Note: The name Umberger was not standardized during the 19th century and I use Umberger, Umbarger, and Umburger interchangeably in this post.
TheoriesObviously, the two Mary Browns were most likely born with maiden names which should distinguish them from each other. Online family trees identify their maiden names as Mary Umberger (or Umbarger) and Mary Repass. Most of these trees name the first, Mary Umberger, as the mother of the Frances Brown who married William D. Epperson and became my ancestor. More research needs to be done, but I must respectfully disagree with the Umberger theory. Instead, the evidence suggests, but does not definitively prove yet, that my Mary Brown was the one born with the name Mary Repass.
Let's talk about why.
To do this, we need to look at what we do know about Frances Brown and her parents.
Epperson: 1880The most recent census we can find Frances Epperson in is the one taken in 1880, as she died in the early 1890's, but the 1890 census was destroyed by fire. In 1880, Frances Epperson, a white, married, female was living with her husband William Epperson, a 57 year old laborer, in Jeffersonville, Tazewell County, Virginia. Frances gave her age as 51, which would put her birth year about 1829. Her occupation was listed as "keeps house." Five of their children still lived at home: Mary (27), Sue (23), Lori (18), Ida (13), and William (9). The entire household was Virginia born with Virginia born parents.
Epperson: 1870Ten years earlier, in 1870, "Wm D" and Frances Epperson were living in Black Lick, Wythe, Virginia. He is listed as a 45 year old day laborer. She is a 39 year old "keeping house." This gives us a second possible birth year of about 1831. Their children were Samuel G. (18), Mary C. (17), John T. (15), Susan E. (13), Thomas (11), Lucy F. (8), and Ida C. (13). Of note is that their next door neighbor is Sarah Repass, age 40. Another Repass family was listed on the previous page: N.H. (35), George F. (37), Sarah (30), Mary E. (16), and Lydia (61). On the Epperson's other side were three Umbarger families: the adults being James (25) and Elizabeth (24), Joel (55) and Sophia (51), and Mary or Marcy (45). So, William and Frances lived in very close proximity to both Repass and Umbarger families; they were their closest neighbors and possibly even extended family.
Epperson: 1860Let's jump back ten more years. In 1860, William (27), a laborer, and Frances (31) were living in District 68, Wythe, Virginia. Frances' age on this census agrees with the 1829 birth year possibility. Their children are James (12), Eliza (10), Samuel (9), Mary (7), John (5), Susan (4), and Thomas (1).
There is one last member of the household that is very important to us for this study. Her name is Mary Brown, and she is a 66 year old born about 1794 in Virginia. Relationships are not given in the 1860 census, but it is highly probable that this is Frances' mother -- the Mary Brown whose maiden name and identity we are trying to uncover.
Just next door is a large Repass family headed by 43 year old Jacob Repass. An Andrew Umbarger (50) family is enumerated four pages later. Henry (77) and Nancy (50) Umbarger live closer, listed on the page just before the Eppersons.
Epperson: 18501850 is the first census record we see William (26) and Frances (22) enumerated together as a married couple. Her approximate birth year is 1828. William was a farmer, and the couple had two children: James (2) and Eliza (3 months). Just a few households away is the Joseph (25) and Eliza (20) Repass family, and, after that, the Harvey H. (23) and Elizabeth (28) Repass family. No Umbargers live in their vicinity.
There is a marriage record that shows that William Epperson and Frances Brown were married on 12 Nov 1846 in Wythe County, Virginia.
Preliminary ConclusionsFrom these records of the William and Frances Epperson family, we can determine a few things about her parents. Both were born in Virginia. The mother, Mary, was born about 1794, was probably married before 1828, and was still living in 1860. A quick search of the 1870 Wythe County census shows us that it is highly unlikely she survived to that year unless she moved out of the county in her old age. The father, Mr. Brown, probably died before 1860 since he is not listed with his wife.
Brown: 1860Now let us see what we can determine about the Brown families of Wythe County, Virginia who have similarities with OUR Brown family but may or may not be related to our Frances Brown Epperson. The 1860 census shows that the Mary Brown living with the Epperson family was the only Brown old enough to be Frances' parent. So, there is no identity confusion there.
Brown: 1850Let's go back to 1850 to mix things up a bit. There are three Brown men old enough to be Frances' father: two named John and one named James. James appears to be married to a woman much younger than him named Jane. That can't be him.
John H. Brown is not currently married, so that is not likely to be him since Frances' mother was still living ten years later.
The third man, John Brown, is in District 68, Wythe, Virginia -- the same area the Epperson family was living that same year. He is 61, so he was born about 1789 in Virginia. Enumerated with him is 59 year old Mary Brown. Her birth year of about 1791 -- only three years off from the Mary Brown we are looking for. I think we have a match! With them is 19 year old John Brown who is probably a son.
In addition, and this is a crucial clue in discovering Mary Brown's maiden name, there are a large number of people living with the Brown family named Rippas: Mathamel (12), Frances (10), Robert (6), Mary (3), and Catherine (30). Who are these people? It is likely they are family members, but I don't know how they tie into the John and Mary Brown family. 65 year old Fredrick Repass, who was born in Pennsylvania, is enumerated nearby in the John Repass (28) family. Lidia Repass (42) heads another nearby family. Other Repass individuals are scattered throughout the community. There are some Umbargers too, but they do not live as close to the Brown family as the Repass families.
John Brown: 1840It is harder to distinguish families in 1840 since only the heads of households are mentioned by name, but it is possible to distinguish the families if you know their approximate ages, how many children they had, and those children's approximate ages. In this case, we know that in 1840, my John and Mary Brown would have been about 51 and 48, respectively, and had at least two children, a daughter named Frances who would be about 11, and a son named John who would be about nine.
When we search the 1840 census for Wythe County, Virginia, we find there are two men listed as John Brown and one as John H. Brown. John H. Brown is the head of a large household that includes 6 free white people and 6 slaves. If we look in the crucial age ranges, however, we see that while the oldest white male is the right age to be our John Brown and the oldest white female is only slightly too old to be our Mary Brown, there are no children even close in age to our Frances and John Jr. Slaveholder John H. Brown is not our man. The only thing in his favor is that he is listed next to the James Repass family, since we believe our Brown family is somehow connected to the Repass family.
Next, we look at a much smaller household. This John Brown is too young to be ours; he is between 20 and 29 years old, his presumed wife is between 15 and 19 years old, and they have only one child, a little girl less than five years old. So, this John Brown is obviously not the right man.
The last Wythe County John Brown is much more promising. This is a large household of 11 free white people. The oldest male is between 50 and 59 and the right age to be our John Brown. The oldest female is between 40 and 49, and is the right age to be our Mary Brown. There are also three young men between 20 and 29, one between 15 and 19, and one between 5 and 9. This last boy could be the John Jr. that was still living with his parents in 1850. There was one young lady between 20 and 29, one between 15 and 19, and two between 10 and 14. Frances may be one of these youngest girls in the family. I believe this family is our match. They were engaged in agriculture and there were two individuals over the age of 20 who were unable to read or write. They live relatively close to both Umbarger and Repass families, although they are not immediate neighbors.
John Brown: 1830
In 1830, there are again two men named John Brown and one John H. Brown. Again, the John H. Brown is a slave owner of a similar age to our John Brown, but the rest of the family's makeup is different. The "wife" is too old, and the children don't match up.
The first John Brown without a middle initial appears too young. He is only between the ages of 30 and 39. The oldest female does match our Mary Brown's age. Several, but not all, of the children's ages match up. Let's keep looking.
This last John Brown is between 40 and 49. The presumed wife is between 30 and 39. There are two males 15 through 19, one 10 through 14, and one 5 through 9. There is one female 10 through 14, two females 5 through 9, and 1 under five. Assuming that the two youngest children, Frances and John, are not born yet in 1830, this family matches our 1840 family perfectly with the exception that we have one girl between the ages of 5 and 9 who does have an equivalent in the 1840 census. Very likely, she married or was deceased before the age of 20 and was not enumerated with the family in 1840. The 1830 census in Wythe county seems to be organized by first letter of the last name, so "neighbors" don't really help us this time.
Incomplete 18201820 proved to be difficult. I feel there are pages missing as the heads of household are listed by first letter of the last name but starts in the middle of the alphabet. There are no families that even begin with the letter "B." I can say from perusing the records that Wythe County was already heavily populated with people named Umberger and Repass (with their variant spellings).
Census SummarySo it appears there were multiple men named John Brown of a very similar age in Wythe County at about the same time, but the details of their wives, children, and lifespans differ substantially.
Let's look at what we have so far. Our John Brown was born about 1789 in Virginia. His wife was probably born as late as 1791 in Virginia but claimed in her old age to be a little younger than that. If the latter date is correct, she was born as late as 1794. Based on the ages of their children, John and Mary Brown were probably married in the early 1810's -- but it could have been late in the previous decade. John Brown was the head of a large family in 1830 and 1840 and was still living in 1850 with his wife and one son. He died before 1860. The widow, Mary, was living with William and Frances Epperson in 1860 but had died by 1870.
Cemetery RecordsGoing to Findagrave.com, it is no surprise that there are several John Browns buried in Wythe County, Virginia. Looking at just those who died between 1850 and 1860, we have two: John H. Brown and plain John Brown (who is listed as John Robert Brown on the website, though this is unsourced). They are both in the Saint John's Lutheran Church Cemetery, and they are both married to women named Mary Brown.
One shows, "John H. Brown, Born Jan. 1790, Died Mar. 17, 1851." The matching stone for his wife says, "Mary, Wife of John H. Brown, Born 1793, Died 1847." These graves are next to each other at the cemetery's location J-3 and J-4. This couple perfectly matches the John H. Brown family we have been following but discrediting as our own. Remember the John H. Brown that was unmarried in 1850, indicating that his wife had probably predeceased him? This is them, and they are not our John and Mary Brown.
The other Mary Brown is buried in the cemetery's J-12 location, and her stone reads, "Mary, Wife of John Brown, Born March [?], 1793, Died April 9, 1861 [or 1867]." The memorial transcriber suggested Mary's birth and death dates as March 13, 1793 and April 9, 1867. The matching stone at J-14 reads, "In Memory of John Brown, Died July 6th, 1853 in the 64th year of his age." This couple matches our specifications perfectly. Based on the facts given on the tombstones and in the census records, we have positively identified our John and Mary Brown.
Mary's maiden name is still unlisted in our primary sources, but interestingly enough, the Find A Grave bio states, "Mary Repass, daughter of Johannes "John" Repass and Maria Catherine "Kate" Hardrader, married John Robert Brown, son of Johann Michael Brown and Christina Poffenherrer Copenhaver." This information is not backed up by any kind of proof, but we do know from the 1850 census that John and Mary were living with several individuals named Repass, and it seems probable that Repass was indeed Mary's maiden name. This part is speculation, and I want to make it very clear that we have no evidence as of yet to be 100% sure of her maiden name, but this is the direction my research is taking me.
Future ResearchWe still have not definitively proven Mary's maiden name one way or the other, but we have shown that the family trees which unquestionably tie the Epperson family to the John Brown who died in 1851 and the Mary Brown who died in 1847 are sadly mistaken. If they are wrong about that, I sincerely doubt they are right about her maiden name being Umberger (or a variant spelling of that name). I tend to think this maiden name has been claimed as a result of a marriage record on Ancestry.com for John Brown and Mary Umberger who were married on 5 Aug 1809. It is true that this record would fit very neatly into our family history, but the problem is that it fits neatly into multiple family's histories, and it is a proven fact that there were at least two couples named John and Mary Brown in Wythe County in the early 1800's of a similar age. We must be very careful that we do not grab up the wrong record (and the wrong maiden name) too hastily. It is possible, though still unproven, that our ancestor Mary Brown was the daughter of John Repass, and I hope to locate his will or other documents which may prove her lineage. I am also following up with the Find A Grave members who are maintaining the John and Mary Brown memorials on that site, and will make adjustments to this post as necessary.
Ancestry.com; Year: 1880; Census Place: Jeffersonville, Tazewell, Virginia; Roll: 1393; Family History Film: 1255393; Page: 242C; Enumeration District: 088.
Ancestry.com; Year: 1870; Census Place: Black Lick, Wythe, Virginia; Roll: M593_1682; Page: 409B; Image: 198; Family History Library Film: 553181.
Ancestry.com; Year: 1860; Census Place: District 68, Wythe, Virginia; Roll: M653_1385; Page: 901; Image: 260; Family History Library Film: 805385.
Ancestry.com; Year: 1850; Census Place: District 68, Wythe, Virginia; Roll: M432_982; Page: 236A; Image: 68.
Ancestry.com. Virginia, Marriages, 1740-1850 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999.
Original data: Dodd, Jordan R., et al.. Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850. Bountiful, UT, USA: Precision Indexing Publishers.
Ancestry.com; Year: 1850; Census Place: District 68, Wythe, Virginia; Roll: M432_982; Page: 271A; Image: 138.
Ancestry.com; Year: 1840; Census Place: , Wythe, Virginia; Roll: 579; Family History Library Film: 0029693.
Ancestry.com; 1830 US Census; Census Place:, Wythe, Virginia; NARA Series: M19; Roll Number: 200; Family History Film: 0029679.