The Seaton Coleman Enigma – Part I

Growing up, I spent a portion of my life in Cross Lanes, West Virginia, from the age of 5 to the age of 12. In fact, that is where I met my wife. We were both 10 years old, and her father became the minister of the church we attended. Our families became good friends. In 1973, her family moved away and then, my family moved about a month later. Our families stayed in touch off and on, but 12 years later, my wife and I reconnected, and I knew she was the one. More than 31 years later, I’m still getting to know her family (extended that is, including her Coleman family). As you read more, you will understand why this blog is called the Seaton Coleman Enigma…

There are times when doing family research is fun, sometimes its’ challenging, but still fun and sometimes you just want to go back, sit your ancestors down and give them a stern talking to.

One of the major problems all researchers encounter are missing or lost records, due to fire, war, or some other calamity. These types of roadblocks are genuinely frustrating. To complicate things, you may have other obstacles in your way that build upon an already ponderous “brick wall”, like family disputes, a black sheep of the family or someone hiding the truth about themselves or their own family for their own specific reason, selfish or otherwise (there are a plethora of reasons for these obstacles).

Now, sometimes you do get lucky despite these annoying “brick walls”, but most of the time, unless you have a GIANT sledgehammer of accurate records in your hands that you can bring that wall down, those “brick walls” are just going to stay put.

Such is the case of Seaton Coleman, and he’s not even my ancestor! The truth is, I decided to step in and help out my wife with her Coleman family, and, OH BOY, did I step in it…

The Coleman family of Virginia and West Virginia have deep roots in this country, dating back to a Robert Coleman, Sr. born about 1622. He was married to Elizabeth Grizzell. Robert was born in Suffolk, England and came to Virginia in 1638. He is the immigrant ancestor of this family, and we believe Seaton Coleman may be descended from them.

As of now, we still have no proof of Seaton Coleman’s parentage. There are clues to his parents being James Adolphus Coleman (b. abt. 1765) and Nancy Ann Childress (b. abt. 1764). With that said, we are not going to discuss further any assumptions or clues at this point of Seaton’s parents, but what I would like to discuss are the things we do know about Seaton, his family and dispelling any of the apparent truths that surround him.

Seaton was born about 1792 in Virginia. Now, we are going to stop right here so I can show the records that indicate Seaton’s place of birth was more likely in Virginia…

There are many people that are related to Seaton that found an historical book, containing an article written about Seaton Coleman and his son, Seaton Coleman, Jr. The book is entitled “West Virginia and Its’ People, Vol. 2”, published in 1913, Pages 413-414, by Thomas Condit Miller and Hu Maxwell.

The article begins with “…Seaton Lorenzo Coleman, born in Ireland, where he passed his boyhood and youth and whence he immigrated to the United States as a young man, settling first in Maryland. In middle life he came to Fayette County, West Virginia…”

After all the research I have done, my first thoughts were, “Ireland…Really? I don’t think so…”

Let’s look at the records we do have for Seaton’s birthplace first.

In the 1850 Census for Seaton Coleman, Sr., the column for “Place of Birth” is empty, but it is also empty for a lot of others on the same page. What this means is, the census taker did not write down Virginia for every single person born in Virginia, a common practice. He only put down those individuals that were not born in the State of Virginia. Seaton’s wife Mary (Parrish) Coleman, for example was born in Maryland.

01-1850 Census-SColeman

Here is the 1870 Census for Seaton Coleman Jr. – Notice the two columns to the right of the Place of Birth column for Seaton Jr. – those columns are to indicate, if marked, that Seaton Jr.’s parents would have been of foreign birth. Neither one of them are marked.

02-1870 Census-SLColemanJr

Here is the 1880 Census for Joshua P. Coleman, 1st born son of Seaton Coleman, Sr. – father and mother born in Virginia.

03-1880 Census-JP Coleman

Here is the 1880 Census for Burton R. Coleman, another son of Seaton Coleman, Sr.- father, Virginia and mother, Maryland.

04-1880 Census-BR Coleman

Here is the 1880 Census for Charles M. Coleman, another son of Seaton Coleman, Sr.- father, Maryland and mother, Maryland.

05-1880 Census-CM Coleman

The 1880 Census for Nancy (Coleman) McGraw, daughter of Seaton Coleman, Sr. states that her parents were born in Maryland and Virginia. It’s obvious they had them mixed up, which is not that unusual, as the first column is for the father and 2nd column is for the mother, but no mention of Ireland.

06-1880 Census-Nancy McGraw

This is the 1900 Census for Joshua P. Coleman, 1st born son of Seaton Coleman, Sr. – indicates father and mother born in West Virginia (Virginia). Depending on who was giving the information, they probably didn’t know exactly the birth state, as the age of Joshua was quite advanced. Still, no mention of Ireland.

07-1900 Census-JColeman

I could go on with the rest of Seaton Sr.’s children, which point in the same direction, but I think you get the point…

So, where did the authors of the book “West Virginia and Its’ People” get the information from that Seaton Coleman, Sr.’s birthplace was Ireland?

It’s possible that the authors may have gotten the information from other records, but it is more likely that they interviewed family members and/or the very person that they were writing the subject matter about. In this case, we must look at Seaton Coleman, Jr.

Now, for whatever reason, I could not find Seaton Coleman, Jr. in the 1880 Census. What I did discover began in the 1900 Census for Seaton, Jr. and continued on through to the 1920 Census. Seaton Coleman, Jr. passed in 1922.

1900 Census for Seaton, Jr. – father from Maryland and mother from Maryland.

08-1900 Census-SLColemanJr

1910 Census for Seaton, Jr. – father from Ireland and mother from Virginia.

09-1910 Census-SLColemanJr

1920 Census for Seaton, Jr. – father from Ireland and mother from Ireland.

10-1920 Census-SLColemanJr

Now, irregardless of who was actually giving the information to the census taker, the idea of Ireland being the birthplace of Seaton Coleman, Sr. had to come from somewhere. At this point, I am not attempting to cast any aspersions on any one person. I am merely pointing out that, sometimes things that have been written in the past about any of our ancestors, are not necessarily true, and may not hold up under the scrutiny of research and actual records. Unless these historical books contain actual documented records, such as wills, birth records or marriage records of the person or family being presented, and that have actual sources, we can only use the information we find in these books as a foundation of the research needed. I, myself have over 2,000 historical, biographical and genealogical digital books from different states and different countries. I use them primarily as a starting point, if a particular ancestor happens to be covered in an article. Some of the books I have contain actual birth, marriage and death records, from church and parish records. These I can clearly use as source material, but I still recommend doing follow-up research to verify those records.

The continuation of this blog, The Seaton Coleman Enigma – Part II, will deal with the 2nd part of the article written in the “West Virginia and Its’ People, Vol. 2”, that focuses on Seaton Coleman, Jr.’s participation in the Civil War, and separating fact from fiction. In Part III of this discussion, we’ll address the middle name of Seaton Coleman, Sr.

Images taken from

Brian S. Miller


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