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Old 13th March 2013, 06:47 PM
RTDavis RTDavis is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2010
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Moses Davis, The Search for His Parents

(First Published in Traces, Davis Genealogy Newsletter, #10)

After searching in libraries and museums, books, microfilm, newspapers, Internet genealogies and census records, DNA testing has finally given us a major clue to a question that has consumed us for 15 years: Who were the parents of our great great grandfather, Moses Davis? We now think we are close to the answer, possibly as close as we will ever get.

Fact and Theory

We have no record of Moses' birth. The few records that give his age the four census records that record Moses and family, and a marriage record for Moses and his second wife, Lydia Markle are of little help since Moses' age varies wildly in these records. But going by the date of birth of his first wife, Jane Van Benschoten, born Dec. 29, 1801, and their first son, Cornelius V. Davis, born Sept. 11, 1821, we presume he was born around 1800.

The 1830 and 1840 censuses show that Moses and his first family lived in the Granite area of Rochester Township, just east of Kerhonkson. The book, Concerning the Van Bunschoten or Van Benschoten Family in America, says that Moses was a farmer and lived in Kerhonkson. This approximate year of birth and place of residence in his early years gave us two theories about who Moses' parents might have been.

Theory 1, parents, William and Maria

Our first guess for who Moses' parents were focused on the family of William Davis and Maria Kittle. They lived not far away in Wawarsing township, and intriguingly, they had two unaccounted-for boys listed in the 1800 and 1810 censuses who would have been born in the 1790 to 1800 or so range. There was another Davis, Conrad, born about 1790, who also lived in this area and for whom there was no record of birth. Circumstantial evidence led us to suspect for some time that Conrad and Moses might have been related, perhaps brothers. This theory fits together almost perfectly if Moses and Conrad were the two boys in William and Maria's family in the 1800 and 1810 censuses.

Theory 2, parents, Petrus and Theodosia

Our second best guess was that Moses was a son of Petrus Davis and Theodosia Ferris. The biggest clue here was that Petrus and Theodosia had a son they named Moses, their last, the problem being that he was born June 19, 1804. It is not inconceivable that this Moses was the father of Cornelius, but he would have been just over 17 at the time of his first son's birth, and his wife 2 1/2 years his senior. Though Petrus and family lived farther away, in Olive, the other clue that suggested a family relationship is that a grandson of Petrus, Robert, also married a Van Benschoten.

Our search so far has taken us to libraries and genealogical societies, the state museum and archives, national archives, trips to Ulster County and many hours searching Internet databases and we were no closer to finding out who the parents of Moses were. We started Traces, along with Barbara Schaffer (a descendant of William Davis and Maria Kittle) who also was searching for her Davis ancestors, and began dialogues with people from other Davis families. With all that, over years of research, we seemed to be getting no closer to solving the problem. We then took a route new to genealogy researchers: DNA testing.

DNA Testing Scrambles Both Theories

As explained in Traces Newsletter #4 we started using DNA testing to try to prove one or the other of these theories. Our search was on for living descendants of these two families. They had to be males, with the surname Davis. Surprisingly, it wasn't difficult to find our DNA subjects who agreed to help. We eagerly awaited the results.

With two matching samples from descendants of Moses, and three matching samples from descendants of Isaac Davis, the father of Petrus, we can say with complete certainty that Moses was not a son of Petrus Davis and Theodosia Ferris.

The tests for the other theory likewise proved that Moses was not a son of William Davis and Maria Kittle. We tracked down a descendant of Conrad and that DNA test did prove that Conrad was indeed a son of William and Maria. So that theory was half right: Conrad was the older of the two boys in the early censuses. But who was the second boy and youngest member of the family?

The DNA numbers of Moses' descendants did not come close to matching any other Davis. What they did show, however, was that we have strong matches to several Carpenters and Zimmermans.

Carpenter is the English version of the name Zimmerman. That name, we learned, also is spelled Simmerman, and in the Dutch-settled area of what is now New York, the name was often spelled with a T: Timmerman. We didn't start looking at Carpenter and Zimmerman right away. The people we matched were from different parts of the U.S. and their genealogies seemed to have nothing to do with our Davises. Besides, we were busy rounding up DNA test subjects for our Davis testing. After those turned up no matches, we wondered: Who are these Carpenters and Zimmermans?

Since Moses had this strong match to Zimmerman, and since his parents seem nowhere to be found, it was logical to look in the Wawarsing area for a family with that name in its various spellings. It didn't take long to find Henry and Nicholas Timmerman, who signed the Articles of Association in Wawarsing, and whose family had even married into the Davis/Kittle family. Hendrick Timmerman, likely a son of Henry, married Elizabeth Kittle, Maria Kittle's much younger sister. The birth of a daughter, Catrina, Dec. 27, 1801, is registered at the Reformed Dutch Church of Rochester. The search was on for a living male descendant of Henry or Nicholas to see if we would find a DNA match between a Timmerman and Moses.


Nicholas Timmerman and family moved to Greene County before 1790 and were well documented there through the 1800s and into the 1900s. So it wasn't hard to track them up to the most recent available census of 1930. And as luck would have it, we soon found another researcher working back from her family. Our research meshed, she had a Timmerman uncle, and he was intrigued by the whole thing and was willing to participate in our DNA project, and, BINGO, we had a near perfect match of 36 of 37 genetic markers. Since our common ancestor would likely have been the father of Nicholas and Henry eight generations back for both lines a 36 of 37 marker match was quite remarkable. This match, therefore, is near absolute proof that Moses Davis was fathered by a Timmerman.

That may be as close as we will ever come to who Moses' actual father was. Henry also had a son, John, baptized at the Reformed Dutch Church at Wawarsing on March 9, 1777, and Henry and family are found in the 1800 census for Rochester Township. In his family were three boys between the ages of 16 and 25, so Moses could have been fathered by any one of them. Henry and his family disappear after the 1800 census and we have been unable to pick up their trail again.

As for Moses' mother, we have a theory there as well. Since Moses was raised a Davis, and circumstantial evidence suggests that Moses and Conrad were related, we are fairly certain that Moses was indeed that youngest boy in the William Davis/Maria Kittle family, and that he would have grown up as Conrad's brother.

At the time Moses was likely born, 1800, William and Maria had several daughters who were of child-bearing age. Maria, born January, 1784, and Arriantje, born October, 1787, would have been about 16 and 13 respectively, so are less likely candidates for Moses' mother. The oldest daughter, Elizabeth, born January 1774, was already married by 1796 and had 3 children by 1800. That leaves Sarah, the second oldest daughter, born April 1776. Sarah would have been 24 in 1800 and was still unmarried. She did not marry until about 1805, when she was nearly 30. Though we have no proof, and may never know, we believe that Sarah Davis was Moses' mother, and the source of his surname.

Other possibilities remain, of course, but all the pieces of the theory outlined above fit together perfectly. Further research may turn up more clues but for now this is as close as we can come. As is so often the case, trying to piece together how the past unfolded is filled with difficulty. Considering the limited information we had to go on we are very pleased we could figure out as much as we have, and come up with such a plausible answer to the question of who the parents were of Moses Davis.

We would also like to add a note of thanks to the many people who have helped us solve our Moses Davis mystery, especially to the six guys who joined our project and shared their DNA numbers with us. Several of you got phone calls out of the blue and all were understanding, gracious and interested in our research. These men also now have DNA proof of their relationships to the families of early Ulster County. Thank you all very much.
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