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Looking Backward



My father died in 1995, and most of the history of his family died with him. Thanks to the graciousness and generosity of historians and lookup volunteers, and a new appreciation of primary records and the important role they play in any genealogical research, I have been able to reconstruct a portion of his past and the people who came before him.

My mother's family has been almost as mysterious, but is slowly appearing, name by name, and record by record. Astonishingly, one of her ancestors can be traced in an unbroken line back to the 1400s, so there have been some major breakthroughs.

There have also been some major stumbling blocks. I suppose it would have helped if literacy had been a bigger issue, or education had been more readily available. Corrupted spellings, conflicting census reporting, and some heavy duty skulking have made the hunt a real challenge. There are brick walls aplenty.


Josiah Downen

Solomon Hays

William Swiney

John McCoy

William Downs

Fred Layman

Thomas South

David Williams

Who were these people, and what are they doing on my family tree? Records are available -- sometimes, it seems too many in too many places. The common name recurrence itself tends to suggest a common ancestor (I think they cloned Solomon Hays....)


Current Focus Points:

Tilley and Jane (Robertson) Downs of Sumner Co, TN & Franklin Co., IL

John & Mary Jane (White) Downs of Franklin Co., IL

Mary Jane (White) Downs of Malden, Dunklin Co., MO

Manuel Rice Downs of Franklin Co., IL

John Quincy Downs of Franklin Co., IL

Solomon & Nancy (Rogers) Hays of Giles Co., TN & Franklin Co., IL

William Allen & Frances Minerva (Hays) Swiney of Marshall & Giles, Co., TN & Franklin Co., IL

William A. & Rebecca Jane (Cook) Swiney of Marshall Co., TN

Thomas L. & Emily Jane (Swiney) Hays of Marshall & Giles Co., TN & Franklin Co., IL

Daniel Webster Frailey of Warren Co., KY & Hardin & Franklin Co., TN

Daniel Frailey of Sumner Co., TN & Warren Co., KY

Josiah Downen

David Robinson Downen

Fredrick & Mary (Downen) Layman of White & Franklin Co., IL

Daniel Frailey of Pennsylvania

Susannah McCoy, her father Archibald, and her grandfather John

The list is endless.... Any help at all would be greatly appreciated.


The Downs of Franklin County

Rachel & Charlie

First appearing in Franklin County, Illinois in the 1840 Federal Census, the Downs descend from two closely related households --Tilley and Jane (Robertson) Downs and Thomas and Sarah ("Sallie" Soper) Downs from Sumner County, Tennessee.

Tilley and Thomas are most likely the sons of William Downs, Jr. of Sumner County, but this has yet to be documented.

Tilley died before the 1840 census; Jane appeared as head of household with Thomas a near neighbor. By the 1850 census, Jane Downs' household had scattered -- but not very far. Paulina/Pantina Frances Downs had married Robert Duncan and moved briefly to Missouri. Sons John and William were living with their brother James, his young wife Nancy (Browning) and their baby. John attended school that year. The youngest children, Nancy Jane and Alfred Tilley Downs, were living with the minister, David Williams. (The Williams family continued to figure prominently.)

It's very likely that David's wife, the often contested "Gussey Jackson" was actually Jane Downs, remarried. A very close examination of the census image reveals the name "Ginsey," which at that time was a familiar form of "Jane." The Illinois Statewide Index shows a marriage for David Williams and "Jane Dorous," but the actual record itself is almost illegible, and could easily have been a transcription error.

By the 1860 census, John had married; he and his wife, Mary Jane (White) and their infant son, Manuel Reece Downs, were sharing quarters with John and Mary Swafford, with John Downs listed as head of household. The other children had married and started families of their own.

John never saw the 1870 census. Both he and Alfred enlisted together, following Captain John Dillon into the Union Army, serving in the 56th Illinois Infantry. Alfred was discharged with a disability a year and a day before John died. John hadn't been well for most of his enlistment. Disease was rampant in the camps. He moved from army hospital to army hospital before being sent home on furlough to die, leaving a young widow and two little babies.

The children, five year old Manuel Reece Downs and three year old John Quincy Downs, were awarded a pension, under the guardianship of Joseph Moore. Mary remarried, Samuel Downs, but later reapplied and received her own pension award; she died in Malden, Dunklin County, Missouri in 1910. What became of John and Mary's sons, or the children of Mary and Samuel remains a mystery.

In additon to Franklin County, Illinois and Sumner County, Tennessee, the Downs family appears in Orange County, North Carolina, Dunklin, Stoddard, and Stone County, Missouri, and Carroll County, Arkansas.


The Swiney & Hays Families

Just how far back the Swiney and Hays families are allied is still unclear. One historian has speculated that they may be linked as far back as Ireland. There is some indication that they were connected in North Carolina in the 1700s.

The speculation ends in Tennessee. The families of Solomon Hays of Giles County and William Swiney of Marshall County were bound together by the marriages of Thomas L. Hays and Emily Swiney and of William Allen Swiney and Frances Minerva Hays. Thomas and Emily were married in Marshall County in 1866, and William and Minerva in Giles County in 1869. In 1870, they were living near Lynnville Station.

In the first days of October, 1873, Solomon Hays set out for Illinois, his family following December 15th of that year. Ultimately, four closely related households ended up in Franklin County. Solomon and Nancy Hays and their daughter, Martha, Thomas and William and their families, and Nancy's daughter, Mary Jane, her husband, John D. Adams, and their children. Death records exist in Franklin County for Ella and Charlie Hays, who both died in 1875, Ella on January 10, and Charlie on September 29th, and William C. Swiney, 10 months old, son of William Allen and Minerva, who died March 2, 1876.

The tragedy had only begun. In 1877, William and Minerva died within hours of each other of milk poisoning on their farm in Macedonia -- but not before watching their eight year old daughter, Mary Alice, die before them of the same cause. Their then five year old son, Thomas Monroe Swiney, was left in the care of his aunt and uncle, Thomas and Emily Hays, who raised him with their own children.

William and Emily were brother and sister, as were Thomas and Minerva. It had been a hard year for Nancy. Solomon had died that February. Martha Hays Mitchell fought Thomas and Emily in the Illinois courts over Solomon's estate. Court records also exist in Tennessee, the controversy centering on a parcel of land that Thomas was said to have purchased from Solomon.

Martha sided with Thomas in that instance, as did Mary Jane, and their sister Rebecca, who had remained in Tennessee. Nancy was alleged to have been determined that her children alone would profit from the estate of their father. The older children, Solomon's by his first wife, mounted an attack in the Giles County Courts, spearheaded by Alfred Kerr, Jane Hays', husband on behalf of his wife and her brothers. The ownership of the contested parcel was the main focus. How either case was decided is still a mystery that will hopefully be solved by further research.


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Scanned images of primary documents will be added in the near future. If you have records you would like to contribute, please send as a JPG or GIF file to Barbara Collin at

"Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier"

sequenced by Dayle K.