Matilda Dutton Bass Revisited: A Case in Records and DNA for Her Connection to Zachariah Dutton Sr.

Elizabeth Bass Murphy, daughter of Matilda Dutton Bass.
Elizabeth Bass Murphy, daughter of Matilda Dutton Bass.

Recently I’ve done something that I intended to do for a very long time. I posted an outline of my Dutton research as a public family tree on Increasingly, this is where genealogists hang out and if I hope to get in touch and stay in touch with cousins, I thought I’d better make a presence here.

In the process of this, I worked through the first couple of generations of the Matilda Dutton Bass family: examining primary sources, making connections, and synthesizing the research of others. One persistent doubt remained, though: Did we know for sure how Matilda connects to Zachariah Sr.? Were we indeed confident that, as I’d presented it in the tree, she was the daughter of the long-lost Zachariah Jr.? Or could it be that Matilda Dutton who married Elijah Bass was in fact, somehow, the daughter of Zachariah Sr.? Was there any way to know for sure?

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Matilda Dutton Bass: Doubts and Questions

I’ve been working on a lengthy and detailed post about establishing firm dates and birth order for the children of Zachariah Dutton Sr., based on the available sources. The first time that post was derailed by Zachariah Dutton Jr. and the stunning revelation about his slaveholding. Now it’s been derailed again by the same family. Here is the problem.

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A Lost Son Comes Home: Callis Dutton

Hand-crank microfilm reader

I count myself blessed in many ways for having gotten into genealogy at such an early age. One thing I consider a blessing that others might not expect is my exposure to research methods now less common in this age of online records: the thrill of road trips to investigate cemeteries, not knowing what I would find; days spent in dusty courthouse vaults hunting records; and perhaps the most nostalgic and most antiquated, hours spent hand-cranking microfilm readers in libraries to experience the census. In this day and age, every name in the census is indexed online, and a genealogist can go straight “to” the person they’re looking for — though many names are misread or mistranscribed, leading to people who are “lost” in the census. (I am pleased to see and other services re-create the “filmstrip” to nearly approximate this experience.) In those early days, especially for later censuses like 1900, I had no access to an index, and instead started at the beginning of a county and scrolled through every page reading the names until I found someone of interest — often not even knowing who I was looking for, but in the case of the Duttons, seeing who I might find. It gave the experience of walking down roads and through neighborhoods, “meeting” these people and their communities as I went.

That was my experience the day at the Decatur library I investigated the 1900 census of neighboring Lawrence County, Alabama. By that time I’d been researching the Dutton family for probably a year or more. I felt, with a little pride, that I “knew” the Duttons and could identify families as I found them. I remember well the confusion I felt, and the intrigue, when I encountered Callis Dutton. I think I had first seen his name in a printed listing of Moulton City Cemetery, and didn’t readily know who he was or who he connected to. That day in June 1900, I met him as a child, and met his mother.

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The Mystery of Zachariah Dutton Jr.

In the course of writing another post about the children of children of Zachariah Dutton Sr., I happened upon some stunning facts I had not noticed before.

Zachariah Dutton Jr. is one of the most elusive figures in the genealogy of this family. We perhaps would not know about him at all if not for his naming in Zachariah Sr.’s will*. For years, the only other record I could find of who appeared to be Zachariah Jr. was an enumeration in the 1810 census of Brunswick County, North Carolina: Z. Dutton. In that census, he appeared to have a young wife and one son. There was apparently no other trace of him after that: no more censuses, no indications that he had any surviving descendants.

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