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Mary A. Barnett’s History of the Barnett Family

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Date: 1923 [unknown]
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Mary A. Barnett’s History of the Barnett Family

Mary A. Barnett’s 1923 book Autobiography of Mary A. Barnett and History of the Barnett Family of Johnson County[1] Indiana has been widely used as a source for genealogical information about Barnett families in Kentucky and Indiana. In many cases, it is the only source.

As of April, 2021, at least 23 memberships in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) have been based on this book[2] and at least 3 memberships in the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).[3] These DAR and SAR membership applications have sometimes been used as genealogical sources.

The first application was DAR number 217434 in 1925. The subsequent applications refer back to this application. The primary supporting document for this application was quotes from page 50 in Mary A. Barnett’s book.[4]

Unfortunately, the great majority of the information in Mary A. Barnett’s book is given without sources. The general impression is that most of the information about ancestors is based on someone’s memory long after an event occurred or on family stories that have been passed down orally for generations.

My (Jim Kennedy) experience has been that writings based on memory and family stories had many errors when checked with original records and with writings at the time of an event. My initial efforts to verify some of the claims by Mary A. Barnett have found the types of errors that are common in writings based on memory and family stories.

Mary A. Barnett’s claims about James Barnett (1835?-1798)

The key person for the DAR applications above and for my family interest is James Barnett, who Mary A. Barnett says (page 50) was born in Spottsylvania County, now Orange County, Virginia in 1835 (which is presumably a typographical error for 1735 or some other year in the 1700s). He was a soldier in the American Revolution, which makes his descendants qualify for membership in DAR and SAR.

James married Jane Greenlee (sometimes spelled as Greenlie in the book) and they had five sons: James, George, Robert, John, and Moses; and three daughters: Mary and two others who died young. The sons were all born near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The father James died in 1798 in Cumberland, Maryland as he was taking his family to Kentucky. After his death, his extended family went on to Bourbon County, Kentucky.

Mary A. Barnett also claims (pages 47-50) that the father of this James Barnett was Henry J. Barnett who was a descendant of Pocahontas and had 24 children with two wives.

Other Sources about James Barnett

The George Barnett[5] listed above as a son of James Barnett was included as a key descendant in the DAR and SAR applications. He moved from Bourbon County, Kentucky to Vermilion County, Illinois. A book had biographical information about his son Robert E. Barnett that included information about the family lineage. The book was published eleven years before Robert E. Barnett died and the information appears to have come from him. The relevant excerpt is:

“According to the best recollections, [George Barnett’s] grand father was a native of Ireland, or at least, born a short time after the arrival of his parents in this country. It is thought that he only raised one son, James, . . . who married a Miss O’Connell, an Irish lady. He [James] spent the principal part of his life in Pennsylvania, where he died. He raised a large family, as follows: Robert, George, James, Moses, John, Jane, Susan, Nancy, Rachel, and Margaret. These, after the death of their father, all came with their mother to Bourbon County, Kentucky. George . . . married while in Pennsylvania a Miss Delila Davis, a lady of Welsh lineage. As already remarked, they [George and Delila], with the principal part of their children, arrived in [Vermilion County,] Illinois in 1828.”
(An Illustrated Historical Atlas Map of Vermilion County, Ill., 1875, page 38, in the biographical summary for George Barnett’s son Robert E. Barnett, emphasis added)[6]

This account has some points in common with the story by Mary A. Barnett, and some major differences. In both accounts George’s father was named James, lived in Pennsylvania, died before his family arrived in Kentucky, and had sons named Robert, George, James, Moses, and John.

The differences between the accounts include:

  1. James Barnett’s father was from Ireland, rather than a descendant of Pocahontas. A database of the descendants of Pocahontas is available on Ancestry.com and does not have any Barnetts.[7]
  2. James Barnett’s father had only one son, rather than 24 children.
  3. James Barnett’s wife was a Miss O’Connell rather than Jane Greenlee.
  4. James Barnett had daughters Jane, Susan, Nancy, Rachel, and Margaret, rather than a daughter Mary and two other daughters who died young. Marriage records for Bourbon County, Kentucky and subsequent census records have Nancy Barnett born about 1796 in Pennsylvania marrying John Henry in 1811,[8] and Rachel Barnett born about 1794 or 1798 in Pennsylvania marrying Aquilla Conaway in 1814.[9] For both marriages, the bond was signed by George Barnett. This is consistent with their brother George signing the bonds after their father died. Also, Jane Barnett born about 1790 in Pennsylvania married Amos Conaway in 1813.[10] Her bond was signed by the groom’s father, which is also consistent with her father being deceased. These women were not daughters of George Barnett because his children were listed in his will.[11] Thus, these records are consistent with the book excerpt above and are not consistent with the story by Mary A. Barnett.

Mary A. Barnett has the father James Barnett dying in Maryland in 1798 before the family arrived in Kentucky. However, the tax lists for Bourbon County, Kentucky have Robert Barnett in Bourbon County in 1796 and both Robert and George Barnett in 1797.[12]

Some genealogical information that would be easy to check was also investigated. Mary A. Barnett said the James and Jane (Greenlee) Barnett had a son James who had a daughter Susannah who married Jonathan Evans in 1821 in Nicholas County, Kentucky. According to Kentucky marriage records, Susanah Barnett married Jonathan Evans on October 3, 1822 in Harrison County, Kentucky.[13] These types of errors in dates and locations are common when genealogical information is based on memories rather than original records. Unfortunately, some more important questions are not easy to check, such as was this James Barnett actually the son of James and Jane (Greenlee) Barnett and a brother of George?

The frequent typographical errors in the book also raise doubts about any information that cannot be verified by other sources. In addition to the errors in the date 1835 and Greenlee/Greenlie noted above, Mary A. Barnett’s book has Amos Barnett, brother of Susannah above, being born in 1850 and marrying his second wife in 1834. These errors were noticed in just looking at three pages in the book.

Genealogical Challenges of the Barnett Family

The Barnett families in Kentucky in the early 1800s are particularly challenging for genealogical research because the same names were common in each household. A man often had siblings named James, Robert, William, and Nancy and gave these same names to his own children, as did his siblings. Thus, multiple people had the same names in the same generation. The families also tended to live near each other and move together. And, cousins tended to marry.

The last DAR application based on the James Barnett in Mary A. Barnett’s book has a clear genealogical error that is a good example of these complications. George Barnett’s son James D. Barnett has often been confused with another man named James Barnett. Both men moved from Bourbon County, Kentucky to Vermilion County, Illinois at about the same time. Both had large farms in Carol Township, Vermilion County, both had two wives, and both had sons named James and Robert. The men died about one year apart and were both buried in the Lebanon Cemetery in Vermilion County.[14] It is not an exaggeration to describe many of the public family trees on sites like Ancestry.com as genealogical chaos when it comes to these two men.

James D. Barnett was born in 1803 in Kentucky and died in 1865. The other James Barnett was born about 1794 in Pennsylvania and died in 1866. As described in the WikiTree profile for James Barnett (1794-1866),[15] the confusion between these two men goes back to the earliest writings. DAR application number 1005167 incorrectly has James Barnett’s (1794-1866) son William as the son of James D. Barnett.[16]

The WikiTree profile for James Barnett (1794-1866) indicates that he was a member of this extended Barnett family and had many connections with the extended family. However, his specific place in the extended family remains a mystery.

One possibility is that James Barnett (1794-1866) was the James in the list of children in the book excerpt above and the brother of Robert, George, and the others in the family. That would mean that the corresponding James Barnett identified by Mary A. Barnett was not correct. The James Barnett (1777-1860) identified by Mary married Sarah Snodgrass and lived in Harrison County, Kentucky. Available records are consistent with that, but evidence is lacking that he was the brother of Robert, George, and the others in this family.


Mary A. Barnett’s book appears to be a questionable source of information about the James Barnett who was the father of Robert, George, James, Moses, and John (as well as Jane, Susan, Nancy, Rachel, and Margaret) in Bourbon County, Kentucky in the early 1800s. Any information in the book needs to be verified with other sources before being accepted. The genealogy for Barnetts in the early 1800s is very challenging.


  1. The book is available at https://archive.org/details/autobiographyofm00barn/page/76/mode/2up
  2. The list of DAR memberships based on James Barnett, Ancestor #: A006452, can be found at https://services.dar.org/Public/DAR_Research/search_adb/?action=full&p_id=A006452
  3. From the database “U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970” on Ancestry.com.
    SAR number 80007, 17 Aug 1955,
    SAR number 83113, 12 Feb 1958,
    SAR number 84178, 8 Oct 1958, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/888122:2204
  4. The supporting documents for an application can be obtained from the DAR website for a fee of $20 for each application. Application 217434 is at https://services.dar.org/Public/DAR_Research/search_member/?Action=full&National_Number=217434
  5. George Barnett, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Barnett-1794
  6. An Illustrated Historical Atlas Map of Vermilion County, Ill., 1875, page 38. https://www.familysearch.org/library/books/records/item/525878-atlas-of-vermilion-county-illinois-containing-maps-of-the-county-townships-cities-and-villages?offset=2
  7. “All Pocahonta’s Descendants with Corrections and Additions” database on Ancestry.com at https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/49299/
  8. "Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954," John Henry and Nancy Barnett, 16 Feb 1811, Bourbon County, Kentucky, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V5Z4-FCH
    “1850 US Census” Nicholas Co., KY, Nancy Henry, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M65V-ZHH https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/17428014:8054
    “1860 US census” Nicholas Co., KY, Nancy Henry in household of J.J and Margaret Tucker, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MZBD-GBL
  9. "Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954," Aquilla Conaway and Rachel Barnet, 19 Apr 1814, Bourbon County, Kentucky, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V5Z4-CGQ
    Birth for Rachel Barnett: March 10, 1798 from a gravestone photo on Find A Grave, about 1795 in PA from the 1850 US census, and about 1793 in MD from the 1860 US census (which incorrectly has the entire family born in MD).
    “1850 US census” McLean Co., IL Rachael Conaway in household of Aquilla Conaway, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M8RQ-XFF
    “1860 US census” Daviess Co., MO, Rachael Conoway in household of Aquilla Conoway, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MH8M-4HK
    Rachel Conaway https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/23763127/rachel-conaway
  10. “Amos Conaway & Jane Barnett marriage” https://www.wikitree.com/photo.php/6/63/Conaway_Marriages_in_Bourbon_County_Kentucky_1795-1830-4.pdf
    Birth for Jane Barnett: March 20, 1790 in a gravestone photo on Find A Grave and about 1790 in PA from the 1850 US census.
    “1850 US census” Buckle’s Grove, McLean Co., IL, Jane Conaway https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M8RQ-3TC
  11. “Illinois, U.S. Wills and Probate Records, 1772-1999” George Barnett, 1842, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9048/images/1295644-00634
  12. The book Bourbon County, Kentucky taxpayers, 1787-1799, (1992) by T.L.C. Genealogy reports Robert Barnet in the Bourbon County tax lists in 1796, and George Barnet and Robert Barnet in 1797 and later years. Neither George nor Robert were in the tax list for 1795 or earlier years. Copies of these lists are available online at https://www.frontierfolk.net/ramsha_research/bourbonsite.html. Paper copies of the relevant microfilm pages of the original tax lists were obtained from the Kentucky Historical Society Martin F. Schmidt Research Library to verify the transcription in the book (https://history.ky.gov/resources/martin-f-schmidt-research-library/).
  13. "Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954," Jonathan Evens and Susanah Barnett, 3 Oct 1822 Harrison, Kentucky, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V5Z8-J9M
  14. James D. Barnett https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/59237517/
    James Barnett https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/59237698
  15. James Barnett https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Barnett-12066
  16. DAR application 1005167, https://services.dar.org/Public/DAR_Research/search_descendants/?action=list&MyPrimary_Seqn=1289892&MyLineageCount=1&Preview=Yes

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