My John M. Smith (@1775 – 1835) appeared in the records I have found at a most inconvenient time. Russell County was formed in 1826. John bought his first tract of land which was half in Russell County and half in Wayne County in April of 1827. John’s sons were not old enough to appear in tax records at this time and he left no will when he died in 1835. I am certain of 6 children based on land records when they each buy or sell the land that was their part of John’s estate. But how can you move backward in time when the first land owned by a man comes that close to the formation of a new county? Especially with a name like John Smith! I know of no brothers or parents to follow and his children were too young to be listed in any records at this time.

Recently, I found tax records for Wayne County from which John’s part of Russell County was formed. I am pretty confident that my John was in Wayne County in 1826 and 1827 because the tax records for those years are organized by military company and John was listed in between 2 families who would eventually become in-laws. Henry Hardin Payne married John’s daughter, Sarah, in Russell County in 1828. Henry’s father was Philemon Payne. Thomas Simpson married John’s other daughter, Mary Jane, in Russell County in 1838. Thomas’ father was Reuben Simpson Jr and Abington was Thomas’ brother.

1826 Wayne County Taxes

1826 Wayne Co Taxes

1827 Wayne County Taxes

1827 Wayne Co Taxes










Unfortunately, most of the county tax records are arranged “alphabetically” – based on the first letter of the last name. Luckily, Smith and Simpson both start with S! John M. owned no land at this time, but his future in-laws did – and it was on Beaver Creek where John would eventually settle.

Still guessing, but at least it’s a little more of an educated guess. Inching my way backward, I have found:

  • John Smiths listed in 1825, but none of them are close to a Simpson.
  • In 1824, the page is dark with lots of ink bleed through but I can see a John between Abington Simpson and an Edward Smith. It does not look to me like the John is a Smith, but it is so garbled, I can’t be sure.
  • I can not find a likely candidate in 1823.
  • In 1822, John is listed on the page 3 lines above a possible Reuben (hard to read the handwriting) with Abington on the next page.
  • A John Smith (with no land, of course) is nestled nicely around Abington and Reuben Simpson in 1821 and 1820.
  • No John Smith that looks like a match before 1820.

So could there be a potential 1820 census for John Smith in Wayne County? Yes, but only if I’m able to keep an open mind…

John should be about 45-50 years old in 1820. He should have around 4-5 boys and 2 girls at this time. I know that there are probably additional children who died before John died. At least 2 sons died before 1840 – but they received land when John died, so I know a little bit about them – but not the years they were born. I do not know when John’s wife died, but I have never seen a deed or a census record in which she was alive.

I can once again use the future in-laws as a finding aid. These images are the bottom of one page and the top of the next.

Page 1Page 2

Looking for my “normal suspects”, starting on the first page above, I see Abington and Reubin Simpson Sr and on the next page, I see 2 John Smiths followed by Reubin Simpson Jr. The top John Smith does not have enough children and the bottom John has too many girls.  (The 3 is the beginning of the females.) I don’t see a woman who is old enough to be John’s wife, so I’m wondering if perhaps his wife has passed away and some family members are living with him to help raise the children? Or if some of the youngest girls passed away before the next census.

So these are certainly possibilities, but what will my next step be? I’ve looked for all court records with a John Smith in Wayne County and I find none. Records for the others I’ve been following are only records for roadwork. I can’t think of any other records that can help me know for SURE that I have the correct John.

I think I’ll try looking for land records for the Paynes and the Simpsons. Perhaps John was a witness for a deed. Other future in-laws in the county at this time are Peter Ellis and Andrew Meadows, so I’ll look for their land records as well. I’m also going to try to research a couple of Smith names that I’ve seen near John in the tax records – Christian, James and Edward/Edmund. Perhaps these men are brothers that can give me some clues. These are not names that I recognize from my research in other potential counties, but they did own land in Wayne County, so I will try to find deeds for these men to see what I can discover. I could also try to go through the tax records again to create a list of names who live on Beaver Creek. Perhaps those are deeds to look for as well.

I do feel like this path is much more likely than any other path I’ve tried for John, so for now, I’ll rejoice in the records that I’ve found and try to think “outside of the box” for my next step.  Any ideas you’d like to share would be appreciated!