My Husband’s Family History Connection To The Hatfields And The McCoys — Harless Creek In Pike County, Kentucky

While researching some of the ancestors this weekend from my husband’s Harless line (his grandmother was a Harless), I was caught off guard to discover a connection to the McCoys of the infamous Hatfield-McCoy Feud — which was just recently depicted in an excellent History Channel miniseries.  My husband’s Harlesses lived in Pike County, Kentucky — home to the McCoys.

The first Harless ancestors to migrate across the country to California in the early 1850s were Leonard Jackson Harless, my husband’s great-great-grandfather, and his father Miles (Myles) Washington Harless (1826-1891). I learned last year that Miles was born in Pike County, Kentucky on Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River at the mouth of Harless Creek, and that Miles’s father Joseph Harless (1788-1836) died at Harless Creek. At the time of this discovery, I even located Harless Creek on Google Maps…mentally filing the location away as a future hopeful vacation stop.

But, I never bothered to look up the county in which Harless Creek resides. Until last night.

Since I find almost nothing about the history of Harless Creek (just a lot of 2010 news and video from the bad floods), I decided to try to read up on the history of Pike County. A quick search brought up the  Pike County tourism site as one of the first hits. I decided to click on it,  because I assumed it would mention at least a little bit about the county history. And there it was, right on their home page — an article about “Hatfield McCoy Feud Sites”.

While, thanks to the History Channel miniseries and Wikipedia, I knew that the McCoys were from the eastern Kentucky border, I had not paid attention to the county name. Yet, sure enough, the McCoys lived in Pike County, Kentucky, and did most of their fighting along the Tug Fork tributary of the Big Sandy River (remember, Harless Creek is also a tributary of the Big Sandy River). The county seat of Pikeville — where the Hatfields were frequently held in custody and tried — is only 13 miles northwest of Harless Creek.

I immediately got excited, wondering if perhaps my husband’s Harless ancestors might have known the McCoys. But, while the Hatfield-McCoy Feud took place after the Civil War (1863-1891), Miles Washington Harless had emigrated to Missouri by 1850 according the 1850 Us Census. So it’s possible that Miles and his siblings might have known the patriarch of the feuding McCoys (Randolph McCoy, 1825-1914), but our Harless ancestors were no longer in Pike County when the feud erupted in 1863.

Still, it is a really cool connection to discover! And it bumps Pike County much higher up on our vacation wishlist now, since we’d get to visit ancestral lands and historical feud spots. Besides, Jeff and I fell in love with Kentucky while vacationing in the Appalachians in 2010.

Just Found: Marriage Record For My Kennedy Great-Grandmother And Her First Husband

This past Sunday afternoon and evening proved to be an extremely productive one for my genealogical journey. In addition to the wedding record that I found for my great-grandparents Patrick Thomas Flanagan, Jr. (c. 1897-1928), and Sarah Kennedy (c. 1898-1930), I also found the wedding record for Sarah’s first marriage.

Orphanage records for their son Michael John Flanagan (1927-1997), my grandfather, indicate that the five orphaned boys had an older sister named Catherine, and correspondence over the past decade with cousins, confirms that Sarah had a daughter named Catherine (Ward) Reinacher, now deceased. Neither I, nor my cousins, knew the name of Catherine’s father.

Until now.

After striking gold with the marriage record for Sarah and Patrick, which lists the name of her parents — Joseph Kennedy and Catherine Darnley — I continued to search for records referencing Sarah and her parents. Which is how I discovered the record for the June 25, 1913, Mahoning County, Ohio, marriage between Sarah Kennedy and Frank J. Ward (of Bellaire, Ohio).

Sarah Kennedy Frank Ward Wedding 1913
Marriage record courtesy of Click the image to view a larger copy. Marriage record courtesy of Click the image to view a larger copy.

Although I need a birth record for my great-aunt Catherine (Ward) Reinacher to confirm that Frank J. Ward is indeed her father, I feel pretty good about this assumption.

This find doesn’t come without frustration though. In the 1925 marriage to Patrick Flanagan, Sarah noted her birth date as November 27, 1898. But, in her earlier marriage to Frank J. Ward, Sarah lists it as November 19, 1894. And so the mystery continues. But, at last both marriage records are consistent in listing Cumberland, Maryland as her place of birth.

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