6 News reporter learns Virginia town was named for her ancestor

6 News reporter learns Virginia town was named for her ancestor

My paternal great grandmother My paternal great grandmother
My third great grandparents and their children My third great grandparents and their children
My fourth great grandfather My fourth great grandfather
Searching for my ancestors in a Russell County cemetery. Searching for my ancestors in a Russell County cemetery.

6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - How much do you know about your family history? Where did your ancestors live? What were their daily lives like, and what do you have in common with them?

Whether it is physical features or an adventurous spirit you've inherited, have you ever wanted to know more? These were all questions I had about my own family history, so I went in search of answers and hoping to help others along the way.

My journey began with research online. Genealogy sites like ancestry.com and familysearch.org make it easy for anyone to begin filling in their family tree.

I quickly traced my father's ancestors from the Carolinas back to England.

However, my mother's line included the most stumbling blocks. I found that my third great grandmother married two brothers, and I still haven't confirmed the father of my great, great grandfather.

Among unusual surnames like Lockhart, Honaker and Stump, I uncovered a few kissing cousins, illegitimate children, an abundance of preachers and even an outlaw or two. All of them originated from the same small mountain town in Virginia.

The experts at the East Tennessee History Center helped me sort it all out. University of Tennessee professor and genealogist Dr. George Sweitzer traced my maternal line back to Honaker, Virginia.

"You will find that they had no compunction about shooting each other over arguments," he said. "The records, some of which I'm going to show you, are filled with murders."

Dr. Sweitzer even found a possible connection to the most famous of feuding families.

"It is also of interest that the Hatfield family moves from Russell County to Pike County, Kentucky. We're talking about the Hatfield and McCoys," he said. 

When asked if I'm related to the Hatfields, he responded, "Ah, you've got to be. Everybody is related to everybody else in that county, sometimes officially, sometimes unofficially."

Dr. Sweitzer is still trying to confirm that connection.

I was stunned to find my family history recorded in heritage books at the East Tennessee History Center. I knew my great grandmother was born in Russell County, Virginia, but had no idea how deep my roots run there.

It all began with one of the area's first settlers, Hans Jacob Honaker, from Switzerland.

"It was originally Honeggar," said Sweitzer, "and distinctly German.

The genealogist described my ancestors as fearless adventurers, "rough people who weren't afraid of the Indian threat on the frontier. They were searching for a living. They had come out of a highly oppressive European situation, both from England, from Northern Ireland, from Germany, and from Holland in which they were serfs," he explained.

The search for freedom ended with countless Indian battles in Southwest Virginia, leaving causalities on both sides.

Sweitzer read a story about one of my ancestors whose life was taken by Indians. "The Indians had been watching him work in the fields. When night came, they broke into the cabin. The first he knew of their presence was when their tomahawk gleamed above his head. They killed him in bed, took his wife and children hostage, scalped them and burned the house down."

I was amazed to learn their settlement, Honaker, Virginia, was named for one of my ancestors, and there are many more branches of my family tree there.

I shared just some of the surnames with Kathleen Taylor, curator of the Honaker Heritage Museum. When told I'm related to Honakers, Rays, Lockharts and Stumps, she replied, "Well, if you're spread through all those families, you've got lots of genes here."

The museum provided a glimpse into the town's rich history. Taylor knew the most about the original settlers. "The Honakers sure were religious," she laughed. "They multiplied and helped populate the world."

The largest homes still standing in downtown Honaker once belonged to a distant cousin, Dr. Lockhart, who was the town dentist.

The Honaker library was donated by his daughter, Gaynelle Lockhart. It was her family home, and she willed it to the town for a library so that history could be preserved for future generations.

In the nearby Russell County Library in Lebanon, Virginia, we found at least a dozen history books mentioning my relatives. Recorded stories, marriage, birth and death records, plus cemetery locations helped me fill in missing branches of the family tree.

A storm and an audience of interested livestock was the backdrop for our visit to the Mutter family cemetery, where I took careful notes in hopes of furthering my research.

Two ancestral homes still stand on the farm, allowing me to be transported back in time for awhile.

I picked up even more clues at two Stump family cemeteries, where I found war heroes buried.

The Lockhart family cemetery heralded my Scottish heritage with a gate featuring the coat of arms, a heart and key hole. A cross and chapel also served as reminders that the Lockharts were a deeply religious clan.

I left with a few unanswered questions still, but a greater appreciation for the road my ancestors paved.

The East Tennessee History Center, located in downtown Knoxville, has an entire floor dedicated to genealogy research, and it's free.

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