Looking for Our Ancestors
In the summer of
1979, I was reading some of my grandfather, John Thomas Flythe's papers, when I ran across
the name John Fly.
He was identified as my
I knew nothing about this John and
decided that I would try to find some information about him. I did a
John was most likely a farmer
since most men were engaged in some sort of farming at this time. So I wrote to the clerk in
This was before the widespread use of computers, so I purchased every book of documents that I could for
My grandfather’s papers included a letter from Norman Flythe, dated August 28, 1936. The letter was to J. T. Flythe, a brother of Rowland B. Flythe, but the post office inadvertently delivered it to my grandfather. The letter asked many questions about the Flythe family and my grandfather replied to it. Norman was able to tell my grandfather about their Northampton County, North Carolina ancestors and said that the two were cousins, but could not be sure of their shared ancestor.
So many years had passed that I never expected to be able to contact Norman Flythe, but I accidentally obtained his address through another genealogist who was researching the Cochran family of Tennessee. I then wrote to Cousin Norman about 1980 and he answered my letter. Norman was a Methodist minister and was close to retirement.
Cousin Norman came to see me at my brother’s house in
Cousin Norman Flythe began his research in 1936 as a young man. Retirement made it possible for him to devote more time to genealogical research, and Norman grew to be considered the premier expert on the families of Bertie, and
Rev. Flythe was a researcher, not a compiler of family history. Although he knew many of the stories handed down in various branches of the family, he always checked court and church records in order to prove a particular claim. I had studied the importance of the scientific method at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and at the
I learned that deed books, as well as will books, were indexed for sellers, called grantors and buyers, called grantees. Rev. Flythe made me aware of Court Order Books and Court Minute Books. Court Order Books contain the orders or conclusions arrived at during a court session. Court Minute Books are the notes made by the clerk of court as the court was in session. More Order Books have survived than Minute Books. Some are indexed, but not all. The indexes generally mention the major actors in a court case, but not the witnesses & jurors. Some
Personal Property and Land Tax Lists can also be useful. They have not survived in all counties of interest, but the Personal Property lists sometimes have the name of tithable white males along with the head of household. A tithable is a male head of household and his sons aged 16 or older. It would also include hired workers and slaves both male and female. A head of household was required to pay a fee for each of his tithables. The payment was used to support the county court system, parish and other public activities. This can provide evidence of a father & son relationship. Land tax records can sometimes provide the location of a particular family member.
Although wills are important, most people did not use them. That means that estate papers should be located if possible. If a person died intestate (without a will), the court would appoint an administrator (male) or administratrix (female). This was very often a relative. When John Fly died intestate in 1804, my great-great-grandfather, Enos Fly, was appointed administrator by the court. Enos Fly arranged for the holding of four auctions to sell the deceased’s property. The court also appointed a commission to divide John’s land. The land divisions gave the names of all of John’s living children! This is the only source that identifies all the children.
I missed the 1999 Flythe family reunion in
As time goes by, more old records are becoming available. The handwriting is sometimes difficult to make out and spelling was not standardized until after the Civil War. Before that, spelling could be very creative. For example, it would be easy to confuse the name Ely with the name Fly, but the shapes of the capitalized first letters of each name are different enough to avoid mixing the two names up. In addition, the Ely family tends to have a different naming pattern from the Fly family. A naming pattern is a tendency to use the same given names generation after generation, e.g., Millicent, Elizabeth and Mary.
The Fly family in the 17th and 18th centuries used the given names John, Jeremiah, & William. The name Elisha was given to a son in the second half of the 1700s. Most families in those days tended to have a naming pattern, but that is not proof of a relationship. However, it can be a clue.
Hunting through dusty old records might not seem too exciting, but the discovery of an unknown fact or the one piece of paper that verifies a claim is very satisfying. My curiosity was not always rewarded, but the search goes on. I am most interested in shedding light on the day-to-day life of our ancestors. Names and dates on a piece of paper tell so little about them.
This site does not contain much information about 20th Century family members. That information may be added in the future when the site is updated. So many family members, so little time!
From the beginning
of the search for knowledge of the family, I was curious about the
spelling of the name.
Reading the records required an
awareness of its variety of forms.
It has been spelled various ways
over the centuries.
Flye, ffly, Fly, Fligh, Flay,
Flygh and Flythe have all been used.
The English records use Flye, or
sometimes Fly, and the most common spelling used in the 17th
According to the Rev. Norman J. Flythe, early in the 19th century James Sykes Fly decided to campaign for a change in spelling of the name among his relatives in
A story was passed down in the family that stated that the Marquise de Lafayette met with members of the family when he traveled through
The members of the Fly family who went to
At any rate, however it happened, the change in the spelling took quite a few decades to be accepted by all people. By 1850, it appears that most family members in
None of this explains just why the spelling changed, but we are all members of the same family!
Bonnie G. Flythe