Eight years.  That’s the entire timeline that I have documented for my 4th-great-grandfather, John M. Smith. And he has been my longest running brick wall in all of my genealogy research. I have 11 pages of notes for John, but the only information that I can prove spans an 8 year period from the time right after Russell County was formed until his death in 1835.  That means a significant portion of his life is still to be discovered!

His first proven appearance comes in a land purchase of 100 acres along the Cumberland River in April of 1827 followed by a listing in the tax records for that same year. Where did John come from before this?  Because it is such a common name and because I have no information on siblings, I have not been able to prove a family connection to take me back another generation.

So I’m turning to names in the “other” category.  Names which may or may not be related but which I hope can yield some clue that will help me break down this brick wall. So who do I have and what do I know about them? I’m planning to list each person one at a time in order to do some “quick” research on each man as I write to help keep me from getting distracted!

James Gilbert: On Dec 31, 1827 a land grant was given to John M. Smith and James Gilbert. The land straddles the Russell County/Wayne County boundary line. I’m unsure why a grant would be given to 2 individuals.  Does this mean it’s likely that they are related? Could James or his wife be related to John’s wife?

The following day, on Jan 1, 1828, another grant was given. In this grant, it says, “granted by the said Commonwealth unto John M Smith & James Gilbert assignee of said Smith who was assignee of Timothy Burgess assignee of Braxton Carter who was assignee of Elijah Hutchison”. So in this grant, John M. had the grant and he sold (I assume) a portion of the grant to James Gilbert but that the original grant was for Elijah Hutchinson who sold to Braxton Carter who sold to Timothy Burgess who sold to John M. Smith.  Timothy Burgess’s line is mentioned as a border of this land.

Doing a very quick search on Ancestry, I found an un-sourced family tree which says that James was born around 1788 and that he married Sally Decker around 1817 in Wayne Co, Kentucky.  The tree indicated that James was born in Wayne County, but it wasn’t formed until 1800, so that assumption is incorrect. In fact, Kentucky wasn’t even a state until 1792.  John Smith was born around 1775 and was married around 1800 based on the age of the oldest child that I am aware of.  Perhaps I should research James’ father – possibly Elijah Gilbert (the only Gilbert I see of the correct age in 1810 Wayne Co census. There is a John Smith in the correct age range on the same census page as Elijah. I will follow up on this.)

I can find James Gilbert listed in the 1820 Wayne County census living next to an Abner Decker. On the Kentucky GenWeb site for Wayne County, there is a transcription that only says “Gilbert, James m. Sally Decker 1817”. The only other Gilbert listed is Richard Gilbert who married Elizabeth Melbourne on 16 Apr 1822. There are several Decker marriages, but James and Sally are one of the earliest listed.  Wayne County was formed in 1800, but the transcribed marriage records begin with 1811.

I find James Gilbert, age 16-25, listed in the 1820 Wayne County census with a wife and a daughter under age 10. (Assuming relationships here.) By 1830, he can be found in Russell County, but both census lists are alphabetical and I cannot tell if he is living near John M. or not.

In 1826, the county boundaries changed and the north western sliver of Wayne County became the south eastern edge of Russell Co, so it’s likely that there was no moving involved between the 1820 census and the 1830 census. In the map below, the white boarder in the center of the map is the area that would become Russell County. This map is off slightly as I know that John’s land was just south of the Cumberland River and that the lower loop of the River was actually in Wayne County.  This is the area where the land grant land was located.


In 1835, James Gilbert and his wife, Elizabeth G. Gilbert (a second wife?) of Spencer County, Kentucky sell their share of the 1827/8 land grant as well as another parcel of land to John M. Smith. John M. died in the fall of 1835.

I can find a James Gilbert in the 1840 Spencer County census, but he is 10 years younger than expected.  In 1850, the census shows that his wife’s name is Elizabeth. By 1860, there is no wife listed, but in 1870, Elizabeth is once again shown.  Perhaps this is another marriage. James is found a final time in the Mortality Schedules indicating that he died in 1879 at the age of 80.  He was listed as a widow. At this time, I have found no probate records for James after doing a quick look at FamilySearch.

As I think through possibilities for gaining information from James Gilbert, I’ve decided to:

1) Search for a marriage record for James Gilbert and Sally Decker to see if there are clues from a bondsman or witness.
2) Search for land transactions for James Gilbert to see if there are any clues to relationships.
3) Continue searching for a will from James Gilbert.
4) Search the tax records for Wayne County to see when Elijah Gilbert died or possibly left the county.
5) I will try to analyze the tax records for Elijah AND the John Smith that I found to see if they arrived in the area around the same time. I’ll need to keep in mind:

  • Wayne County would have been Pulaski County for 1 year just before its formation (1799)
  • Green County from 1793 – 1799.
  • Kentucky became a state in 1792 and at that time, this area was part of Lincoln County.

6) Continue researching Elijah Gilbert to see if I can find a will that might mention a child or grand-children to connect the Gilberts to John M. Smith.

Next time: Andrew Meadows.