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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 grandfather’s great-grandfather.  I knew nothing about this John and decided that I would try to find some information about him. I did a little guessing.  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 Northampton County, North Carolina and asked for copies of deeds mentioning John Fly between the years 1780 and 1782.  The clerk replied that there were no deeds.  So I asked for deeds dated 1783-1785, but was told there were no deeds.  I asked again.  This time, for deeds dated 1786-1788.  The clerk said there were none.  The clerk did write a little note for me though.  It said “Why don’t you ask for the index?”  So I did and the index got me thoroughly involved in family research.

This was before the widespread use of computers, so I purchased every book of documents that I could for
Northampton, NC and Isle of Wight, Virginia.  A trip to Northampton County and several trips to Southampton County also helped!

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
Courtland, Virginia.  When we were chatting, Norman told me that he had found John Fly’s estate papers in the North Carolina Archives.  Because of beginner’s luck and the fact that I lived at least 700 miles from North Carolina, I had already received copies and thought he had them too.  We laughed about it and Rev. Flythe made it a policy to send copies of new documents to me, and to James W. Fly, a compiler of family records.

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
Northampton Counties.  He lived in the Northampton-Bertie area and was able to spend much time at the North Carolina Archives in Raleigh.  Rev. Norman Flythe passed away in 2010 and I will always be grateful to him for his help and advice.

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 University of Arizona where I earned an MA in Cultural Anthropology.  Therefore, I understood his insistence on documentation.

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 Isle of Wight Minute books are not indexed and since they tend to be very long, a page by page reading is not feasible.  Perhaps one day those Minute Books will be indexed.

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
North Carolina.  I was teaching a summer school class that June, but was able to attend the reunion in 2000.  Mary Catherine Flythe, Rev. Flythe’s daughter, handled the arrangements for the reunions and did a wonderful job. African-American and white family members were invited and a great deal of information was exchanged.  My first Web site was soon finished and posted.  It was limited to the Fly family of the 17th and 18th centuries.  I was very happy with it, but wanted to provide more information to anyone interested, and began intense research using microfilm reels rented at the LDS Family History Center.  In the process of reading articles on family research techniques, I remembered one highly respected researcher who said that collecting documentation was only one half of the story.  She said a complete story required a written description of the ancestors.

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 17
th 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!

The Fly and Flythe Family Name

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 and 18th centuries in Virginia was Fly.   The family that settled in New England used the “Flye” spelling consistently and the South Carolina family tended to use Flay.  Both of these families seem to have come from Devon, England. The Fly family that first lived in Virginia came from somewhere in England, but the exact location is not known.

According to the Rev. Norman J. Flythe, early in the 19
th century James Sykes Fly decided to campaign for a change in spelling of the name among his relatives in Northampton County, North Carolina.  He wanted it spelled Flythe and eventually managed to convince the family to use the new spelling.

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
Northampton in 1825.  Supposedly, he told them that they should be using the Flythe spelling not Fly.   This event may or may not have happened.  Another version of the story is that Enos Fly met with the General and spoke to him since he was the only resident of the county who could speak French.  [There is no evidence at all that Enos ever spoke French.] As they were conversing in French, Lafayette told Enos Fly about the proper spelling of the name, i.e., Flythe.  This version is highly unlikely!

The members of the Fly family who went to
Tennessee before about 1838 never changed the spelling.  This includes the descendants of John Dixon Fly, Elisha Fly Jr., John Fly, Jeremiah Fly, William Boykin Fly, and John J. Fly.  Most of them left North Carolina in the late 1790s and early 1800s. 

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 Northampton County had adopted the new spelling, but an occasional clerk’s transcription of a document might still use the old version.  My grandfather, John Thomas Flythe, born in 1887 never knew how the name was originally spelled until he was told in his adult years by cousin Norman Flythe.  Apparently, one Edgecombe County Fly document did have both spellings used, and that branch of the family used both spellings.

None of this explains just why the spelling changed, but we are all members of the same family!

        Bonnie G. Flythe
   

 

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