoran" (now Portora) is very near Enniskillen in County Fermanagh, not far from the border with Cavan. If it is the same Gilbert, maybe he moved north between 1630 and 1641, or did he perhaps escape to Enniskillen when the fighting started, only to fall victim to it there?    

Gilbert Vance's name in one of the 1641 Depositions
(certainly not easy to decipher, but all of the transcriptions are consistent!)


Another deposition, that of George Adwick in August of 1643, recalls only that
about January next after the Rebellion there was hanged at the Lord Magwires bridge in Fermanagh one John Fairbour & his 3 sonns and their wyves & children And about the same tyme there was hanged one Gilbert Vance & three more with him. And 220 Cowes were taken from them though they had and shewed Captain Rory Magwires protection which murthers & outrages were Committed by the Rebels.

These events were unfortunately not unusual, it is said that hundreds of settlers were hanged, drowned, and otherwise killed by the rebels in the uprising, and the event was used to justify brutal retaliations for years afterwards.  Gilbert's fate was sad, but certainly not unusual for the times.  

17th century books had fanciful illustrations of the horrors of the 1641 Rebellion.
How accurate the depositions were is anyone's guess,
but at least two mentioned Gilbert Vance.

No records of Gilbert's family have survived, so whether he left siblings or descendants is unknown.  But he would have been of the same generation as the Rev. John Vans/Vance who moved to Kilmacrenan and while both may have been Scottish, there is no indication that they were related.  

Is Gilbert possibly another separate Vance immigrant from Scotland to Ireland, who started a line of Vance men from one of the other Irish DNA lines besides Group 1 (R1b-L21/L193+)?  

We may never know for sure, but we can't discount the possibility.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Vances of the Past: Ezekiel Vance (Part 2)

Another installment in the soldier life of Ezekiel Vance!  Check Vances of the Past: Ezekiel Vance (Part 1) for the first story and the source of these reports.  

Again, this was during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, when Irishmen fought on both the rebel and the British sides of the conflict.  Ezekiel Vance was a young Irish soldier on the Loyalist (British) side who distinguished himself in the Battle of Antrim.  After the battle, however, he seems to have caused some trouble...
On an early day after the battle [of Antrim], twenty-two men were arrested at the insistence of Lord Massereene, colonel of the local cavalry force.  His Lordship is said to have been a somewhat eccentric man, who sometimes gave orders without fully considering their gravity.  The only offense the twenty-two men were known to have committed was that of not making any demonstration on the side of loyalty.  They had simply remained neutral.  For this they were arrested, and committed to one of the cells still existing beneath the western end of the Court-house. 
After the men were imprisoned, the question arose in Lord Massareene’s mind as to what should be done with them.  This was soon decided.  They should be at once shot; that would end the difficulty.  Accordingly his Lordship requested Sergeant McCaughan to dispatch them in the manner indicated, to which McCaughan replied “Yes, my Lord, we will bring them out and shoot them.”  Ezekiel Vance, being present, opposed such an order, and at once exclaimed, “No, my Lord, that would be murder!”  Lord Massareene, realizing the truth of the remark, proceeded no further with the matter, but immediately walked away, and the lives of the men were spared.  McCaughan afterwards reproached Vance, notwithstanding the fact that he was a Yeoman [on the British side], with being always on the side of the Insurgents [the rebels]. 
The names of only four of the twenty-two men are now remembered – Silas and James Steen, and Richard and William Barklie.  While confined within their cells, the poor fellows heard the order given for them to be shot.  All subsequently manifested much gratitude to Ezekiel Vance for having remonstrated with Lord Massareene, whereby their lives were saved.
...His [Ezekiel Vance’s] subsequent life was uneventful, and was spent in peaceful occupations.  He enjoyed the confidence and esteem of his fellow-townsmen, and died universally respected when eighty-two years of age (Authority – Mrs. Graham Shannon, of Antrim, daughter of Ezekiel Vance).

In the years immediately after 1798 smaller rebel armies in Ireland continued to fight and it was not until 1803 that the last rebel forces surrendered.   Many stories of brutal retaliations and heavy-handed tactics survived on both sides after the conflict, and the continuing hostilities caused waves that obviously have lasted well into modern times. Ireland's history might have been more peaceful if there had been more Ezekiel Vances around in 1798!