Many people in Caswell County, North Carolina, and surrounding areas have Lea ancestors. And, in "The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina," Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) (hereinafter "Caswell Heritage Book") are ten articles directly relating to the Lea family, with many references to Lea in other articles.
I want to caution you about relying upon these articles without doing further research. While this obviously can be said for all articles written by laymen in publications such as a county heritage book, it is especially critical for the Lea family.
The following factors are the basis for this warning:
1. The Lea family came to North Carolina from Virginia (particularly King & Queen County). Many of the core records from that county were lost or destroyed.
2. The given names William, James, and John were used repeatedly and confusingly.
3. Much misinformation has been published about the Lea family, esepcially these books:
(a) "Amite County Missisippi 1699-1890," Albert E. Casey
(b) "Finding Your Forefathers in America," Archibald F. Bennett
(c) "How I'm Kin to Whom: The Leas," Martha Lea Grdner and Richard T. Gardner
(d) "Lea Family," Frances Powell Otken. 1952.
Note that several articles in the Caswell Heritage Book rely heavily upon Amite County Mississippi 1699-1890, Albert E. Casey, and even cite it as an "excellent authority."
An example of the mischief caused by Albert E. Casey is his unfounded assumption that all persons with the surname Leigh, Lee, and Lea are related -- that the names essentially are the same. This was a crucial error.
The proliferation of online Lea family "genealogies" has compounded the problem.
The above problems with respect to Lea ancestry were documented by Ben L. Rose in Report of Research on the Lea Family in Virginia & North Carolina Before 1800, Ben L. Rose (1984/1986).
An example of the mischief caused by Albert E. Casey is his unfounded assumption that all persons with the surname Leigh, Lee, and Lea are related -- that the names essentially are the same. This was a crucial error. Here are Ben Rose's observations:
"Until one understands clearly the radical nature of the assumption on which Casey operated in his research of Virginia records and in reporting his research and how far Casey departed in this matter from accepted practice by genealogists, one will not realize how misleading Casey's work can be. Casey is not saying that there were occasionally inadvertent misspellings of the name Lea and Leigh in early Virginia records; he would readily admit that. But Casey is saying that when he finds on a Quit Rent Roll the name of "Leigh", he is permitted to use it as "Lea" in constructing a genealogy of the Lea family. Any beginner in genealogical work knows that one cannot do such things, but that is exactly what Casey does again and again. He felt that he was at liberty to take any reference to "Leigh" in Virginia records before 1800 and use it as "Lea" in constructing his genealogy of the Lea family.
. . . .
Before we can accept Casey's assumption that in early records of Virginia the names of Lea and Leigh were used interchangeably by clerks and even by members of the same family, we shall have to have some clear evidence to support it, and to date I have found none.
We conclude therefore that much of Albert E. Casey's data on the Lea and Leigh families in Virginia is untrustworthy and should not be used without checking each item in a primary or at least a secondary source."
In her omnibus work on the Graves family published in 1977, Louise Graves made so many serious errors with respected to the related Lea family that she felt compelled to publish at her own expense an addendum in 1981. She contacted Dr. Casey, who admitted that some of his conclusions were incorrect. Her book is Graves: Twelve Generations, Some Descendants and Kin, Louise Graves (1977). However, her own conclusions in 1981 remain at odds with those drawn by Ben L. Rose in 1984, especially with respect to whether the brother of William Lea (of South Hico) was James (Country Line) Lea or James Lea (of Kilgores Branch).
I realize that all this can be very confusing. However, the purpose of this message is not to unravel the ancestry of the Lea family of Virginia and North Carolina. It is to alert those researching the Lea family to the problems they will face.
Of course I am revisiting all the Lea entries in the Caswell County Family Tree database to make them as reliable as possible and to note troublesome areas. And, I am drafting a Caswell County Lea Family article to be posted to the Caswell County Historical Association Website that will set forth all my findings (including the most glaring errors in the Caswell Heritage Book.
I also want to warn those who are attempting to gain admission to herditary societies (such as the Jamestowne Society) on the basis of a connection between a known Lea ancestor and one William Leigh who is listed as a Jamestowne Society qualifying ancestor. You will find in print and online connections made between various Lea families and this William Leigh. However, I have seen no compelling primary proof. It appears that those wanting to make this connection (to gain admission to organizations such as the Jamestowne Society) have proliferated this misinformation based upon wishful thinking. Proceed with caution.
If you have information that could help Lea family researchers please share it here.
I believe this issue is sufficiently important to be posted to other message boards; so you might receive this message more than once, depending upon the message boards to which you subscribe.