Tracing the life of William T Hughes

[Parents of William T Hughes – Part 2]

Starting with what I know

In order to begin tracing one’s ancestors, it is critical to always start “with what you know.” 1 Right. Well, when I began tracing the life of William T Hughes (1821 – abt 1875), I didn’t know much. The few clues I had were based on his notation in my maternal grandmother’s family tree (see Image 1). 2

Page from Hughes-Kienlen Family Bible
Image 1. Family Record pages showing “Daisy Hughes Clark Family Tree” from Hughes-Kienlen Family Bible. The entry for William T Hughes appears in the top left section of the page.

From this single page of the family bible, I knew my 2X great-grandfather’s name, where he was born, who he married (now I know my 2X great-grandmother’s name as well), and how my grandmother descended from this couple. But if I was going to identify his parents, I had to locate more information about him. In the following sections, I will summarize details I found in various records while tracing William’s life. In addition to revealing more about him and his family, these details become crucial points in building the case that identifies Nathan Hughes, Sr and Mary Davis as his parents. Accordingly, the details described below will reappear as supporting evidence in future posts in this series.

Date of birth?

Knowing when an ancestor was born is essential to begin tracing a family line. Without knowing that piece of information, it is possible to end up tracing the wrong person and, subsequently, following the wrong family line. Since no birth record for my 2X great-grandfather exists, I had to use other sources to arrive at a reasonable estimate for his birth year.

When searching for these other sources, it was helpful to understand that knowing and proving one’s age did not become important until the early 20th century. 3 Unless a close family member recorded the birth date in a family bible or supplied the information for a baptismal record, a person simply had to rely on what their parents or older relatives told them. 

This is why most people only had a general idea of their age prior to 1900. 4 For example, they simply estimated their age as best as they could when the census enumerator asked. Sometimes people also stated their ages as older or younger than they actually were. This was often the case when they applied for a marriage bond/license. Such casual approaches to knowing one’s age often resulted in conflicting ages recorded across historical documents. It’s sets of records like these that prove challenging as well as frustrating for family history researchers.

Searching the census records

Because I had no birth information, I knew that searching the census records for William Hughes was going to be challenging. So I began the search by doing some estimating of my own. Knowing that he was born in Kentucky, I could search census records by restricting the parameters to include only those records with the same name and only residing in Kentucky. By refining the search filters even more, it helped me to finally locate him and his family.

1850 in Scott County

William Hughes first appears in the 1850 U.S. Census record as living in Scott County, Kentucky. He resides with his wife Amanda Hughes and three children Mary, Evan, and Susan (see Image 2). 5

Cropped image of 1850 U S Census record for Scott County, Kentucky.
Image 2. 1850 U.S. Census for District No. 2 in Scott County, Kentucky – William Hughes family entry.

In this record, William was 27 years old indicating that he was born in 1823. It is also important to note the ages of his wife Amanda (22 yrs) and his oldest child Mary (6 yrs). In addition, the record shows that William was a farmer and that he owned land valued at $640. Finally, all of the family members were born in Kentucky.

Ten years later

In searching the 1860 census, we find that William and his family are recorded as living in Owen County, Kentucky (see Image 3). 6

Cropped image of 1860 US Census entry for William Hughes family in Owen County, Kentucky.
Image 3. 1860 U.S. Census for District 1 in Owen County, Kentucky – William Hughs [Hughes] family entry.

According to this census record, William’s is 39 years old indicating he was born in 1821. This means he is two years older than recorded in the previous census. His wife Amanda’s age is consistent with the 1850 record as are the ages of his older children. There have been four more children born since the last census. They are John, Reuben, Jedediah, and Elizebeth. William was still a farmer, but the value of his real estate had decreased to $375. Although he indicated that the value of his personal property was $450, that amount was far less than the values recorded for his neighbors listed on the same census record page.

In Missouri?

The 1870 census record is the last one in which William appears with his family. By this time, they have moved to Marion, Cole County, Missouri. Once again, his age changes. This time, he is recorded as being 50 years old which means he would have been born in 1820 (see Image 4). 7

Cropped image of William Hughes family entry in 1870 US Census in Cole County, Missouri.
Image 4. 1870 U.S. Census for Marion Township in Cole County, Missouri – William Hughs family entry.

In addition to having moved to another state, this census record indicates that three more children have been added to the family. He still listed his occupation as a farmer, but he owns no land. The value of his personal property has only increased by $50 since the previous census.

1820, 1821, or 1823? Which one?

As you can see, all three census records provide conflicting ages for William. He was a classic example of the conflicting ages scenario described above. Was he born in 1820, 1821, or 1823? In order to arrive at a reasonable estimate for his birth year, let’s look more closely at the three census records.

Let’s begin by examining the 1870 census record. There are several inconsistencies in the information. Based on most of the names and birth place information listed, there is little doubt that this is the same Hughes family unit that had been living in Kentucky. However, several of the children’s names are not consistent with the previous census or personal family records. In fact, my own great-grandfather Samuel Pence Hughes was born in 1867 and is missing from this record. Using subsequent census and other family records, Table 1 below compares the names and ages of the family members who appeared in the 1870 census with those who should have been recorded.

Table 1. Comparison of Hughes Family 1870 U.S. Census Record (known errors appear in red).

Because there are so many errors in names and ages, it is possible that a neighbor or one of the younger Hughes children might have supplied this inaccurate information to the enumerator. As such, the recorded age and subsequent 1820 birth year for William is highly questionable and likely wrong. That narrows the timeframe of his birth to somewhere between 1821-1823.

Other helpful sources

There are three other records that were helpful in revealing more about my 2X great-grandfather. These sources establish that William T Hughes married Amanda Lancaster in Scott County, Kentucky on 20 December 1843. The first and most reliable source is the image of the original listing in the Scott County marriage registration book noting that Whitfield Collins conducted the ceremony on that date (see Image 5). 8

Image of the handwritten entry for the marriage of William Hughes and Amanda Lancaster.
Image 5. Entry for William Hughes and Amanda Lancaster in the Scott County, Kentucky marriage register.

The second 9 source is a compilation of marriage information abstracted from several years of marriage records and the third 10 source is a transcription of their marriage bond that appeared in a local historical society newsletter. 11 Although both of these sources are not original documents, they support the information included in the county marriage register. In fact, the transcription of the marriage bond revealed additional information that established a known family relationship as well suggested an inferred one.

Legal marriage age

 Most of the details included in those marriage sources are important to establishing the identity of William’s parents and will be discussed in a future post. However, there is one important piece of information in the marriage bond transcription that reinforces the 1821-1823 timeframe of William’s birth. According to early Kentucky marriage laws, if either the bride or the groom was under the age of 21 and had never been married, they needed the consent of a parent or guardian.

William and Amanda’s marriage bond transcription included a note written by James Lancaster (1801-1875) who was Amanda’s father. The note is short, but it gives permission for his daughter to marry Mr. William Hughes. 12 Because this letter of permission was included, it indicated that Amanda was under 21 years of age. In fact, she was just 15 years old. Since there was no permission letter for William and the bond was issued, he must have been as least 21 years old. Thus, this means that he was probably born about 1821-1822.

One more helpful record

This narrowing of the timeframe for William Hughes’ birth coincides with his entry in the U.S. Civil War Draft Registrations Records, 1863-1865. In this list that included individuals from Jefferson, Henry, Owen, and Oldham counties registering for the draft into the Union Army, he stated that he was 42 years old as of 01 July 1863. 13 Using this last record in conjunction with all of the other records described previously, it is reasonable to estimate that William T Hughes was born about 1821.

Another step closer

As stated at the beginning of this blog post, it is crucial to pinpoint a birth year when attempting to establish parentage. This single piece of information is fundamental to identifying a pool of potential parental couples and then ultimately differentiating among them.

When I first began working to discover the identity of William’s parents, I did not know much about him or his life. But after re-examining the sources presented here, it occurs to me that I’ve learned quite a bit more about my 2X great-grandfather.

William’s life

William T Hughes was born in Corinth, Kentucky in 1821 and married Amanda Lancaster on 20 December 1843 in Scott County, Kentucky. Amanda’s parents were James Lancaster (1801-1875) and Ann Nelson (1808-1891) of Scott County. William was a farmer and lived in an area of Kentucky where county boundaries shifted over time. This is most likely why he and his family appear in Scott County, Kentucky, in the 1850 US census and Owen County in the 1860 one. The county boundaries moved; not the family. 

In 1863, William registered for the Union Army draft while still living in Owen County, Kentucky. However, by 1870 the family had moved to Cole County, Missouri. His entry in the 1870 census is the last known record of him. Their last child, Missouri Ellen Hughes, was born in 1871 in Missouri.

 Since William does not appear in the 1880 census, we can presume that he died. This inference is further supported by Amanda’s census in that year. It reveals that she has remarried and moved with her younger children to Texas. Based on this information, it is reasonable to assume that William died sometime between 1871 and 1879.

In their thirty-plus years of marriage, William and Amanda (Lancaster) Hughes had thirteen children (see Table 2). Eleven of those children lived to adulthood and most of them married and raised families of their own. Among them, was my great-grandfather Samuel Pence Hughes (1867-1931).

Table listing names of all the members of William and Amanda Hughes' family
Table 2. The family of William T Hughes and Amanda Lancaster.

Next time

The next post in this series identifies and analyzes several men who could be the father of William T Hughes. Because Hughes is a common surname in Kentucky, the original pool of individuals was large. However, further examination of several sources narrows the field of candidates and moves closer to the goal of identifying the parents of William T Hughes.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thanks for reading and following this extended series.]


  1. FamilySearch Wiki contributors, ‘Identify What You Know’, FamilySearch Wiki, rev 26 June 2018, 16:12 UTC, ( : accessed 08 February 2019).
  2. Hughes, Clark and Kienlen Family Bible Records, 1796-1979. The Holy Bible. Privately held by Nina Clark Smith, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Conway, Arkansas, 1986. [Hughes-Kienlen Family Tree entries, written by Daisy Mae Hughes Clark, the owner’s mother. The current owner inherited this family bible from her mother in 1986.]
  3. Fryxell, David. “Conflicting Census Dates: Determining the Correct Birth Year,” Family Tree Magazine article,, 20 December 2016 ( : accessed 17 February 2019).
  4. McClure, Rhonda R. ”Conflicting Information – Just what is right?” Twigs and Trees article,, 03 October 2002 ( : accessed 08 February 2019).
  5. 1850 U.S. census, Scott County, Kentucky, District 2, p. 502A (stamped), dwelling 793, family 793, William Hughes; image, ( : accessed 12 February 2019); citing NARA microfilm roll: M432_218.
  6. 1860 U.S. census, Owen County, Kentucky, District 1, p. 148, dwelling 1024, family 1005, William Hughs; image, ( : accessed 12 February 2019); citing roll: M653_391; FHL film: 803391.
  7. 1870 U.S. census, Marion County, Missouri, Marion Township, p. 291A (stamped), dwelling 73, family 73, William Hughes; image, ( : accessed 12 February 2019); citing roll: M593_771; FHL film: 552270.
  8. “Kentucky, County Marriage Records, 1783-1965, Scott County,” image, ( : accessed 20 February 2019), entry for William Hughes and Amanda M Lancaster, 20 December 1843, FHL File Number 000183225.
  9. Anne Walker Burns Bell, Record of Marriages in Scott County Kentucky for the Period of Years 1837 to 1851 inclusive (Frankfort: Kentucky Vital Statistics, 1931); p 9.
  10. Doris Reed, transcriber, “Scott County, Kentucky Marriage Bonds: from the boxes (518-549),” Scott County Kentucky Genealogical Society Newsletter 28 – #2 (April – June 2011): p 11.
  11. On a recent research trip to Kentucky, I tried to locate and view the original marriage bond. However, all marriage bonds from this time period are inaccessible to the public.
  12. Reed, “Scott County, Kentucky Marriage Bonds,” p 11.
  13. U.S., Civil War Draft Registrations Records, 1863-1865; Kentucky, 5th Congressional District, Wm Hughes entry; database online, ( : accessed 20 February 2019); citing National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registration Records (Provost Marshal General’s Bureau; Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865); Record Group: 110, Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau.

2 Replies to “Tracing the life of William T Hughes”

  1. Congratulations on all the work in trying to be certain that you have the family information either correct or at least
    very probable matches. Keep up the good work and I feel sure you will find more proof.

    1. Thanks for continuing to read the blog. Thanks, too, for your support and words of encouragement. just released some powerful DNA match tools. I’m just starting to explore how to use them. One exciting discovery with these new DNA tools is that I have multiple DNA matches with other descendants of Nathan Hughes. Thanks again for reading.

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