Sarah Frances Holmes Isbel

Homesley and Holmes: A Story of Surname Discovery

Thank you Family History Daily for the opportunity to spread the “genealogy fever” that infects the beginning, as well as the more advanced, genealogy writer. I believe that every family has its sentinel whom records oft forgotten legends thus translating those family members recorded in words to posterity, creating immortality.

My epiphany happened on a trip from Dyer County, Tennessee to McNairy County, Tennessee along old Ramer Road. The bug of genealogy and history smote me with the desire to absorb all family history’s intrigues and red herrings at the age of twelve. My grandparents, Perry Allen and Nora Lena Collins Holmes, in a giant winged white winged Plymouth were driving to see his sister Poline Holmes Gooch and her husband Virgil Gooch. Along the way Pappa told some family stories that piqued my interest stoking a fire within me.

I was agog as the big Plymouth glided into drive of this very old house of unpainted wood surrounded by dense woodlands of McNairy County, Tennessee. There Great Aunt Poline , a petit woman, was with this hair of white greeting us to come into their home. She spoke of their rural farm family life in McNairy County in the late nineteenth century.

For early in the twentieth century the Ned Nelson and Sarah Jones Holmes and their children migrated to Dyer County casting their fate on new land there.

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I was forever quizzing my family about their ancestry. Names and dates were vague, but after a few years I put together a skeletal genealogy. However, it did take me a long time to learn how and what questions to ask. That communication skill is a learned art for any genealogist. It wasn’t until 1983 that my greatest breakthrough and brick wall happened.

My cousins had several years earlier became important researchers of our family. We had known for some time that Ned Nelson’s father was Elias S Holmes and that his father was James Holmes. We came upon a Garnett Holmes who was in Fayette County, Georgia about 1827, and in the mazes of the Georgia Land Lotteries the trail went cold and into a brick wall. We spent years researching Garnett. Census records showed he was born in Virginia (1770-1780); he died after the 1870 Randolph Alabama Census. This is where the research becomes controversial. There is a divided opinion among my fellow Holmes researchers about the morphing of last names. Every genealogist knows the reasons for name morphing and it centers on literacy issues in the recording of legal documents. Most people could write well enough to spell their name several ways on a document or place an X at the bottom of the document.

The justification for adopting the name morphing came with studying records of Lincoln, North Carolina. The thoughtful genealogist will examine the whole document of any record. The census records are of no exception. Families, friends and future relatives often reside in proximity. I saw this in the records of North Carolina. I saw a Garnet Homesley in Lincoln, North Carolina and my Garnett Holmes had similar birth dates. This did push back the paper trail some seven years to 1820. While studying the records there was Enoch Parker who lived near Garnett for two census-recording dates through the census of 1830 in Carroll County, Georgia.

With the advent of DNA research, I submitted my DNA to a nationally recognized program several years ago. The Holmes databases are full of Holmes names; yet my DNA is not matched. Another cousin convinced a distant cousin to submit his and ours matched. That is it, no other matches in the Holmes name. This is the basis for my hypothesis that Holmes morphed from Homesley, Holmsley, Holmesley, Homsley in our family. The name similarity in Lincoln, North Carolina, the totality of the census documents, and no Holmes match in the DNA. I have written a lengthy PDF on the Homesly, Holmes families.

The following is a brief overview of the Holmes family as I have it. I will first include the Homesley data.

Jane (unknown) Homesley dies in 1761 at Cumberland Virginia.


Benjamin Homesley 1748-1824 (Benjamin Homesley and his descendants by Ray Homesley (1996))

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Joseph Burrell Homesley, Sr. (1750-1799)

Ann Nancy Homesley (abt 1761)

It is not clear to me that Garnett is the son of Benjamin as the author, Ray Homesley, mentions in his timely text. It is my hypothesis that he is the son of Joseph Burrell Homesley, Sr. and Mary Smith or White Homesley. Joseph dies in 1799 in Lincoln, NC. Garnett is not mentioned in his will, but that is not uncommon.

It is not been revealed exactly who Garnett’s wife or wives may have been. There is a woman named Sarah who is listed with him in the census, but this may be his sister or cousin as supported by several documents.

In the Homesley genealogy there would be three sons and in the Holmes genealogy two. They are Elias Ephriam Homesly born abt 1796 in North Carolina, Lawson B. Holmes born 1803 in North Carolina, and James Holmes born 1805 in North or South Carolina.

I am a descendant of James Holmes. James was married to Mary “ Polly” McDonald (abt 1804-aft 1880) Mary “Polly” early life is shrouded in mystery. Family legend says that she may have been a young native girl who was adopted by missionaries named McDonald. I hope someday to unravel that story.

James and Mary had five children.

Elias S Holmes (abt 1830-1925)

Elizabeth Frances Holmes Isbell (1833-1919)

Lawson Holmes abt (1828-?)

Abel Holmes (1829-abt 1880)

James Holmes Jr. (abt 1832-abt 1900)

Elias S Holmes is my direct ancestor. Elias has a number of stories that are mostly factual and interesting. Elias married Mary Emmaline Stanfield (1834-1926) in Shelby Alabama Nov 3, 1852. They had five children.

James McDonald Holmes (1851-1926)

Susannah Savannah Holmes Jones (1857-1929)

Ned Nelson Holmes (1855-1931)

Ida Loduska Holmes Morrell (1861-1930)

Mary Emmaline Holmes Gilbert (1869-1939)

Ned Nelson Holmes is my great grandfather. He married Sarah Jones on July 1, 1880 in Hardin Tennessee.

Ned Nelson and Sarah had eleven children.

Perry Allen Holmes (1891-1988)

Nancy Emmaline Holmes Alexander McAlpin (1880- 1982)

Edgar Holmes (1886-1973)

Poline Holmes Gooch (1884-1980)

Clarence Holmes (1899-?)

Willie Earl Holmes (1904-1992)

Minnie Pearle Holmes Crisp (1904-1941)

Troy Lee Holmes (1907-1988)

Arthur Henry Holmes (1901-1965)

Lora Holmes Buchanon (1895-1997)

Arlin Edward Holmes (1896-1975)

James Albert Holmes (1889-?)

Perry Allen Holmes was my grandfather. He married Nora Lena Collins (1897-1982) on Nov 23, 1912 in Dyer County, Tennessee. They had my father Elmo Holmes (1919-2005) and I was born in 1946.

Genealogy has gone from my heaving my head in musty courthouse books to the click of a mouse on a computer and swabbing for DNA. My what a wonderful ride.

24 thoughts on “Homesley and Holmes: A Story of Surname Discovery”

  1. my name is Betty. my great gmaw was Betty Story. would love to hear stories. I’m in the process of submitting DNA please feel free to contact me

  2. Thank you so much for this. I am a descendant of Savannah Holmes Jones (Elias Holmes’ daughter). The Holmes bunch seemed to be quite close with the Joneses. Savannah married George Jones and Elias’ first wife ended up marrying John L. Jones, who I believe officiated George and Savannah’s marriage.

  3. Thanks Terr for the information. I am rebuilding the database of names and will include oyur info …Thanks

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