Tuesday, July 24, 2012


© Kathy Duncan, 2012

John Renfro was born about 1785 in North Carolina and resided in Gibson County, Tennessee where he is found on the 1850 census with his wife. All of his children, beginning with Joseph D. Renfro in 1813 seem to have been born in Tennessee. This entry, however, is about his wife.

No, your eyes do not deceive you. I titled this piece Hortence Tinsley the mythical wife of John Renfro. "Mythical wife" is not really accurate. "Mythical person" is more appropriate. In order to prove that Hortence Tinsley never existed, first allow me to examine her genesis.

Hortence Tinsley does not appear in any primary sources to date.

Hortence's first appearance in a secondary source is Josie Baird's William Renfro, 1734-1830: Some Descendants, Relatives, and Allied Families, published in 1973. That text references her in this way: "He [John Renfro] married Hortence (Tinsey) ______. Tincey was born ca. 1796, N.C." Notice that the manner in which this is written indicates that Hortence's surname is unknown. Baird notes that this information was from Coy and Barbara Yarberry of Ajo, Arizona. The Yarberry's must have provided this information to her at some time prior to 1973.

I was corresponding with Barbara Yarberry by 1975/76. At that time, I purchased from her a few photocopied pages that she had written on the Renfro, Yarberry, and Sexton families. In that text she wrote that "John Renfro borned about 1785 married Hortence (Tinsey) ______." Penned below that is the notation "b. ca. 1796 in N.C."

In the 1970s researchers had not consistently adopted the convention of putting nicknames in quotation marks and maiden named in parenthesis. At that time Barbara Yarberry consistently placed nicknames in parenthesis. From the same text Barbara recorded the following names: Martha (Mattie) Ann Ross, Winona (Pat) Boyd, Marthy (Mat) Elizabeth, Joseph Meairle (Bob), Mary (Polly) Lavaney. All of the names in parenthesis are nicknames. At no time did Barbara Yarberry place maiden names in parenthesis in that text. Therefore, "Tinsey" seems to be a nickname for Hortence. It would also seem that Barbara Yarberry assumed that Tinsey was the nickname for Hortence since the name Hortence never appears in a primary document.

In the mid 1970s, Barbara Yarberry and the other John Renfro researchers that I was corresponding with believed that John Renfro only had one wife, the one with him on the 1850 census, and that she was the mother of all of his children. Take a peek at the 1850 Gibson County, Tennessee census:

See how difficult John Renfro's wife's name is to read? It could be Tinsey or Sinsey or Linsey or Jinsey. If the name is Tinsey, then couldn't that be a short form of Hortence? That might be a reasonable assumption, but it is only an assumption.

By early 1991/92, several Renfro researchers, myself included, had discovered that Tinsey was really Jinsey Briant, the daughter of John and Frances (Nance) Briant. We still believed that Jinsey was the mother of all of John Renfro's children. During that time, we eagerly researched Briants and Nances.

In March of 1997 I contacted Jere Cox who is an expert on the Briant family. He was more than willing to help, but posed the following question:

"Kathy, I worked this line with Barbara Yarberry some years ago. Take a look at these marriages and let me know what you think. Joshua Wilburn to Jane Bryant Feb. 19, 1829 Cabb Wilburn BM. Gibson Co., Tn marriages. John Renfroe to Jincy Wilborn Mar. 11, 1845 Thomas Gray J.P. Carroll Co. Tn. Have you corresponded with Barbara Yarberry of Phoenix, Arizona? Jere"

Given that John Renfro's eldest son Joseph D. Renfro was born about 1813 and his youngest child was born well before 1845, my reaction was that I had obviously wasted five years researching Briants and Nances. Back to the drawing board. Jere said I took the news better than Barbara Yarberry had.

My quest for John Renfro's wife began over in 1997. However, in 2001 I was seeing internet posts that John Renfro's first wife was probably Hortence Tinsley. Not only had Hortence not gone away, but her nickname "Tinsey" had morphed into the surname Tinsley. When I asked what the source for her was, I was told that the source was Barbara Green Yarberry and Betty Yarberry Crawford's book, Yarberry & Renfro: A Genealogical Research of the Families of Thomas Newton Yarberry and Elizabeth Renfro, published in 1998.

In 2003, I was sent a copy of a letter written from Betty Yarberry Crawford to Mr. Treas on February 6, 1997. Crawford writes, "I am sending you the Renfroes from Tennessee that Barbara shared with me and also you questioned about John's wife? She was Hortence (Jinsey) Briant/Bryant. Her father's grandmother was the daughter of an Indian Chief and Jinsey is an Indian name. I don't know why Barbara didn't tell you this." From this comment it seems clear that in 1997 Crawford is still under the impression that John Renfro had only one wife: Jinsey and that Hortence was her formal given name.

However, when Crawford and Yarberry's book was published in 1998, this statement was clearly made in at least two places: "Elizabeth Renfro was born January 27, 1815 in Gipson County, Tennessee to parents John Renfro and mother unknown. John Renfro's second wife was Jincy Briant Wilburn and not the mother of his children."

What is needed is a previous wife or wives for John Renfro. In has stepped "Hortence Tinsley," who evolved over a period or thirty years from early research regarding Jinsey Briant's name. Hortence Tinsley is the purely mythical wife John Renfro. Not a previous wife. Not the mother of any of this children. Purely mythical.

Certainly, John Renfro had at least two wives, maybe more. However, Hortence Tinsley is not one of them. As a collective, the Renfro researchers need to get serious about uncovering the identity of John Renfro's wife/wives prior to Jinsey Briant. When we find her, we may also find a wealth of additional information about John Renfro.

Revised June 21, 2015.

Monday, July 23, 2012


© Kathy Duncan, 2012

Since I posted a photograph of Elizabeth (Renfro) Yarberry, it only seems fair to post a photograph of her husband Thomas N. Yarberry:

October 26, 2015: Since this post, the original photograph of Thomas N. Yarberry has been added in another post, and you can see it here.

Keywords: Thomas Newton Yarberry, T.N. Yarberry, Gibson County, Hempstead County


© Kathy Duncan, 2012

This week I stumbled across a photograph of my great-great-great grandmother Elizabeth (Renfro) Yarberry. She is the little old lady on the far left, with her son John Newton Yarberry's family.

John Newton Yarberry family

This photograph provides us with more information to add to what is known about the Yarberrys. Thomas N. Yarberry, Elizabeth's husband, is not in the photo. This suggests that she did , in fact, outlive him. Elizabeth (Renfro) Yarberry's estimated death date is usually given as 1885. However, John Newton Yarberry's son Alex, who was born in 1886, is not only in the picture, but he is well beyond infancy. Alex is in the front row on the far right. Therefore, Elizabeth (Renfro) Yarberry lived well beyond 1885. But how far beyond?

Fortunately, the family members in the photograph are identified. In the back row, from left to right: Lula Matilda Yarberry, Elizabeth Florence Yarberry, Lela Bell Yarberry, baby girl unidentified, Lillian Dellar Yarberry, Charles Luther Yarberry, and George Washington Yarberry. In the front row, from left to right: Elizabeth (Renfro) Yarberry, John Newton Yarberry, his wife Sarah (Blevins) Yarberry, and Alexander Campbell Yarberry. This gave me a place to start in trying to solve the problem of dating the photo. To do this, I made a chart with all of the family members in the order in which they appear in the photograph. I added a column with their birth years.

Lula Matilda 1883
Elizabeth Florence 1881
Lela Bell 1878
Lillian Dellar 1878
Charles Luther 1876
George Washington 1872

Elizabeth (Renfro) 1815
John Newton 1843
Sarah (Blevins) 1848
Alexander Campbell 1886

Then I added a column for the year 1887 and entered their ages for that year. I added a column for each year through 1899 and added a year to their ages in each column.

The last column is 1899 because that is the year Lillian (Yarberry) Lowe died, so the photograph cannot be any later than 1899. Lillian provided the most clues in trying to date the photograph. In 1893, at the age of 15, she married William Jacob Lowe, and gave birth to Sarah Lowe, the first of her two children, on 25 September 1894. Does that mean that the unidentified baby girl is Sarah Lowe? Probably. However, Lela is identified as holding the unidentified baby girl not Lillian. Why? Does this cause yet another problem in narrowing down the time frame for the photograph? Possibly, but I don't think so.

Fortunately, I also stumbled across an image of Lillian Dellar Yarberry and her husband William Jacob Lowe. It is not really a photograph. Instead, it is a drawing made from photographs of William and Lillian. Since Lillian died young, they had probably never been in a photograph together. Chances are William had the drawing made after Lillian died. That meant the artist worked from two photographs to make one image of them together. Look carefully at this drawing of Lillian. She looks more like the girl identified as Lela in the family photograph. If fact, it looks like the John Newton Yarberry family group photograph is the source for the image that the artist used to make the drawing of Lillian. It seems likely that at some point the girls' identifications in the family photograph were switched. It also seems more likely that Lillian is holding her own baby in the family photograph.

William Jacob and Lillian Dellar (Yarberry) Lowe

My rough estimate of the date for the photograph is, therefore, 1895. In that year the family members would be of the following ages:

Lula Matilda 12
Elizabeth Florence 14
Lela Bell 17
Lillian Dellar 17
Charles Luther 19
George Washington 23

Elizabeth (Renfro) 80
John Newton 52
Sarah (Blevins) 47
Alexander Campbell 9

Elizabeth (Renfro) Yarberry's death date needs to be adjusted to after 1895. She lived at least ten more years. During that ten years, she may have posed for other pictures and generated additional records.

Elizabeth (Renfro) Yarberry
1815 - after 1895

[Thank you Dwayne Miller for allowing me to use your images for this blog entry.]

Monday, July 9, 2012


© Kathy Duncan, 2012

Family pictures, with identifications, are the icing on the cake. Too many, however, come to us with missing identifications, or just as bad, they are misidentified. The lesson I've learned the hard way is to examine old family photographs with a family chart at hand. Such is the case of this photograph of my great-grandparents and their children:

Seated are my great-grandparents, Richard Elick Duncan and Susan Gertrude (Nevill) Duncan. The youngest boy to the right of Susan is my grandfather, Fred Duncan. I remember being told that the littlest girl in front was Dollie Duncan. That was easy to remember because she is adorable, a living doll.

Recently, I examined the picture with a family chart for reference, and was forced to adjust my identifications of the children.

Children of Richard E. and Susan Duncan:

1. Mary Belle Duncan born 3 November 1894
2. Rebecca Dexter Duncan born 19 April 1896
3. Earl Duncan born 19 December 1898
4. Dona Duncan born 14 March 1900
5. Ray Duncan born 11 December 1902
6. Dollie Duncan born 21 March 1905
7. Fred Duncan born 14 March 1907
8. Ruby Duncan born 27 July 1911

As an aside...my great-grandparents started running out of names right away. Mary and Rebecca are the only family names that they recycled. Dona and Dexter and all the other children's names are "modern" and not from either side of the family. All of the children from Earl to Ruby only have one name. My great-grandparents seem to have lost the ability to come up with two name combinations almost immediately.

Using my grandfather, Fred Duncan, as an anchor child in the photograph, it becomes obvious that the wee lass standing between her parents cannot be Dollie. Dollie is two years older than Fred. Ruby, however, is four years younger and is, therefore, the littlest girl. That means Dollie Duncan is the girl on the left of her father. The older girl behind her is Dona Duncan. The oldest boy standing next to Dona is Earl Duncan. The boy standing between Earl and Fred is Ray Duncan. I've been told that this picture was taken at the family home.

Where are the old girls, Belle and Dexter? Both were married and no longer living at home. Mary Belle Duncan married Joe H. Holder on 25 August 1912 and Dexter married Ira Honeycutt on 16 Aug 1913.

This photograph can then be dated to after 16 Aug 1913. Ruby looks to be between two and three years old. I would guess that she is closer to two. The weather seems to be warm since Susan and the girls do not look cold. Ruby seems especially comfortable. I would guess the photograph was made in September or October of 1913. Ruby's dress is period for 1913 although it is not as loose fitting as the dresses I have seen from that time. Perhaps my great-grandmother skimped on the fabric? Dollie's dress is also period for 1913. It is also possible that the picture was taken in the spring of 1914.

In any event, my grandfather Fred Duncan would have been about six in this picture and that seems to be about right. Richard E. Duncan would have been 40 and Susan Gertrude (Nevill) Duncan would have been 42. What appears to be a moustache on Richard's upper lip is a fake one, penciled in by one of the children. Kids. They never change.

Richard Elick Duncan was the son of Isaac Duncan and wife Susan P. Reese.