Caveats and Pitfalls to Ball Genealogy in Virginia

§ First, this genealogy concerns the Ball family which had its American origins in (Old) Rappahannock, later Essex, then Middlesex, then migrating into the Northern Neck area of Virginia. In this area during the late colonial period, there are a number of unrelated, unconnected, families of the Ball surname. The Middlesex family and the Northumberland- Lancaster family are the most prolific in the area and easy to confuse. Next are the Balls that came originally from Philadelphia and others that came from Maryland and New Jersey. To the best of my knowledge, there was no interconnection. The single exception being that some Maryland Balls descended from the Lancaster family.

Regardless of family stories, we are not kin to George Washington through his mother's family. In the late colonial period, the Ball surname was not uncommon and that General Washington may have referred to an ancestor as "cousin" doesn't mean it was so. He simply knew how to recruit.

Keep in mind too that social class was not taken lightly in those days. We're from the "poor" Balls! No discredit in that.

§ Researchers must understand that many genealogies compiled within the first quarter of the twentieth century, and earlier, are suspect at best. Many early memberships to patriotic societies were founded upon erroneous entries and these have been compounded in subsequent publications by the unwary, or novice.

Rev. Horace Haden in his Virginia Genealogies, originally published in 1891, had numerous errors. His methods would hold little merit today. One of the most glaring errors involves William Ball, son of Spencer and grandson of Joseph. This William Ball lived in Northumberland and was married to Hannah, but inherited land in Fauquier from his father which he later sold to Daniel Muse Jr. in 1779. Haden stated that William died in 1807 in Fauquier and named his wife Hannah and his children in his will. Haden actually identified William Ball, son of Edward Ball Jr. originally of Middlesex. His wife was Hannah, nee Smith. William of Northumberland never lived in Fauquier and there is no record of any children. Even today, experienced researchers in both Ball families are misled by this.

§ Rev. Haden briefly outlines the Ball family of Middlesex in the Appendix to his Virginia Genealogies. In this he identifies eleven children of Edward and Keziah Ball and adds that Keziah who married John Scanlon was likely a daughter as well. What is interesting is that a son Edmund, a twin of Phebe, is named by Haden while son Daniel goes unnamed.

Scrutiny of The Parish Register of Christ Church Parish, Middlesex County, Virginia from 1653 to 1812 transcribed and published by the Colonial Dames of America in 1897 shows no son Edmund, and Edward and Phebe were born ten years apart. This transcription differs from Haden on several other accounts. It is interesting that both references show a son Williamson who is referred to in several published genealogies. Close inspection of the transcribed register gives "William.son of Edward and Keziah Ball". The parish clerk replaced the space delimiter between "William" and "son" with a period. This may have been an error or simply a shorthand entry. It also demonstrates how a lack of thoroughness has accompanied many genealogies of this family.

The Darretts in their scholarly work, A Place in Time, Middlesex County Virginia 1650-1750 (W.W. Norton & Co. 1984) lament the poor quality of the early transcriptions of the parish register. This gives further pause to go as deep as one can in their research.


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    Copyright © 1998, James D. Ball
    Revised: Oct 2009