Circa 1935 – Harry Clifton Phenice, unknown, Samuel Charles Phenice, Bernard Orville Phenice, and two unknown women.
This is one of the photos that I rediscovered the other day. It shows three generations of my Phenice family in it. I believe the young man in the middle is Orville Phenice, my grandmother’s brother. Their father is Harry Clifton Phenice, who is shown on the left. His father is the old man in the middle of the photo – Samuel Charles Phenice, a Civil War veteran and witness to the Lincoln assassination. The topic of this week’s post concerns the three generations prior to these three.
My grandmother and her siblings were born in southern Louisiana, but the generations before her were born in Pennsylvania. Her father H. C. moved to Louisiana in the 1898. His father Samuel was born in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, moved around a bit and ended up in Kansas. Samuel’s father Daniel was also born in Mercer County. The father of Daniel was unknown and there have been many family members who have done research trying to find out who he was. The further you go back, the more different the name is spelled. Nowadays we spell the name “Phenice,” but the earliest spelling I found for the family name is “Finicy.” Previous researchers uncovered some good information, but they were unable to identify the parentage of Daniel Phenice. That was before DNA testing.
In 2013 I had a DNA test for myself and my parents at 23andMe. I only found one Phenice connection on that site. But at AncestryDNA it was a different story. I tested my aunt Loris Woolleythere last December. I started finding Phenice connections right away. There were four 2nd cousins through the Phenice line and two 3rd cousins (to my mom’s generation). It was helpful that they shared a good amount of common DNA with my mom, aunt Loris, uncle Austin, and their 1st cousin Julie.
In addition to all of those matches, there were several more who had ancestors with the surname “Phenicie” in their trees. Those ancestors were all from Pennsylvania and some of them were from Mercer County. I had seen some of the ancestors previously because they had names similar to names in our tree. They have a Daniel Phenicie born around the same time (1808) as ours and a Samuel Phenicie who also fought in the Civil War. I wasn’t sure how all of these other DNA matches connected, but the common DNA was pointing in the same direction.
I let the matches add up for most of 2016, but by October I had enough to inspire me to go looking for a connection. So I made a spreadsheet of all of the names and started comparing DNA and family trees. I looked through old research that had been done (thanks to Orville’s daughters Marilyn, Kathleen, Linda and Carol, plus some others) and found a common theme of a John Phenice born around 1765. So I sketched out a provisional family tree.
I put John Phenicie as the father of our ancestor Daniel Phenice (b. 1809). Since I had a few DNA matches who were descendants of Joseph Phenicie(b. 1762) and because they were born close to the same time, I put John and Joseph as brothers with an unnamed father born around 1730. I had many more DNA matches who were descendants of Samuel Phenicie (b. 1795), so I also put him as a son of John Phenice. Additionally there were a few descendants of an Eliza Fennesy that were DNA matches, but the parents were unknown. From there I had to try to find some source documents to back this up.
I pored through the old census records from the late 1700s and early 1800s in areas that I knew the family had lived. Daniel and Samuel were known to have lived in Mercer and Somerset counties in Pennsylvania, and Joseph and his descendants lived in Bedford and Franklin counties. I had already found Daniel in the Springfield, Mercer, PA censuses of 1850 and 1860. His name was spelled Finnesy and Finnessy in those documents. I knew I was going to have to be flexible in the spelling of the name. I went to the 1840 census in Springfield and looked through every page of it. I finally came across a Daniel with the another alternate spelling of “Finecy.” (Transcribed as “Ferney” by Ancestry.) I was glad to finally find him in 1840, but was even more excited when I saw the name directly below his – John Finecy. And he was the right age to be Daniel’s father. Families lived close to each other more often back then, so this looked very promising.
I continued my search for these two in the Springfield of 1830. I didn’t find Daniel or John there, but I did find Samuel. I checked all of Mercer county for Daniel, but I couldn’t find him. Since Daniel married Susan Jackson in Somerset County in 1831, I decided to look in Somerset County. I didn’t find Daniel, but I did find John. He was listed on the census as “John Finicy, Sr.” (Transcribed as “Finiag” by Ancestry.) There was a John Finicy, Jr. a few pages before, so I would think that he was another son of John Phenicie. There were no other names close to Finecy/Phenice and the like. I found “John Finasee” in 1820 in Somerset County and “John Finnessee” in 1810 in Allegheny County. I think the borders were moving back then more than the people. They weren’t changing as much as the spelling of the name, though!
In the meantime I had been corresponding with a descendant of Eliza Finnesy. I explored her family tree, but was unable to find out how she was connected to our Phenicies. I was directed to the 1850 census of Eliza after she had married a Wingard. In that census, there was a woman in the household named “Margaret Finnesy” (same spelling as my Daniel – actually the same census taker). The relationship was not identified in the census. There was also a death certificate that showed Eliza’s maiden name as being Finnesy, so Margaret was most likely her mother.
Then I found a really good source. It was a record of a marriage between a John Phinnecy and a Margaret Maurer on May 29, 1792. This tied together everything that I had found and supposed up to that point. From information in the 1850 census Margaret would have been born around 1774, so that would put them at the right age to have been parents to Samuel, Daniel, and John Jr. In addition to these children, I found some more DNA matches who had a Mary Finnessee born in 1798 in their trees. In one of them they had the birth location as Allegheny County, which corresponded to what I had found for John Phenice in 1810. I believe she is another child of John and Margaret.
All of this information makes me feel pretty certain that John and Margaret were indeed the parents of those individuals. In addition to the paper sources, the DNA backs it all up. And the members of our extended family were the only people with that last name in those counties. I searched through those census pages till I was cross-eyed!
There is another record that I found, but I’m less sure of it. It is for a “John Archibald Finnacy” born in 1765 in Maryland. I don’t know why I am unsure of this as being “our” John Phenicie. There were references in census records that showed Joseph and other family members as being born in Maryland. The name and the date correspond as well. There is a similar record for a Joseph Finnacy born in the same location. The birth date is shown as 1768 which is different than all other records of Joseph Phenicie which show him as being born in 1762. In any case, it gives the parents of these two as Stephen (b. 1730) and Ann. That date would match my supposition and other clues. Stephen is also a common name in both family lines.
So the data all seems to support the suppositions I made to start off. I found the name of John Phenice’s wife – also known as my great great great great grandmother Margaret Maurer. Since everything else lined up so well, I also added the parents of John as being Stephen Finnacy and Ann. I’m happy with the results, though I haven’t been able to find out when the family immigrated or where they are from. I get new matches frequently and there are also a few unconnected DNA matches who have the Finecy name in their trees. There’s always something else to explore.