Monday, 30 May 2016

The Ramey - Harrell - Farrell connection

I am delighted to introduce this guest post by one of our project members. John Wells has been working on his family history for many years and with the advent of DNA testing has managed to solve a family mystery that had confused genealogists for generations.

John manages kit JMR-8902 for his cousin, a gentleman by the name of Ramey (who appears in the previous post). Have a read of this fascinating account of how this particular surname was passed down through the ages and why it is associated with the Farrell surname.

If anyone has a story of how DNA has helped them break through a Brick Wall on their Farrell line, write it up for the blog and I will be happy to publish it. We learn a lot from the experience of others - that's what collaboration is all about.

Here's John's story.

The Thaddeus Ramey Family Ancestry Mystery Solved
 John B. Wells III

The Ramey family of Johnson County, Kentucky, can be justly proud of its French Huguenot roots. These brave Protestants suffered generations of religious persecution in their native France until finally finding freedom of worship in America. The lineage of the Ramey/Remy family of Johnson County, Kentucky, is well-documented from the year 1680 when Jacob Remy (later spelled “Ramey”), “a Natural born subject of the French King,” became a naturalized citizen of the British Colony Virginia.

By the Deputy Govr. Of Virginia

John Ramey/Remy, the great-great grandson of Jacob Ramey/Remy, was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, about 1769, and married in Washington County, Virginia, on 11 October 1797, to Nancy Romans. (Washington County, Virginia, Marriage Register 1782-1820, R-V). The couple was married by the Rev. Charles Hardy, a Methodist minister. By 28 November 1808, John and Nancy had settled in Floyd County, Kentucky, when John “Ramey” was appointed to mark a new road “around Thomas C. Brown’s plantation.” (“Annals of Floyd County, Kentucky 1800-1826,” by Charles C. Wells, Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD, 1983, page 49).

                  The 1810 U.S. Census for Floyd County included John Ramey’s family as consisting of 2 males under 10 years old, one male aged 26-44, 2 females under 10, one female aged 10-15 and one female 26 to 44 years old. The two younger daughters were Jemima and Elizabeth while the oldest, born between 1795 and 1799, was named Mary, nicknamed “Polly.” Jemima married on 3 August 1820 to John McDowell while Elizabeth is thought to have married James Wheeler in Floyd County on 13 March 1817. (“Annals of Floyd County, Kentucky 1800-1826,” by Charles C. Wells, Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD, 1983, pages 300 & 304). 

                  Mary AKA “Polly” turned out to be the problem child.  On 21 December 1818, the Floyd County Court ordered that an illegitimate child "Thadeus Remy … not .. be bound out as it appears from evidence that John Remy, his grandfather, takes care of him." (“Annals of Floyd County, Kentucky 1800-1826” by Charles C. Wells, Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD, 1983, page 175). A loose slip of paper placed next to entry for “Thadeus Remy” included the penciled note “R. Hamil. father.” Several genealogists have interpreted this note to mean that a man named “R. Hamilton” was the father of Thaddeus Ramey. 

                  The name of his mother was established at the meeting of the Floyd County Court on “Monday the 20th day of March, 1820” when "William Dixon appear[ed] to answer a charge of Bastardry charged against him by Polley Ramey. The said Ramey not appearing to prosecute the case, the said Dixon consented to pay the costs therefore the said Dixon is discharged." Apparently, Dixon accepted responsibility for a second illegitimate son named Owen Ramey, also the son of Mary “Polly” Ramey. Just below the record of the charge against Dixon is recorded another order: "Ordered a subpoena be issued against Polley Ramey to appear and show cause, if any she can, why her two children Owen and Thaddius shall not be bound out as the law directs." (“Annals of Floyd County, Kentucky 1800-1826” by Charles C. Wells, Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD, 1983, page 184).

                 The tombstone for “Thadeus Remy,” located on the Old Ramey Farm on Route 201, just south of Blaine in Lawrence County, Kentucky, records that Thaddeus was born on 2 January 1815. (“Thadeus Remy born Jan. 2 1815 dec. July 18, 1890”). It appears that Mary “Polly” Ramey was just a teenager when both boys were born and was unable to care for them herself. Interestingly, Mary “Polly” Ramey married on 29 June 1818, to Thomas Puckett but Thaddeus and Owen remained with their grandfather. Giving his permission for Polly to marry Puckett, John Ramey noted that “my daughter Polley … is under 21 years of age.” Apparently, Thomas Puckett had no interest in raising two children who were not his own so the boys remained with their grandfather.  (“Annals of Floyd County, Kentucky 1800-1826” by Charles C. Wells, Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD, 1983, pages 158 & 301). On 15 May, 1820, the County Court again intervened and “Ordered a subpoena be issued aginst[sic] John Ramey to appear and show cause, if he can, why his two grandchildren, Owen and Thaddias, shall not be bound out as the law directs.” (“Annals of Floyd County, Kentucky 1800-1826” by Charles C. Wells, Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD, 1983, page 164).

                  Thomas Puckett remains a mystery. The last surviving record of his presence in Floyd County is from the Court Book for 17 August 1818 when Thomas Puckett and Zachariah Rose appeared in court “to answer a charge of breach of the Peace.” (“Annals of Floyd County, Kentucky 1800-1826” by Charles C. Wells, Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD, 1983, page 168). It is thought that he was the same Thomas Puckett, a native of Russell County, Virginia, who at age 18 enlisted in the United States Army as a private in the 24th Regiment. He was court marshalled at Nashville, Tennessee, in October or November 1814 for desertion and sentenced “to be shot.” However, the sentence was rescinded and he returned to active duty. He deserted again on October 24, 1816, just before he appeared in Floyd County, Kentucky. (U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1814,” National Archives, Washington, D.C.)  Thomas Puckett was not listed in the 1820 Kentucky census and later records describe Mary “Polly” Ramey as “widowed.” The date and circumstances of his death are unknown.

                  Although essentially an orphan, Thaddeus Ramey built a successful life for himself in Lawrence County, Kentucky. By 1831 he was living with his uncle on Hood’s Fork in Lawrence County. He married to “Jannie” Caldwell on 2 April 1835, (Lawrence County, Kentucky Marriage Register, Volume 1 & 2, page 130), by whom he had seven children. After her death he remarried on 12 March 1845 to Diana McDowell who gave him an additional ten sons and daughters. (Lawrence County, Kentucky Marriage Permits, filed in boxes, transcribed by Opal Muncy).

                  The 1860 Lawrence County census listed the value of his land at $1,050 and a personal estate of $850. The tax assessments for 1865 listed his occupation as “distiller” and the owner of a large orchard. (1865 U.S. IRS Tax Assessments, 1862-1918, Microfilm 768, Roll 21, National Archives, Washington, DC). Clearly, Thaddeus Ramey had survived his tumultuous childhood to become a successful farmer. 

                  Thaddeus Ramey died on 18 July 1890 in Lawrence County. His will, written on 5 May 1890, reflects a certain degree of financial success. He bequeathed property that he had not already given to his older children to his wife Diana in life estate. To his other children he gave both land and money. In the will he mentioned specifically two separate orchards. Obviously, he was still working as a distiller at his death. (Kentucky Wills and Probate Records, 1874-1989, folio 154,

Although his mother, Mary “Polly” Ramey Puckett was apparently absent during his formative years, she did live with Thaddeus at least from 1860 until her death sometime after 1880. In the 1880 Lawrence County, Kentucky, census she was included in his household, aged 82, a “widow.”

The tombstone of Thadeus Ramey

In spite of a wealth of records chronicling the life of Thaddeus Ramey, the identity of his biological father has remained a mystery. Family researchers have speculated for decades that his father was a man named “R. Hamilton” based on a penciled note in the Floyd County court orders that identified him as “R. Hamil.”

In recent years a revolution in genealogical research has taken place as the science of DNA analysis has become more and more sophisticated. Where concrete documents are lacking, genealogists have been able to use DNA to determine the identities of previously unknown and “unresearchable” ancestors.

                  In 2015, the paternal great-great grandson of Thaddeus Ramey submitted his Y-DNA to Family Tree DNA for analysis and comparison to other donors. Not surprisingly, his results did not match any other male Ramey descendant except those who descend directly from Thaddeus Ramey. However, he did match with 100% certainty to at least twelve males by the name of Harrell.

At least six of the resulting matches based on 37 genetic markers were 100% identical while the remaining six donors differed by only one marker. All of the matches shared the same family name: HARRELL. All of the Harrell donors were members of the family of Reuben Harrell of Virginia and his siblings. A closer examination of the penciled note in the Floyd County, Kentucky Court Book revealed that researchers have misread the name of “Harril” as “Hamil.”   The DNA results conclude clearly that the male ancestor of Thaddeus Ramey was “R. Harril (Harrell)” and not “R. Hamil (Hamilton)”

The Harrell family (often spelled “Harold” in East Kentucky in later years) settled in Floyd County early in the 19th century. Floyd County Deed Book “A” records the purchase of sixty acres on “Abbott Creek” by Robert Herrell on 25 April 1815, the year in which Thaddeus Ramey was born. (“Annals of Floyd County, Kentucky 1800-1826” by Charles C. Wells, Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD, 1983, page 21). Robert Herrell was also exempted from paying Floyd County property taxes for the years 1811 and 1812. (Floyd County Court Book 4, 23 January 1826). Additionally, Robert Herrell (Harrell) was the son of Reuben Harrell, the kinsman of all of the Y-DNA matches for Thaddeus Ramey. It appears that the family mystery has been solved. Thaddeus Ramey was the son of Robert Herrell (Harrell) who was born between 1786 and 1791 in Montgomery (now Wythe) County, Virginia, the son of Reuben and Rebecca (Smith) Harrell. Possibly, the reason Mary “Polly” Ramey did not file bastardy charges against Robert Herrell (Harrell) is that he married soon after the birth of Thaddeus. On 2 August 1815, Robert married Lucinda Turman and moved to his father-in-law’s farm “on Sandy River” in what is now Johnson County. Ironically, Robert and Lucinda had no male children. Therefore, the male descendants of Thaddeus Ramey remain as the only male descendants of Robert Harrell. (“Annals of Floyd County, Kentucky 1800-1826” by Charles C. Wells, Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD, 1983, page 298).

Reuben Harrell was born in 1750 in Frederick County, Virginia, and died on 2 September 1825, in Washington County, Virginia. He married Rebecca Smith about 1770 in Frederick County, Virginia. She was born between 1744 and 1749 in Frederick County, Virginia, and died on 12 March 1842 in Floyd County, Kentucky. (Harrell Collaborative, Family #2,

Reuben Harrell was a patriot soldier in the Revolutionary War, serving as an officer, possibly with the rank of Major. Apparently, his son Robert claimed a disproportionate amount of his mother’s widow’s pension in her declining years. The pension is housed at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

                  Much more research needs to be done in order to trace the Harrell family back to their origins in Europe. Several Harrell family genealogists speculate that the father of Jacob Harrell is John Harrell who was born in Northumberland County, Virginia, about 1688. John “Harrold” was bound out as an apprentice to John Trimlett at age seven, his father Walter having fallen on hard times.  
"18 March 1695/96 John Harrold son of Walter and Priscilla Harrold seven years old last December is bound by the Court and apprentice to serve John Trimlett and his wife and their heirs until he attaines twenty one years of age and the said John Trilett causeing the John Harrold to Read and Write in the case ye s’d Jno Trimlettt…until ye expiration of said terme to teach him the trade of cooper…..” (Northumberland County Apprenticeships 1650-1750 compiled by W. Preston Haynie, part 1, page 720)."

Little is known about Walter Harrold (Harrell) other than he was born sometime prior to 1660 and married a woman named Priscilla. Walter and Priscilla also bound out their two other sons, Hugh and Nicholas, in 1695/96, but were both dead by 1702/03 as the following document suggests:
“John Harrold orphan child about fifteen years old Having been formerly bound by the Court to John Trimlett and Hannah his wife under four provisions and the said Trimlett and his wife being deced and it having been presented to this Court that the said child is incapable of getting his living and toytoring (tutoring) and idleing his time away loosely and almost naked and Capt. Thomas Winder and the boy consenting in court thereto having offered in Court provided the said child shall serve him to be taught the trade of a cooper and to read.. shall appeare the next Court to the conrary Jno. Cooke of Lancaster County by Capt. Richard Haynie his attorney claiming the said boy and ordered the said boy be produced the next Court and upon Tryal of the matter the order to be confirmed or mad void….” (Northumberland County Apprenticeships 1650-1750 compiled by W. Preston Haynie, part 1, page 237).

                  Y-DNA results provide the only additional information about the Harrell lineage. All of the male Harrell descendants, including Thaddeus Ramey, belong to Y-DNA Haplogroup Z253 with the SNP of FGC20561. Other than the Y-DNA matches with the Harrell participants, the Y-DNA results for Thaddeus Ramey also match closely with several other families such as Murtha, Kelley, Yorke, McConnell, Carolan, Kenny, Riley, Cain, Christie, Kilchrist, Farrell, Darby, Rock, Geraghty and Gannon, all of which trace their origins to the central and southwestern Ireland.  In Ireland, the family name of Harrell is the Anglicized form of Gaelic “Ó hEarghail” meaning a descendant of Earghal, a personal name with the same etymology as Fearghal, the progenitor of the Farrell family who hailed from County Longford.  (“Irish Names and Surnames,” by Rev. Patrick Woulfe, Dublin, 1922).

John Wells
May 2016

The revised family chart of member JMR-8902

Thank you John for an excellent article. What a wonderful account of how DNA solved a family mystery.

But John's story does not end there. The final paragraph raises the tantalising possibility that the surname Harrell is derived from the same root as the surname Farrell. Can DNA provide evidence of this connection?

Well that is the topic of a subsequent article. 

But hopefully we have whet your appetite for more.

Maurice Gleeson
May 2016


  1. That was fascinating, I'm looking forward to more articles like it.

  2. A comment from Bill Thielbahr:

    This comment is dated Aug 20, 2017 and represents a follow-on to the outstanding work of John Wells who posted his work on the Farrell website. John provides proof linking Thaddeus Ramey b. 1815 to Reuben Harrell b. abt 1750 VA. I descend from Reuben's brother William Harrell (of Wythe Co., VA) and, along with others, have been researching this Harrell line for over 20 years. John Wells stated there are those who think Jacob Harrell, believed to be father of William & Reuben, is a son of John Harrell b. 1688 who, in turn, is son of Walter Harrold and spouse Priscilla and brother to Nicholas and Hugh. Despite years of researching this Walter/Priscilla Harrold family, no one has identified a living descendant - with one mysterious exception. On 23 May 2007, Walter Herald posted on Genforum that he descended from "Nicholas Herald", had solid evidence to confirm this (saying the evidence was not from the internet), and he had taken a Y-DNA test with results that matched a "William Herald of Wythe Co., VA". Several Harrell researchers immediately emailed Walter Herald, who said he lived in Northern VA and would share his evidence, including his home address, but not thru emails. He wanted to send the evidence by "snail mail" fearing his privacy could be compromised. He emailed his 25 marker DNA results to one of the Harrell researchers (his original posting said he had 37 markers) but did not identify the company who did the DNA testing. His evidence was never received and on 30 July a Genforum posting by his "son" John H. Herald stated "My father has recently had some unexpected health problems . . and is unable to correspond on the Harrell forum at this time or respond to emails. He will be back on-line once he is back home and fully recuperated." Repeated attempts to reach his son John and Walter Herald were met with silence. Months were spent trying to find these two individuals but all attempts failed. Nothing more has been found. His 25 marker DNA profile matched a particular Harrell line but not the DNA profile of Reuben Harrell. No proof of Walter Herald's death has been found (if he worked for the Federal Gov't he probably didn't received Social Security and wouldn't be in the SS Death Index). This remains a big mystery. If anyone has knowledge of Walter Herald or of a descendant of Walter/Priscilla Harrold, please email me at . Bill Thielbahr

  3. This is a great article. It is fascinating to me as I have yDNA matches with people of several of the surnames showing up as related, i.e., McConnell, Harrell, Farrell, Ferrell, Kelly/Kelley, Murtha, Riley and even Ramey. I'm glad I've joined the Farrell group. I think there's a lot here for me.

    1. Glad you found it useful. :-)

    2. I second Unknowns remarks. It is a great article and the relationships are fascinating. I have yDNA matches with individuals having all of those surnames, and my name is Moore. Maybe someday I will find the definite connection I need.

  4. I descend from Thaddeus Ramey and Diana McDowell through their son Daniel Harrison Ramey on my father's side. I found this article very interesting. Lucinda Turman is my maternal 4th great aunt. I found it amazing how all families interconnect in eastern Kentucky.

    1. Glad you liked it. I continue to be amazed at the fascinating stories that DNA helps uncover! :-)