The Keenan Dilema

I have made many trips down my wife’s ancestry trails to make discoveries that not only uncovered things we didn’t know before, but added more questions to the research. The Keenans of Nicholas and Monroe Counties, WV are no exception. The dilema for my wife’s Keenans is based on little to no evidence of a father/son connection that hangs on the word of an author that wrote a history of Nicholas County, WV. I will be more specific a little later in this post regarding this dilema. For now, I’ll begin with my wife’s great-grandparents, Achibald Thompson Morris (1867-1928) and Alsona Jane Keenan (1874-1925).

Alsona Keenan was the 2nd wife of Archibald Morris. Archibald’s 1st wife was Annabelle Foster (1874-abt. 1897). Annabelle died about 1897 based on the 1900 Census, Grant District, Nicholas Co., WV:

Courtesy of Ancestry©

Archibald Morris and his 2 sons Wyatt and Elzie are residing with his brother-in-law in 1900, James Nutter and you can see that the last column for Archibald indicates he had been married for 5 years before his was widowed. So because he and Annabelle were married in 1892 and you add the 5 years to that, 1897 is probably the year Annabelle died. Here are my wife’s great-grandparents:

My wife’s grandfather was Robert Alexander Morris, (1902-1944), the son of Archibald and Alsona Keenan.

So here is the last census that Alsona was recorded in. The 1920 Census in the Grant District, Nicholas Co., WV:

Courtesy of Ancestry©

Ten years earlier was the 1910 Census, and we find Alsona again with Archibald and family in the Grant District, Nicholas Co., WV:

Courtesy of Ancestry©

Notice the two oldest sons Wyatt and Elzie. These are the sons you saw earlier in the 1900 Census shown above. Also take notice that the 2 last columns for Alsona clearly show that she had only 4 children and those 4 are still alive. Obviously the 4 children are the 4 named here in this census, Robert, Bettie, Lonnie and Virgil.

In the 1900 Census for Alsona, she is still living with her parents Robert T. Keenan (Jr.) and Elizabeth (Garton) Keenan in Grant District, Nicholas Co., WV:

Courtesy of Ancestry©

Here is the 1880 Census in Grant District, Nicholas Co., WV for Alsona and family:

Courtesy of Ancestry©

Here is the birth record for Alsona Jane Keenan, born 13 May 1874:

Courtesy of the West Virginia Culture Vital Records

The 1925 death record for Alsona is a little wonky as it states that her father is Richard Keenan and not Robert. This is not that uncommon for records to reflect errors in the names of parents or children. Alsona’s mother’s name is also off a tad as well, reflected in her mother’s maiden name of Gardner instead of Garton:

Courtesy of the West Virginia Culture Vital Records

Now we can go back further on Robert T. Keenan, Jr. (1847-1925). How unfortunate for the family that Robert and his daughter, Alsona both passed away the same year, just a few months apart. Here is the death record for Robert Keenan:

Courtesy of the West Virginia Culture Vital Records

Take note of where it says Robert T. Keenan was born. WVA (VA). Robert’s parents are clearly stated as Robert Keenan (Sr.) and Olive Vanfifer (Van Bibber).

Here is the 1860 Census in Nicholas Co., VA for Robert T. Keenan (Jr.):

Courtesy of Ancestry©

Due to the amount of children Robert (Sr.) and Olive Keenan had, I wanted to keep space to a minimum. Notice the ” marks in the column for where a person was born. The ” has the same meaning as ditto, because at the top of the column VA was used in the first row. So Robert is indicated as being born in Virginia.

Here is the 1850 Census in Nicholas Co., VA for Robert T. Keenan (Jr.):

Courtesy of Ancestry©

Notice that this census indicates that Robert (Sr.) was born in Pennsylvania. Why would this happen? Why would this one record indicate this when the other records do not? There could be multiple reasons why this happened, but for now the chances are that it is wrong. The 1880 and the 1900 censuses also indicate that Robert was born in WV (VA).

Now based on the age of Robert Keenan (Sr.) at 58 years old, that places his year of birth at 1792.

Here is the 1840 Census in Nicholas Co., VA for Robert Keenan (Sr.):

Courtesy of Ancestry©

Here is the 1830 Census in Nicholas Co., VA for Robert Keenan (Sr.) – this one is very difficult to read:

Courtesy of Ancestry©

Here is the marriage record for Robert Keenan (Sr.) and Olive VanBibber:

Courtesy of Ancestry©

This is where the records end for Robert Keenan (Sr.) There are many Ancestry trees that say that Robert’s parents were Edward Keenan and Nancy Donnally, as well as many other websites. However, I have not found any records associated with any of the websites or trees I have seen. I scoured Ancestry and FamilySearch for wills and any other records that would support this relationship. I came up empty handed.

I did find the 1810 Census in Monroe Co., VA for Edward Kennan:

Courtesy of Ancestry©

There is 1 son marked in the Males – 10-15 yr. old. In 1810, Robert (Sr.) would have been about 17-18 years old. This leaves questions.

In the book “A History of Monroe County, West Virginia” by Oren F. Morton, 1916, on page 365, the children of Edward Keenan and Nancy Donnally are listed as:

Courtesy of Google© EBooks

No Robert is listed, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t the son of Edward Keenan and Nancy Donnally, as I suspect there were other children not listed here.

The only item I found that shows a relationship between Robert (Sr.) and Edward Keenan is in a book called “History of Nicholas County, West Virginia” by William Griffee Brown, 1954:

Courtesy of Google© EBooks

This book only allows snippet views. This book would need to be purchased to see the full content. Even if I could see the full content of this book, I still have a hard time with something like this because I cannot use this as a record to confirm a relationship. If anyone out there has evidence that confirms that Robert Keenan (Sr.) was the son of Edward Keenan and Nancy Donnally, I would greatly appreciate it if you could leave a comment at the end of this post.

The rest of the Keenan story is pretty well known. The building of the Rehoboth Methodist church on the land of Edward Keenan and that Edward Keenan, his wife and his father are buried at the Rehoboth church. If you do an internet search on “Edward Keenan, Rehoboth”, you’ll see websites dedicated to his story.

Remember, we must have proof of family relationships. Even if we have books and articles written about a family’s relationship, we cannot hang our hat on that type of information alone.




Google© EBooks

West Virginia Culture Vital Research Records

Featured Image:

Rehoboth Methodist Church courtesy of the Library of Congress


Mabata345 (Ancestry user related to my wife) provided the picture of Alsona (Keenan) Morris. Thank you!

Cheryl, my wife…your love and support keeps me going every day!