Homesley and Holmes: A Story of Surname Discovery

Now Reading
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.

Make Instant Discoveries in Your Family Tree Now
Imagine adding your family tree to a simple website and getting hundreds of new family history discoveries instantly.

MyHeritage is offering 2 free weeks of access to their extensive collection of 7.7 billion historical records, as well as their matching technology that instantly connects you with new information about your ancestors. Sign up using the link below to find out what you can uncover about your family.

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.

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))

A Simple Way to Discover More About Your Family's Past
MyHeritage makes it easy to find new details about your ancestors with their powerful built-in discoveries engine. Simply upload your current tree (or start a new one) to see what information you'll uncover instantly. They're offering 2 free weeks of access to billions of records, as well as a full suite of tools to help you easily improve your research.

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.

About Elmo Len Holmes

Elmo Len Holmes is a native of Dyer County, West Tennessee--now residing in Sugar Tree, Decatur County, Tennessee. He enjoys contributing to the local newspaper where he writes a weekly genealogy column and gives genealogy workshops. Elmo is an active genealogist, historian, author and churchman, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee and the University of Memphis.

Get Our Articles By Email Each Week

Always stay up to date with Family History Daily's newest genealogy help and how-to articles by subscribing to our free weekly newsletter.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
Search 7.7 Billion Records Now
What might you discover with access to billions of new genealogy records?

MyHeritage is offering 2 full weeks of free access so you can search for your ancestors - including instant record matches when you upload your family tree.
Leave a response
  • betty
    February 7, 2018 at 10:38 am

    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

  • Colleen L.
    September 24, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    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.

  • Terri Childs
    May 1, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Find a Grave is one source among many siting Parthenia Grinder and Thomas Runions as husband and wife and Susannah as their daughter.


    Good luck Bob Runions

    • Len Holmes
      May 10, 2016 at 12:35 pm

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

  • Terri Childs
    May 1, 2016 at 8:43 am

    I am a direct descendant of Thomas Runions and Parthenia Grinder. My mother is Leatrice Miller Childs, daughter of Lillie Collier Miller. Lillie was the daughter of Ella Hawkins Collier and Joseph Collier. Joseph was the son of James Collier and Susannah Runions Kincade Collier. Susannah was the daughter of Thomas Runions and Parthenia Grinder. (Lillie was the baby in her family and is not mentioned on Ancestry.) Ella died when Lillie was quite young and her older sister, Mary, raised her. My mother, Lea, remembers going to Missouri to visit Lillie’s brothers and sisters as a child. Ella and Joseph had moved to Missouri from Arkansas sometime during their married life. Lillie met James Miller in Missouri and married and moved to Wilson, Arkansas, where they purchased a farm.

    • Len Holmes
      May 1, 2016 at 8:50 am

      Ms. Childs, Thanks for your response. I wish we could converse more by email. I don’t think I have Susannah in the genealogy. I am having to rebuild my data base after a crash in which I lost all of my data.

    • Bob Runion
      May 1, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Ms. Childs – I am interested in your RUNIONS lineage since it fills in some gaps in my research and that of some others.

      Some time ago, I began correspondence with Franca Wallace with regard to Thomas Runions and Parthenia Grinder. Franca married a descendant of the Thomas Runions.

      I believe this Thomas Runions is the same man as my Thomas Runnion. Here is a note I have in file that I haven’t been able to prove or disprove:

      ‘…NOTE: Thomas Runions, marrying Parthenia Grinder has been added to my Thomas Runnion, marrying Catherine. This is temporary until I am reasonably satisfied that they were one and the same Thomas Runnion/Runions, a son of John Runnion, my 4th GGF.
      It is plausible based on the circumstantial data we seem to have in our research. Having 6 children with Catherine and then another 9 with Parthenia is feasible. The time line fits – the 6 children with Thomas and Catherine were born 1805-1815 (leaving Jane b-1828 out of the equation – I need to do more research on her) and him leaving (deserting Catherine and children? – Who knows the circumstances?) NC and marrying Parthenia. He and Parthenia have 9 children born 1817-1847. Its too convenient, but I’m open to any research on this. Amazing – I never thought of this prospect.
      I’ve added Parthenia as Thomas’s wife until I can determine that this theory in which I’m beginning to have some faith in. As stated earlier, the time line for Thomas-Catherine and Thomas-Parthenia is believable when one looks at the children’s birth years…’.

      I would like exchange information if you are willing.

      Bob Runion

      • Len Holmes
        May 1, 2016 at 11:45 am

        Mr. Runions,
        I will be more than happy to collaborate with you. I need to rebuild my data base because I lost it all in a computer crash in January. However I have a reasonably good memory of it from researching it.

  • Franca Wallace
    November 4, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Fantastic article, truly enjoyed the great info. You said you never could find a DNA match with the name Holmes. Have you checked with the ‘Himes’ ?

    • Len Holmes
      November 4, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      Actually I have not checked the name Hikes, I know now that t the named evolved from Homesley.

      • Bob Runion
        November 5, 2015 at 4:02 am

        Franca Wallace told me I should read the genealogy data you have entered above. Franca indicated you had traced you lineage to MARY FRANCES RUNIONS, d/o THOMAS RUNIONS and PARTHENIA GRINDER. Could you elaborate further on this line? Franca and I are trying to track down THOMAS who seems to have possibly lived two lives. My GGGGF THOMAS RUNNION, son of JOHN RUNION is noted in NC as having been married to a CATHERINE and sired 5 daughters and one son. He disappears from the NC scene about 1815. Our supposition is that he then married PARTHENIA GRINDER and moved to west TN where they raised a family. Can you shed more light on the TN family?

        Bob Runion

        • LenHolmes
          November 5, 2015 at 6:57 am

          Yes; I can shed some light, thank you for asking….
          Folklore note state that Thomas Runion , 1794-1860, was half French and Half Chickaw. From genetic testing and paper trail I cannot support this idea. For if he were half Chickasaw his father could not have been from New Jersey. and no indication that the Stanton’s were French. I know th at he married Parthenia Grinder (Griner) abt 1814. They had nine children all of whom I m sure we both have recorded. However I do have a son Thomas Runion who is unaccounted in my studies..My direct line is their daughter Frances Runion Story (1822-1870) who married on 11 Aug 1842 in Maury County to William Campbell Story (1811-1890). This is where the STory and Runion family intermarry. Any research of STory and Runion of any earlier marriages.
          William Riley STory was the son of WC and Frances above. He was my Grandma Trummie Story Wright’s , father and mother. Actually I think she knew of the Runion and inf fact several moved to West Tn Dyer County where I am of origin. Nevertheless; I digress.. I have data and notes on the brothers and sisters which I found while searching on line,.
          I dont have research on on Sarah Runyan born 1815, Sarah Dudley Runion 1847, Whinney Runions, 1826-1910 who never married.
          This offers some light. Light symbolizes knowledge as darkness symbolizes ignorance. Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness. Knowledge is a lasting inner wealth by which all outer achievement can be accomplished. Hence we light the lamp to acclaim knowledge as the greatest of all forms of all wealth.

          • Bob Runion
            November 5, 2015 at 11:43 am

            I had not encountered the issue that THOMAS RUNION son of my JOHN RUNION was Native American and as you indicate, absent data yet uncovered, I do not think he was Native American. There may have been some intermarriage with Native Americans in NC since they lived in close proximity to the Cherokees and Choctaws. Unfortunately, I have never been able to make a verifiable connection. I had thought that my GGrandmother Elizabeth Buckner (married to my GGrandfather BERRY OLIVER RUNNION) might have been of Native American stock; however, my DNA pretty much eliminated that aspect.

            The son you refer to as unaccounted for – any chance this is a generation off and that he is my 2nd Great Grandfather THOMAS LEWIS (possibly) RUNION/RUNNION, b-1813-1890, who married ELIZABETH HENSLEY? I show him to be a son of THOMAS RUNIONS/RUNNION (1787-1829) and CATHERINE, and therefore a Grandson of my JOHN RUNION? They had 12 children and I am a descendant of that line.

            The marriage of William Riley Story and Mary Frances RUNIONS is one I have in file, but I obtained this linkage from Franca Wallace via her WALLACE tree on ancestry. From her tree, I discern that WILIAM RILEY STORY was married to MOLLIE SHULTZ and had 4 children: JOHN STORY b-1895, RILEY STORY b-1902, TRUMA STORY b-1904 and ROBERT C STORY b-1906. Using FTM tree data, your Grandmother TRUMA STORY and I are related as follows: ‘GREATGRAND DAUGHTER OF MY 3RD GREAT GRANDFATHER THOMAS RUNIONS/RUNNION and PARTHENIA GRINDER’. Of course this appears that it should be a half… relationship, since I propose my THOMAS line is from his first marriage to CATHERINE.

            Pursuing the data you provide, I note that Henry Wright and Truma Story had 2 girls and 2 boys – the only one named is WILLIAM WRIGHT – which I presume is your lineage.

  • Sandra (Holmes) Blevins
    September 10, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    I just now saw posts and really enjoyed all the information. James and Mary Holmes was my Great Grand Parents. I was wondering if any one can offer any information on Thomas Lawson Holmes. Any comments will be very appreciated.

    • Len Holmes
      October 26, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      Lawson Taylor”lossen” Holmes 06 Apr 1848 Rockdale, Randolph, Alabama, USA 02 Mar 1924 Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Olive, Marion, Alabama, USA married Mary Susan Hunt (1854-1933) married 21 Oct 1869, Randolph Ala. Many children please email me for more details Len

  • Wade Murphy
    February 25, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Wanted to thank you for the work on the Holmes geneaology. I am from Woodruff County Ark. living in Mobile,AL. My mother was a daughter of Kip Holmes. Other than a few fragments I had little knowledge of the family outside of Arkansas.

  • Ruth Newell
    February 17, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    I sent you a message a few weeks ago about Mary Polly Holmes. Please e-mail me at I read your story and it is very interesting.

    Ruth Newell

  • Nancy (Holmes) Durham
    February 7, 2014 at 6:59 am

    I am working on my family tree and hit a road block when it comes to my fathers side of the family.
    His fathers name was Robert Holmes and mothers name was Lucinda. The only thing I can find is
    that Roberts fathers name might have been Abel Holmes. Do you have any information on Abel
    or Robert Holmes? I enjoyed the article on Homesley and Holmes Surname Discovery. I am hoping
    this information might be added to my family tree but I need to check out everything first.
    Thanks from Texas

    • Len Holmes
      February 25, 2015 at 8:25 pm

      Ms. Durham…I just saw this reply. If you will email me I will try and answer all your questions about Abel.

  • Denise Hathaway
    January 19, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Hi Mr Holmes,

    I am hoping you can put me in touch with Greg Holmes? The last know email for him was or perhaps you can answer my question.

    I am a decendent of James Morgan Holmes. We have recently discovered a serious genetic liver disease that has taken three family members and a fourth soon to follow. It’s Alpha 1 Antitrypsen Deficiency. My brother Erick was the latest victim at age 64.

    I am wanting to find out if any of the family in your tree has passed from cirrhosis of the liver, from alcohol or not.

    Denise Hathaway

  • Ruth Newell
    October 13, 2013 at 9:12 pm


    Who is the lady and little girl in the picture? It has to be Mary Polly. I see now where I get my cheekbone structure. I e-mailed you several years ago, but lost contact. Elias was my mother’s
    great uncle, and he was quite a character.

  • Larry Whinery
    February 7, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    The Mcalpin name caught my eye…
    Ours comes from the Belfast NI area in the docks area from about 1885 on – they came to the Indianapolis IN area about 1900.
    We have them pretty well documented after the family births in 1888 or so until about 189?.
    Lost track of the Father, Hugh McAlpin[e]
    Any lights go on?
    Thanks, and good hunting,
    Larry in Indiana

Leave a Reply to Denise Hathaway Cancel reply