The Cornell Conundrum-VA/WV vs. NJ/NY

When I was a teenager, I knew him as Mr. Cornell, my Blackhawk High School Principal back in Beaver Falls, PA.  Now, we are Facebook friends and I am privileged to call him Art.  Athur Cornell is the genuine article of what a nice guy is and should be.  Fair, honest and amiable to a fault.  Since we have reconnected, I found out that Art is a history enthusiast and, like myself, he has also delved into his own ancestry and family tree.  Through our discussions, I have discovered that his Cornell roots lie in OH and West Virginia.  It was the West Virginia roots that really had me intrigued.  So, I asked him point blank if he would mind if I did some digging into his Cornell family roots.  He said “Have at it”, and that’s all I needed. 

Here is the path I took, starting with Art and his parents in the 1940 Census: 

Image courtesy of FamilySearch© 

1930 Census for Art’s father, Arthur J. Cornell and his parents and siblings:

Image courtesy of FamilySearch©

George C. Cornell (1884-1946) – Art’s Grandfather: 

Birth Record – 24 Aug 1884 – Meigs Co., OH 

1900 Census for Art’s grandfather, George C. Cornell and his parents and siblings: 

Image courtesy of FamilySearch© – Take note of the information given for George Cornell, head of the household. It appears that, according to the information given to the census taker, that the older George Cornell’s father’s birthplace was New Jersey and his mother’s was New York. 

George C. Cornell Burial – Find A Grave Memorial 

George W. Cornell (1843-1915) – Art’s Great-Grandfather and Art’s Great-Great Grandfather, Jesse Cornell (abt. 1810-bfr. Census of 1880).

1880 Census – Meigs Co., OH – George C. Cornell & George W. Cornell: 

Image courtesy of FamilySearch© – Again, same information given as to the birthplaces of George W. Cornell’s parents as New Jersey and New York. 
1880 Census – Meigs Co., OH – Elizabeth (Wilhelm) Cornell (Head of Household-mother of George W. Cornell):
Two separate censuses taken – in the same area – 1 taken on 2 Jun 1880 in the Racine District and the other taken on 28 Jun 1880 in the Syracuse District.  This type of overlap in census taking did occur occasionally if residents lived on district lines.  Note that Elizabeth was born in Maryland.

Image courtesy of FamilySearch© 

1870 Census – Meigs Co., OH – Jesse Cornell, George W. Cornell’s father and family:

Image courtesy of FamilySearch© – Take note that Jesse Cornell, George W. Cornell’s father, again is indicated as being born in New Jersey, but George W. Cornell’s mother was born in Maryland.

1860 Census – Meigs Co., OH – Jesse Cornell and family:

Image courtesy of FamilySearch© – Above Jesse Cornell is noted as being born in Virginia and his wife in Maryland.

1850 Census Meigs Co., OH – Jesse Cornell and family:  

Image courtesy of FamilySearch© – Above Jesse Cornell is noted as being born in Virginia and his wife in Maryland. 

Death, OH County Death Records – 29 Jun 1915 – one of the records that is at the heart of this post – the death record of Geo. W. Cornell, son of Jesse Cornell and Elizabeth Wilhelm, that specifically states that his father was born in New York

Other records from various children (FamilySearch©): 

Image courtesy of FamilySearch©

As you can see, there were various places that Jesse’s children, or his wife or even Jesse himself may have said where he was born, based on the censuses and the other records presented. Even the children that survived into the 20th century continued to say their father was either born in N.J., VA. or WV. 

So, what can we gather from all of this, and why is this such a big deal? 

There are some family trees on Ancestry that state that Jesse Cornell was either born in N.J. or N.Y. or has an association to those places, as well as his assumed father, Richard Cornell. There is also an assumed association made to the rather famous Cornells of N.Y. (Cornell University; etc.). 

Many descendants would argue for one birth place or another for Jesse Cornell simply because of these assumed associations.  Here are some things we have to remember… 

  • When we have an ancestor that has multiple places of birth attributed to them, we cannot in good conscious just pick one and say “that’s the one” 
  • Anytime there is a shred of doubt with any record we are looking at, we have to put a placeholder on any ancestor we are researching until we can find other evidence that supports or disputes the records we do find 
  • What we can do in the meantime is look for evidence that may be closely associated to an ancestor, such as a sibling 

The last item above is exactly what I did, when I could no longer find evidence of Jesse Cornell’s place of birth. 

It has been presumed that Richard Cornell (1781-bfr. 1840) and Lydia Clark (1779-1855) are Jesse’s parents. Right now, I have found no records that prove this, but they are the likely candidate couple.  There are others that say Jesse’s parents were a Samuel Cornell and Polly Darrow (both Samuel and Polly were born and died in N.Y.). 

Well, here is what I did to find siblings for Jesse Cornell. 

Looking at the 1870 census for Jesse Cornell, it is stated that he was born in N.J. 

In the 1860 census, it is stated that Jesse was born in VA. 

In the 1850 census, it is stated that Jesse was born in VA.  Now, the really interesting thing about this census is the families living either side of Jesse and his family.  On the one side you have an Eli Cornell and family and on the other side you have a Nathan Barnes family, but wait, who is that living with the Barneses…a Lydia Cornell, who is 71 years old.  Could this be the Lydia Clark that married Richard Cornell? The age is about right.  

So, now I had to ask myself, why would Jesse Cornell be recorded as being born in N.J. in 1870 and previous to that, it was VA?  I had to look at the larger picture of history at that time. 

The biggest event that impacted so many people between 1860 and 1870 was the Civil War, either physically, culturally or socially.  You have to ask yourself, could Jesse have been afraid of the stigma that was associated with anyone born in the South, like VA? Would he be looked upon with suspicion?  Was the attribution of being born in the North something he fed his children, thus all the confusion? 

After thinking about this for a while, I then wanted more information about Jesse’s marriage, so I went looking for that. 

Sure enough, I found it: 

Marriage • OH, County Marriages, 1789-2016 – 1839, Washington Co., OH 

Then I went looking for a marriage record for Eli Cornell and I found that one: 

Marriage • OH, County Marriages, 1789-2016 – 1830, Washington Co., OH 

Well, how about that…the same county. 

How about a marriage record for Mary Barnes, possible sister to Jesse Cornell, that was the wife of Nathan Barnes, that had a Lydia Cornell living with them in 1850…could she be a daughter of Richard Cornell and Lydia Clark? 

Marriage • West Virginia Marriages, 1780-1970 – 1838, Wood Co., WV 

So, now I wanted to go back further between 1800 and 1840…so now, I had to wonder, with the marriage record for Mary (Cornell) Barnes being in Wood Co., VA (WV), does that mean the Cornells were living there prior to 1850? 

I didn’t find a census for Jesse Cornell prior to 1850, so I started looking for Eli. I wasn’t disappointed: 

1840 Census – Harrison Co., VA (WV) 

You’ll see a Samuel Cornell living next to Eli Cornell. Could this be a brother or maybe a cousin? 

I didn’t find Eli before 1840. 

On a hunch, I started looking for a Richard Cornell, possible father of Jesse Cornell and found him: 

1830 Census – Wood Co., VA (WV) 

Now, depending on how you look at this, the younger males in this census could be any combination of Eli, Jesse and Samuel, if they are the sons of Richard. 

You’ll also notice an older Cornell listed next to Richard as William Cornell. 

I wanted to go back one more census: 

1820 Census – Wood Co., VA (WV) 

Again, Richard and William together. Now, I did see down the listing, another person listed as Moses Camel…looking at it more thoroughly, it looks like it says Cornel. Another relative to Jesse? 

One last record I wanted to find…a possible marriage record for Richard Cornell. 

First, from Ancestry©: 

Then from WV Culture Births, Marriages, & Deaths: 
Book 2, Page 59 
In this record, it clearly states the names of Richard Cornell, William Cornell and William Clark. 

So, in the end, does this prove anything?…not categorically, but the records and information I did find has to make you stop and think.  Is Jesse Cornell really from N.J. or N.Y.? Well, what I believe and what the records shows may always be two different things, but there seems to be more credence now that leans towards Jesse Cornell being from Virginia and not New Jersey or New York. 
Does this research that I have done on the Cornell family make you stop and think about an ancestor you have that has records indicating they were born in two different places? 

Perhaps you need to dig a little deeper…always look for relatives living next door. They just might be able to answer a few questions you might have. 

FamilySearch© – See the full censuses below: 
1940 Census – Beaver Co., PA 
1930 Census – Beaver Co., PA 
1900 Census – Meigs Co., OH 
1880 Census – Meigs Co., OH 
1870 Census – Meigs Co., OH 
1860 Census – Meigs Co., OH 
1850 Census – Athens Co., OH 
West Virginia Culture – Vital Research Records 

Featured Image: 

Special thanks to Mary Frances McCartney Cornell for providing the pictures that are in the featured image. Special note – the Civil War veteran is Art’s and Mary’s husband’s great-grandfather George W. Cornell (1843-1915) 

Special Acknowledgments: 

Art Cornell, former High School Principal for Blackhawk High School – thank you Art for indulging me in my pursuit of your ancestors and trying to unravel the confusion behind them 

Mary Frances McCartney Cornell – thank you Mary for assisting me in this endeavor 

As always, to my wife Cheryl, your love and support is always a part of me  

4 thoughts on “The Cornell Conundrum-VA/WV vs. NJ/NY

  1. It looks like we’ve been doing similar research this week to prove parentage although on two different continents. If I were you, I’d delve into the tax lists of Wood and Harrison counties. You might get lucky. There are counties where the enumerator included the name of the son over 16 yo in the father’s tithe list. A good example is Mecklenburg County, Virginia.

    There may have been something going on around 1850 as I have seen people living in Wood County and marrying in Meigs County around that time. Never could figure out why.

    Liked by 1 person

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