UPDATED:  See the revised version here.

Genealogy research consumes my life, albeit in fits and starts, as other projects push themselves into the forefront of my life. Lately, it has consumed every spare moment, and some not-so-spare, as I have given priority to cleaning up my database, which currently contains nearly 15,000 people. The goal is to be able to publish my database on Ancestry.com, and there are too many questionable and unsourced trees there already. If I'm going to put my data out there—and I believe I have a responsibility to do so—I want to do it as well as I can.

As I go through the process, I inevitably run into problems. The psychological process of working through them is worthy of a blog post in itself, but not now. What I will do now is begin to document here some of the work: the data, the sources, my thought processes, my conclusions. Doing so helps me think and increases my own understanding. It also gets some of the data "out there" where it may be of interest to others researching the same people. The posts will often be very long, and of little or no interest to most of my readers. Feel free to skim or skip them altogether! I post them for those random visitors who end up here through a Google search on a name of interest, because I have been helped in my own work by just such a process.To begin:


The Problem of David Wood


The Puzzle

I’m pretty happy with the line of my family tree that goes up (on my father’s side) to David Wood, born May 1, 1778 in Stow Creek Township, Cumberland County, New Jersey, died there in 1828, probably. He married, April 11, 1798, Mercia Davis, born July 15, 1777 in Cumberland County, died there December 1, 1823, daughter of Isaac and Mary Ann (David) Davis. I’m good with that.

I also have an okay line up from David’s grandfather, Jonathan Wood, who died in Cohansey, Salem County, New Jersey in 1727, and was married to Mary Ayers. This goes back to a John Wood who died at Portsmouth, Rhode Island in 1655. Details are sparse, but at least the line is there.

The problem, as is often the case, is in the middle.

I know that David Wood, Jr.’s father was David Wood, Sr., son of Jonathan and Mary (Ayers) Wood. But David Wood, Sr. had three known wives, and what details are known have few dates associated with them. I’m convinced that David Jr.’s mother was named Prudence Bowen; I haven’t found her parents, though supposedly she was the sister of David and Jonathan Bowen, of Bowentown, Cumberland County, New Jersey. Am I certain enough to put time into following the Bowen line? Probably, though not now. 

I’m not at all certain my logic will convince anyone else, but I’m equally uncertain I’ll get any better documentation. As one of my correspondents understated, "New Jersey records are very hard to find." I’ve been spoiled by working mostly with early New England ancestors. Say what you want about the Puritans, those folks knew how to keep records. And when something like engaging in illicit sex or selling liquor to Indians lands you in the court dockets, that’s a bad thing for you but a great thing for future genealogists.


The Sources

Vital records (birth, marriage, death), church records, wills, and probate records are wonderful genealogical resources, since they are usually contemporaneous with the events they describe.That’s not to say they’re without error, but they are generally considered reliable.New Jersey was not as good as New England at keeping these early records, but I found some.

  • Ancestry.com. New Jersey, Marriage Records, 1683-1802 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011, v. 22 p. 52 Prudence Bowen and Simeon Roberts, and v. 22 p. 335 Prudence Roberts and David Wood. (Original data: New Jersey State Archives. New Jersey, Published Archives Series, First Series. Trenton, New Jersey: John L Murphy Publishing Company.)
  • "New Jersey, Deaths, 1670-1988," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2SZ-1FPR : 18 October 2017), Anley McWood, May 1853; citing Roadstown, Cumberland, New Jersey, United States, Division of Archives and Record Management, New Jersey Department of State, Trenton.; FHL microfilm 493,711.
  • Ancestry.com. New Jersey, Abstract of Wills, 1670-1817 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011, v. 9, Abstracts of Wills, pp. 50-51 Jonathan Bowen, and pp. 419-420, David Wood Sr. (Original data: New Jersey State Archives. New Jersey, Published Archives Series, First Series. Trenton, New Jersey: John L Murphy Publishing Company.)

Although published genealogies are far from primary sources, they are usually—according to my contact at the New England Historic Genealogical Society—reasonably reliable on the American side of the Atlantic Ocean, even though many fictitious across-the-pond connections abound.Therefore I’m designating these sources as credible, if not as good as primary sources.

  • Bruce W. David, The David Family Scrapbook: Genealogy of Owen David, Volume 5 (3223 Ormond Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio: Bruce W. David, Volume 5, 1964), pp. 315-316.
  • Gilbert Cope, Genealogy of the Sharpless Family Descended from John and Jane Sharples, Settlers Near Chester, Pennsylvania, 1682: Together with some account of The English Ancestry of the Family, including the results of researches by Henry Fishwick, F.H.S., and the late Joseph Lemuel Chester, LL.D.; and a full report of the bi-centennial reunion of 1882 (Philadelphia: For the family, under the auspices of the Bicentennial committee, 1887), p. 545.
  • Dorothy Wood Ewers, Descendants of John Wood: A Mariner who died in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1655 (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Ewers, 1978), pp. 54-56.

Family tree date abounds online, and its credibility is exceedingly variable.Some online trees are maintained by excellent, sometimes professional, researchers.Some contain undocumented but accurate personal memories.And there are also many, many trees that have merely copied someone else’s data that is entirely wrong—a widespread propagation of error.Unless something about the source convinces me otherwise, I consider this data suspect, but it can still be a source of ideas and hints.

  • Family tree data from Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, and other Internet sites.


The Data

From the David Family Scrapbook

David Wood Jr. was born May 1, 1778, the son of David Wood, Sr. and Elizabeth Russell. (I believe the designation of Elizabeth as his mother to be erroneous.)

From the Sharpless Genealogy

David Wood (Sr.) died about 1798, “aged over 70.” His wives and children:

  1. Lucy Lennox, no issue.
  2. Prudence, sister of David and Jonathan Bowen of Bowentown, Cumberland County, New Jersey. Children:
    1. David Jr., born May 1, 1778 in Stow Creek, Cumberland County, New Jersey; married April 11, 1798, Mercia Davis, daughter of Isaac and Mary Anna Davis.
    2. Auley McCalla
    3. Sarah
    4. Prudence
  3. Elizabeth Russell. Children:
    1. John
    2. Lucy
    3. Richard

From Descendants of John Wood

David Wood, Sr. was born 1721, died 1794 in Stow Creek, New Jersey, “over 70.” His will was written March 10, 1794, proved January 18, 1798. Two scenarios are presented for his wives and children, from different correspondents:

  1. Lucy Lennox, no children.
  2. Prudence Bowen, married 1777. Children:
    1. David
    2. Auley
    3. Sarah
    4. Prudence
  3. Elizabeth Russell, married in 1786. Children:
    1. John
    2. Lucy
    3. Elizabeth
    4. Richard

Alternatively, the following children, not assigned to mothers, and in no particular order (clearly taken from David’s will, see below):

  • Sarah
  • Prudence
  • Lucy
  • Obadiah
  • James
  • Phebe
  • Lydia
  • Aulay McAuliff (McCalfa, McCalla)
  • David
  • John

From New Jersey Marriage Records

I find nothing for a Prudence Bowen marrying a David Wood, but there are these records of marriage licenses issued:

  • Prudence Bowen of New Town and Simon Roberts of Philadelphia, June 14, 1762.
  • Prudence Roberts of Cumberland and David Wood of Salem, July 9, 1777.

It’s likely that these represent the first and second marriages of the same person, especially since that agrees with the 1777 date in Descendants of John Wood

From New Jersey Deaths, 1670-1988

Anley McWood (Auley McCalla Wood). Death, May 1853, Roadstown, Cumberland, New Jersey. Residence Stoe Creek, Cumberland, New Jersey. Male, age 69, occupation farmer. Estimated birth year 1784. Birthplace Stoe Creek, Cumberland, New Jersey. Father David Wood, mother Prudence Wood.

From New Jersey Abstract of Wills

  • Will of Jonathan Bowen, February 21, 1804. He was likely the Jonathan, brother of David of Bowentown, mentioned in Sharpless above, hence brother to David Wood’s wife Prudence. Among many other bequests, he leaves a share of his household goods to “my niece, Mary Roberts,” strengthening the notion that this Prudence was once married to Simeon Roberts.
  • Will of David Wood, Sr. of Stow Creek Township, Cumberland County, March 10, 1794. 

Wife, Elizabeth, 1/3 of personal. Son, Obadiah, £50. Daughters, Sarah, Prudence, and Lucy Wood, son, John, and if wife should be pregnant, the said child; the remainder of personal, divided between them, when of age. Son, John, to be put to a trade, when 14. To heirs of son James, 5 shillings. To heirs of daughter, Phebe, 5 shillings. To heirs of daughter Lydia, 5 shillings. Son, David, 4 acres of woodland bounded by land of David Gilman, Dorcas Bennett to John Dare’s land; also 10 acres of marsh in Stathem’s neck. Son, Aulay McCalla Wood, remainder of home plantation with buildings; also remainder of swamp at Stathem’s neck; should said sons, David or Aulay McCalla, die before of age, said property to the survivor of them. Executor—Azariah Moore, Esq. Witnesses—George Burgin, Mary More and Martha More. Proved Jan. 18, 1798.

January 10, 1798. Inventory, £221.9; made by Joel Fithian and David Gilman.

January 18, 1798. Azariah Moore, having renounced the Executorship. Adm’r—C.T.A.—Jonathan Bowen. Fellowbondsman—Benjamin Dare.

From assorted online family tree data

  • David Wood Sr. was born 1721 or 1740, died 1798, married Lucy Lennox 1760.
  • Lucy Lennox was born 1742, died 1773. Her children were Obadiah (born 1760), James (born 1760), Phebe (born 1762), Richard (born 1768).
  • Prudence Bowen was born in 1754, died in 1778, married David Wood 1774. Her children were Prudence (born 1776), Sarah S. (born 1776 or 1777 or 1779), Auley (born 1775).
  • Elizabeth Russell was born in 1755, died in 1797, married David wood in 1779. Her children were Prudence (born 1776 died 1777), Lydia (born 1778), Elizabeth (born 1779), David (born 1778), Lucy (born 1767), John (born 1780).
  • Simeon Roberts, born about 1735 in Philadelphia, died about 1766 (probate) in Philadelphia, married Prudence Bowen (born 1740 in Newton, Sussex, New Jersey) June 14, 1762 in New Jersey. Their child: John (born about 1780).

And more. The data is inconsistent and confusing as well as unreliable.


The Questions

So what can I make of all this?

First of all, let’s deal with the name of one of David’s sons: Auley McCalla Wood. By his death record, Auley McCalla is definitely established as the child of David and Prudence Wood.  But what kind of a name is that for a child? First of all, despite the alternate spellings given in Descendants of John Wood, Auley (or Aulay) McCalla is probably correct. The name shows up more than once in New Jersey; David Wood’s child was no doubt named after a friend, or someone his parents respected. 

The will is the most interesting document, and I’m sorry I only have an abstract to work with. Struggling with hand-written wills is hard on both the eyes and the brain, but can give insights a summary misses. Still, the abstract is something to work with.

Of the twelve children mentioned in the combined sources—David, Auley McCalla, Sarah, Prudence, John, Lucy, Richard, Elizabeth, Obadiah, James, Phebe, and Lydia—two are missing from the will. For that time period, it’s not unlikely that Richard and Elizabeth had died before the will was made, so there’s no need to assume they’re extraneous additions to the records.

That Elizabeth Russell was David’s third wife is supported by the mention of Elizabeth in his will. Next comes Obadiah. It’s not specified that he is the firstborn, but that’s customary, and as he’s bequeathed his £50 outright, he must have been at least 21 years old in 1794, unlike Sarah, Prudence, Lucy, John, David, and Auley McCalla, who are clearly not yet of age. John is something less than 14 in 1794, making him born after 1780.

The five-shilling bequests to the heirs of children James, Phebe, and Lydia are another puzzle. Why the heirs? Are James, Phebe, and Lydia older, married … and dead? Or did David just want to leave something directly to his grandchildren (sadly, unnamed)? In any case these three children seem to be married and on their own. I’m trying to be grateful to David for actually leaving a will, since many did not, instead of wanting to shake him by the shoulders and demand to know why he didn’t include surnames for most of the people he mentions.

But who are these children?

One scenario is that Obadiah, James, Phebe, and Lydia are Prudence’s children from her first marriage. It’s possible, because there were 15 years between her first and second marriages, if the dates are right. But I think it more likely that they were Lucy Lennox’s children, already grown and on their own by the time their father made his will. Of course it’s possible that Lucy simply didn’t have any children; infertility is not exclusively a modern problem. But David specifically names these children as his. On the other hand, relationship naming was more fluid in the past: When a document specifies “my brother” or “my uncle,” for example, it does not necessarily mean by these terms what we do now. 

One thing that speaks to these children being Prudence’s by her first husband is the naming patterns. It seems unusual for David to have at least two sons before giving one of them his own name. He did have an uncle Obadiah, as well as an uncle John. The sources of the names Lucy, Prudence, and Elizabeth are obvious, though if James, Phebe, Lydia, Richard, Sarah, or Auley McCalla are in his family tree, I don’t know about it. But I can’t find any information on children for Prudence and Simeon, nor for Lucy and David, to help solve the puzzle. I think it more likely these are Lucy’s children, but I may be wrong.

Wills often name children in order of their birth, but sometimes that order is within categories, such as all sons and then daughters. In this case, I would guess that Sarah, Prudence, Lucy, and John are listed from oldest to youngest; likewise James, Phebe, and Lydia; also that David is older than Auley McCalla, which we already know from their birthdates.

Figuring out birth order between one category and another is more of a problem.  Unlike most of my sources, I place Sarah and Prudence between David and Auley McCalla because of the large gap in the latter’s birthdates, although it’s possible that Prudence was born last and her mother died in childbirth..

Although it is mostly speculation on my part, here is the scenario as I imagine it. As was customary, David’s widow received 1/3 of the personal property—as I understand it, this is pretty much everything that’s not land. It was valued at £221.9, so her share would have been £74. (Or possibly £57, if Obadiah’s £50 was deducted before the division. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about legal language when it comes to wills.) That makes Obadiah’s portion a pretty large chunk of the estate, but it was not unusual back then for the firstborn son to inherit more than his siblings.

The remainder of the personal property was to be divided amongst Sarah, Prudence, Lucy, and John, probably the youngest children. This suggests that the older children may have already received gifts of goods and property and were perhaps living on their own.

David and Auley each received land. Since Auley was given the “remainder of the home plantation with buildings,” I imagine the older sons (probably Obadiah and James) had been given their shares of the land already. Why was John to be “put to a trade” (I assume apprenticed) when 14? Perhaps the land suitable for farming had already been apportioned. Maybe John didn’t want to be a farmer, and his father supported that preference, although he seems to have been too young for that to be likely.

Why were the heirs of James, Phebe, and Lydia given five shillings? Such an amount was not insignificant, but at 20 shillings to the pound, barely a drop in the estate bucket. Was it meant to be just a token for small children from Grandpa? If there were bad relations in the family and he wanted to insult them, I imagine he would have done it for even less money.

Was David Wood, Sr. really born in 1721? It seems a reasonable approximation, if it is true that he was “over 70” when he died, which was somewhere in the range 1794-1798. That makes him apparently much older than his wives, though I don't have documented birth dates for any of them. I've also seen an unsourced birth year of 1740 often suggested for David Sr. But it's not impossible that he really was that old—one of my own great-grandfathers was 59 before producing any children. Absent any compelling evidence to the contrary, I’ll stick with the earlier date, though since I think it’s a guess from the uncertain death date, I’d put it more at about 1725.


The Conclusions

Always being ready to scrap speculations in light of new data, this is what I now believe about David Wood, Sr.

David Wood, Sr. was born about 1725, probably in Salem County, New Jersey. (Cumberland County was formed in 1748 from the west side of Salem County.) He died between March 10, 1794 and January 18, 1798, in Stow Creek Township, Cumberland County, New Jersey. David married three times.

His first wife was Lucy Lennox, who died before 1777, and by whom he possibly had four children. These may, instead, have been the children of David’s second wife and her first husband.

  1. Obadiah
  2. James
  3. Phebe
  4. Lydia

He married, second, about July 9, 1777, Prudence Bowen, the sister of David and Jonathan Bowen of Bowentown, Cumberland County, New Jersey. She had married, first, about 14 July 1762, Simeon Roberts of Philadelphia. Obadiah, James, Phebe, and Lydia listed above may have been their children. Prudence died before 1786.

David Wood and Prudence Bowen had, probably, the following children (order uncertain):

  1. David Wood, Jr., born May 1, 1778, died in 1828. He married, April 11, 1798, Mercia Davis, born July 15, 1777 in Cumberland County, New Jersey, and died there December 1, 1823, daughter of Isaac and Mary Ann (David) Davis.
  2. Sarah S.
  3. Prudence
  4. Auley McCalla, born about 1784, died May 1853, Roadstown, Cumberland County, New Jersey. (Living in Stow Creek, Cumberland County, New Jersey.)

David married, third, in 1786, Elizabeth Russell. (This may be a married name, from a previous marriage.) Their children (order uncertain) were probably

  1. Lucy
  2. John
  3. Elizabeth, died probably before 1794
  4. Richard, died probably before 1794


The ancestry of David Wood, Sr. taken from Descendants of John Wood, is, in an abbreviated form, as follows:

  1. John Wood, died 1655 in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, married an unknown wife.
  2. John Wood, born 1620, died August 26, 1704 in Little Compton, Rhode Island, married Anna, surname unknown.
  3. Jonathan Wood, born August 26, 1658 in Springfield, Massachusetts, died 1715, married, by 1692, Mercy Banbury.
  4. Jonathan Wood, died 1727 in Cohansey, Salem County, New Jersey, married Mary Ayers.
  5. David Wood, Sr., as above.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 28, 2017 at 8:21 pm | Edit
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Last night, when I posted this as the culmination of many days' worth of work, I thought it was pretty impressive—and certainly long enough. Viewed in the morning light, however, I realize how much of the iceberg remains below: the hours and hours of diving down one rabbit hole after another, of banging my head against many a brick wall, and of ferreting out hints filed away for possible further research (specifically in Prudence Bowen's family). It doesn't look so impressive when I think about what went into it.

Such, I realize, is the reality for any creative work: the performance rests on an enormous foundation that is not, and probably should not be, visible to the world. As I've been told about everything from musical performances to organizing a party: when you do it right, it looks easy.

But hey, it's my blog, and you're my friends and family. I'm allowed to show a little of the sweat dripping from my brow.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, October 29, 2017 at 6:23 am

I will admit, I did not read through this whole post. However, I can appreciate the work that went into it.

I have been working almost non-stop on my Wood family, but they lived in Edinburgh, not NJ. I have made tremendous progress, but I am having a hard time drawing the line. How far do I take the research of the various cousins? In my particular case, knowing the names of some of these people is beneficial because they can be used to find information on my direct line. The cousins, nephews, or brother-in-laws were often listed in probate records.

Also, some cousins who had a little more notoriety in their time, may lead to learning more about a shared grandfather. I've been thinking about this last night and this morning and I think I may cut things off by gathering as much as I can through the 1800's and not continuing into the 20th century. That still is overwhelming, but once you find a thread, can you really stop pulling it?

I am fortunate that so many of these people were fairly prominent, but that also means a lot more to research. (I am not complaining, but the guys might be if dinner rolls around and they are having leftovers AGAIN!)

Posted by dstb on Wednesday, November 01, 2017 at 8:29 am

Woods are my husband's family (Sycamore, IL) and we have been at this for over 50 years. Here is my latest take: John Woods who m. Mary Ayars is the son of Richard Kiah Wood and Priscilla Bacon. This Wood family were orig. Quakers from England to Philadelphia and on to NJ. Why do I think this? Because Stowe Creek is small and this Wood family are: location, employment, and church. I do not think they are from RI nor Scotland as some do.
Our webpage is at Ancestry: Joiners of New England.

Posted by Sallyann Joiner on Tuesday, December 01, 2020 at 12:25 pm

Thank you, Sallyann. I'm looking forward to investigating your site. My only source for this part of the line is Descendants of John Wood: A Mariner who died in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1655 by Dorothy Wood Ewers (1978), and single sources make me nervous.

Posted by SursumCorda on Tuesday, December 01, 2020 at 12:42 pm

Well, I really worked on this... and you are absolutely right on and correct. I changed a number of my records and went with your detailed research. Somewhere this Wood family is related to RD Wood of Millville but not directly. Fascinating research and well done on your part. I thank you.

Posted by Sallyann Joiner on Saturday, December 05, 2020 at 2:30 pm

Comments like yours make it worthwhile putting my research "out there." Thank you.

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, December 05, 2020 at 6:03 pm

I've been tracing the descendants of John Wood of Oyster Bay (d. 1690), brother of the Jonathan Wood who md. Mercy Banbury. I have to say, you don't want more trouble--John and Jonathan were definitely sons of Anna Wood, wife of a John Wood of Rhode Island, by someone (or some ones) other than her husband. The Y chromosome gives rise to this family name as the "Sullivan Woods." I am interested if you have any information on Jonathan Wood who md. Mercy Banbury and moved to NJ. By the way, this family too was associated with Quakers.

Posted by Matthew Wood on Monday, June 10, 2024 at 6:56 pm

Genetic genealogy really changes the game, doesn't it? I'd love to know your source for the genetic information, Matthew. Some day I'm going to have to try to understand it all!

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, June 10, 2024 at 9:33 pm
The Problem of David Wood, Revisited
Excerpt: A few months after my recent work on the David Wood branch of my family, I learned about the Register of Cohansey Seventh Day Baptist Church, Shiloh, New Jersey, 1737-1830, by Ernest K. Bee, Jr. I tried in all my usual sources to find a copy: ancestry....
Weblog: Lift Up Your Hearts!
Date: January 29, 2018, 1:47 pm
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