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The Earnest Family of Bracken County


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The History of the Earnest Family of The Big Run Valley
in Bracken County, KY
Compiled by Dan Hamm


Here is a history I have put together on my ancestors, the Earnests. For the record, anyone who cares to contact me may do so [via the KyGenWeb Registry]. I can give them complete verification on this history.


Dan HammThe Registry(Gene Hamm, a.k.a. mrfuzzbrain)

From the late 1830s until the early 1960s, the Earnest family made their home along Big Run Creek in Western Bracken County, Kentucky. A large family, their descendants now populate this country from coast to coast. Through various surname spellings, the family lived through many of the major historical events of this country. Now in the Twenty First Century, present day descendants are still witnessing the changes of our country and world.

About 1837, a twenty-one year old Simon Bolivar Earnest, along with his wife, Melinda Herrington left Nicholas County, Kentucky to settle in the Fairview district of Bracken County on land that Simon traded, sight unseen for their farm located about four miles from Blue Lick Springs. An old family story has it that Simon traded his Nicholas County place along with a rifle and a dog for the Big Run Place.

Simon's history began on November 12, 1816 in Jessamine County, Kentucky. Until early 2002 this was the only information known except for a family story that Simon was born a Waters and was raised by Indians until John and Margaret Earnest adopted him. With the help of the Internet and the work of many genealogists, it has become fairly easy to piece together the actual story.

Relying on the story as my late grandfather, Clifford Ernest, related it to me I started searching the available records and came up with a plausible theory. Little did I know that my theory was not only correct, but also even at this late a date causing a lot of 'embarrassment' for Simon's natural family.

The story told to me by my grandfather simply stated that Simon was born a 'woods colt'. Although his surname at birth was Waters, it was (in 1969) impossible to trace the family any further. Grandfather said that Indians in a large, fancy house about four miles outside of Nicholasville, Jessamine County, Kentucky, raised Simon.

Using this as a guide, I started going through the different history books on Kentucky to verify that by the time of Simon's birth, Native Americans were basically gone from the state, at least in Central Kentucky. This led to the next step of finding the 'large, fancy house' about four miles outside of Nicholasville.

Nicholasville, in Jessamine County, Kentucky has plenty of beautiful old homes, many of which are quite large and fancy. The house I was looking for predated most of these homes. Their locations were also a prohibitive factor in ruling out these homes. There was one in particular that fit the description and location, Chaumiere du Prairie, about four miles to the northwest of Nicholasville on the Cat Nip Hill Pike.

Chaumiere du Prairie was the estate of Col. David Meade, formerly of Virginia. I didn't see any connection to Simon until I started looking at the background of Meade. The wife of Col. Meade was one Sarah (Aunt Sally) Waters. Here was Simon's surname.

Sarah Waters Meade was past childbearing years so that dismissed her as Simon's mother. Looking elsewhere, I discovered a John and Mary Waters living to the west of Nicholasville. They were recorded as having two children, a daughter, Pleasant, who, in 1816 was about sixteen years of age. There was a son, Alexander, who would have been about twelve at that time. The twist was that John Waters appeared to be a younger brother to Sarah Meade. While Mary could have been the birth mother to Simon, it seemed more likely that sixteen year old,

When Simon came of age in 1837, he also became owner of a farm in Nicholas County, Kentucky. As most young men of that time had to rely on family in obtaining property, Simon was given his farm. There were too many unanswered questions with this arrangement. From where did Simon's property come? Just where did John and Margaret Phiffer Earnest fit into the picture?

First, Simon was raised at Chaumiere until about 1821/22. Col. Meade's servants (slaves) all came from the West Indies. There were the Indians that raised Simon. It was obvious that Simon was adopted out at the first chance. This is where John Earnest and his wife entered the picture. It appeared that Col. Meade, in exchange for adopting Simon, gave the Earnest's use of the land in Nicholas County until the young man came of age.

This brought up another question, why did an aristocratic gentleman, such as Col. David Meade take such an interest in a 'woods colt'? Was it as a favor to his in-laws? Just what was his duty to Simon Bolivar Waters?

My theory was that Pleasant had an elision with her uncle by marriage that led to the birth of Simon. Considering that she came into financial reward soon after his birth, this suggested the plausibility of the theory. This remained a theory until, after a long search for affirmation, I came across one E. Channing Shelton of Virginia, who was a descendant of the Meade family.

I will admit to presenting my theory to Mr. Shelton as fact. This caught him off guard and in enquiring how I obtained the information, admitted that it was true that Col. Meade had a child by his niece-by-marriage, a son, born on November 12, 1816, named Simon Bolivar Waters. This child was adopted out to John and Margaret Earnest for two reasons, one, for the child to be brought up in a different environment than that of the Meade home. Second and probably the most important to Col. Meade was that Simon was the image of the Col. as a young man. Neighbors were already talking and polite society of the Bluegrass Region was beginning to take notice of the situation.

Upon the discovery that all I did have was a theory, Shelton refused to have any further contact on the subject as he thought it was a personal affront to the descendants of the Meade and Waters families. Thus was established the background of Simon Earnest.

It should be noted that Simon gladly took the Earnest surname and accepted John and Margaret as his parents, of which they were. John and Margaret's own children looked to Simon as the elder brother of the family. When Simon relocated to Bracken County, Kentucky, John, Margaret and the rest of the family came with him.

On April 4, 1835, Simon Earnest took for a bride, Melinda Herrington of Nicholas County, Kentucky. They were married in Harrison County by Reverend Charles Weeks. While Melinda's background wasn't as dramatic as her husband, her family's early years in Kentucky provided family stories for her children and grandchildren.

Born on May 12, 1813, in Bourbon County, Kentucky, Melinda was the daughter of John Herrington and Mary Ann Wilson. From the accounts of the different locations the family lived, it seems as if John practiced Daniel Boone's habit of trying to stay one step ahead of civilization. John's wife, Mary Ann was the daughter of Captain John Wilson and Druzilla Sweringen. It has been disputed that Mary Ann in no way could have been John and Druzilla's daughter but evidence to counteract the distractors has come to light in records from Mason County, Kentucky that were researched by Debbie Ryon, a descendant of the Wilson/Herrington/Earnest family. The stories of Indian raids thrilled many an Earnest child.

Simon Bolivar Waters Earnest died on August 6, 1894 at the age of seventy-eight. His wife, Melinda Herrington died on September 22, 1888 at the age of seventy-five.

Simon and Melinda's first child, a daughter was born in Nicholas County, Kentucky on February 16, 1836. Her name was Nancy Susan Earnest. Nancy married John Lewis Free, born 1830, in Bracken County, Kentucky, son of Peter Free, on December 11, 1854 in Bracken County, Kentucky. Reverend L. Garver/Garner Hicks performed the marriage. In 1860, according to Federal Census, Nancy and her husband who went by the name Lewis, were living on Big Run Creek near her parents on property owned by Lewis.

From this marriage there were at least three children born, all girls. Federal Census records of 1900 show the name Free in approximately the same location as Nancy and Lewis in 1860, giving credence to the thought that there was more than three children and a least one of them a male. The three known children were Carolina Free born in 1856, Isobelle Free, born in 1857 and Margaretta Free born in 1858.

After the 1860 Federal Census, Nancy, Lewis and Carolina disappear from the records. Isobelle, who went by the name of 'Belle' was living with her aunt, Margaret and Margaret's husband Michael Blum on upper Big Run Creek. Margaretta, who went by the name of Margaret was living with her grandparents Simon and Melinda. Margaretta also used the name 'Retta' which her aunts and uncles corrupted to 'Ready'.

Simon and Melinda's second child, also a daughter, Mary Earnest was born on January 30, 1838. She died in infancy.

Next to be born was Simon and Melinda's first son, John Andrew Jackson. John's birth is recorded as February 27, 1840. On October 24, 1860, John married his first cousin, Mary E. Herrington, daughter of Daniel Herrington and Adelaid Fryman. There were two known children born of this marriage, a son Jackson born in 1862 and a daughter, Melinda, born 1864. They were living in the Fairview District at the time of the 1870 Federal Census. According to the family bible and to records, John Andrew Jackson Earnest died in Brown County, Ohio on July 17, 1877.

The fourth child and third daughter was Margaret Ann Earnest. Margaret was born on April 4, 1842 in Bracken County, Kentucky. Margaret married at age 17, Michael Blum, age 29, originally from Waldmohr, Bavaria (Germany). The Reverend Thomas Elrod married them on January 6 1859 in Bracken County. At the time of their marriage, Margaret became stepmother to Michaels, son by his first marriage. This child's name was Adam, born in 1853. Mentioned here, Adam is not to be confused with his half brother, George Adam.

Margaret and Michael's marriage produced eight children, Elizabetha (Elizabeth) Blum, born in 1859, Karl (Charles) Blum, born in 1861, Phillip Blum, born in 1865, Henry Herman Blum, born in 1869, John Blum, born in 1871, George Adam Blum, born in 1873, Jacob Blum, born in 1875, and Charlotte Catherine Blum, born in 1880.

Margaret and Michael spent their married life in Bracken County, Kentucky. Between the 1880 Federal Census and the 1900 Federal Census, Margaret died. According to the 1900 census, Michael was still living and shared his home with George Adam Blum and family.

The fifth child born to Simon and Melinda Earnest was son, Daniel Joseph Earnest. Daniel was born on November 3, 1844. At the age of 23 in a ceremony performed by Reverend William Houston, on April19, 1867, Daniel married Nancy S. Whirls, in Bracken County. This marriage produced at least seven children. Those being Robert Earnest, born 1868, Lydia (Liddy) Earnest, born 1870, James Earnest, born 1873, Melinda Earnest, James' twin, also born1873, Allan Earnest, born in 1876, Phillip Earnest, born in 1877, and Jacob Earnest, born in 1880. Daniel Joseph Earnest was still living in the early 1900s.

Next to be born was daughter Rachel E. Earnest. Rachel was born on April 6, 1846. She married James Irving Johnson on September 24, 1863. This marriage produced at least six children. These children were Melinda Johnson, born 1865, Elizabeth Johnson, born 1867, Mary Johnson, born 1870, Viola Johnson, born 1874, George Johnson, born 1876, and Ida Johnson, born 1879. A possible seventh child, a boy born after 1879, was Merritt Johnson.

At the time of Rachel's death on February 15, 1917, according to her death certificate, she resided at Johnsville, Bracken County, Kentucky. The informant was Merritt Johnson of Route # 1, Foster, Kentucky. Rachel was buried at Concord Cemetery, Bladeston, Bracken County, Kentucky.

After Rachel's birth, came the birth of Amanda Jane Earnest. Born on January 28, 1848, Amanda Jane was Simon and Melinda's seventh child. Amanda Jane married Civil War Veteran, Asa Starks of Clermont County, Ohio on March 28, 1866. Amanda and Asa were the parents of three children. The first child, a boy, was William Henry Starks born 1867. In 1869, their second son Turpin Andrew Starks was born. On January 24, 1871, their third child a daughter was born. Amanda Jane died six days later on January, 30, 1871. The daughter, Sarah, lived until September of 1871. After Amanda's death, Asa Starks sent his children to Simon and Melinda on Big Run where they raised the boys. Amanda died at Neville, Clermont County, Ohio.

The eighth child of Simon and Melinda was son, William Henry Harrison Earnest. Henry, as he was called, was born on March 14, 1850. Never married, he worked as a farm laborer. In 1870 at the time of the Federal Census, he was living with his brother John Andrew Jackson Earnest in the Fairview District of Bracken County, where he was employed as a farm laborer. Henry died, according to the family bible, on November 25, 1890.

Simon and Melinda's ninth son was George Washington Earnest. 'Wash' as he was called was born on October 6, 1852, As a young adult, he worked the family farm until the early 1880s when he married Mary Ritchie of Nicholas County. Wash and Mary lived for a while in Nicholas County, Kentucky and at the time of the 1900 Federal Census, were living near his younger brother on Big Run. The children of Wash and Mary Earnest were Charles Lee Earnest, born 1885,George A Earnest, born 1887, Urah H. Earnest, born 1888, Pearla Ann Earnest, born 1895 and Otha Earnest, born 1902. Around 1900/01 Wash and Mary, along with their children relocated to Deer Lodge, Morgan County, Tennessee where Wash died on August 23, 1924.

Child number ten was Allan R. Earnest. Allan, was born to Simon and Melinda on April 11, 1854. Like his other brothers at home he worked the family farm until the age of thirty-five when he married Elizabeth Butler Antrobus on October 12, 1889 in Grant County, Kentucky. Allan and Elizabeth's two known children were Loretta Earnest and Allan Earnest. Allan died in Harrison County, Kentucky on March 28, 1928.

There was a stillborn, male infant on January 8, 1855 according to the family bible. Genealogy researcher, May Ann Case Ashworth, found a record giving the infants death as January 3, 1855.

On April 11, 1856, Simon's namesake Simon Bolivar Earnest Jr. was born. He was Simon and Melinda's twelfth child. When Simon Jr. was twenty-six, he married Louisa Stevens. This marriage took place in September of 1882 in Bracken County, Kentucky. Louisa was born around 1861 in Pendleton County, Kentucky. Although not proven as absolute fact. Her parents seem to be Henry and Elizabeth Stephens (according to the spelling of the 1880 Federal Census). Henry appears to have been a merchant near the Grant/Pendleton County line in Grant County. This would be in the same general area that the Antrobus family was living.

Simon and Louisa were the parents of seven children. The first two, twins, were still born. Their first living son was George Roland Earnest born in 1886. Orvil Earnest, born in 1889, followed him. Daisy Florence Earnest arrived in 1890 and Retta May Earnest was born in 1893. Retta May was also called 'Ready' after older cousin, Margaretta Free. The next child, a son, was Jasper Earnest, born in 1895. After Jasper came Clifford Hobart Earnest in 1897 and Alma Margaret Earnest in 1899. Simon died on October 6, 1927.

The last child born to Simon and Melinda Earnest was Melinda's namesake, Melinda Earnest, born on December 11, 1857. On March 13, 1882, Melinda married Charles H. Marshall. While there is no documented proof, it is believed that they had a daughter, Rosie Dee Marshall. Simon Jr.'s youngest son, Clifford, mentions Rosie as a cousin. This was related in a story concerning Rosie and the young Clifford rubbing hot peppers it the seat of a family member's underwear. While spanked for the misdeed, it still brought a chuckle to Clifford in his later years.

It should be noted that family history says that all the sons of Simon and Melinda were born on Wednesdays while all the daughters were born on Thursdays.

The Earnest family was members of the Methodist Church and may have been among the earliest members of Concord Methodist Church. This is may account for so many members of the family being buried in the cemetery there. Those include Simon and Melinda Earnest, Rachel Earnest Johnson, Simon and Louisa Earnest and their twins, daughters Florence and May, and sons Clifford and his wife Carrie Maud Jones, Jasper and his wife Edith Sharp, and Orvil.

As for the spelling of the surname, the original spelling is Earnest. Various enumerators for the Federal Census had a tendency to spell phonetically. In the 1920s, the spelling of Ernest had more or less been adopted. Only Orvil Earnest used the original spelling and continued until his death in the early 1970s.

The genealogy of the Earnest family still continues. Simon's brother David Earnest, born in 1823, and his wife, Hannah were the parents of at least seven children; Joseph Earnest, born 1857, Frank, born in 1859, Jane born 1865, Stephen born in 1867 Anna, born 1869, Isobel, born in 1871 and James born in 1874.

Simon's sister, Mary Earnest, born in 1824 was to marry John William Young on June 13, 1842. To them were born four children, Suelda born in 1842, Roland born 1845, James born in 1848, and Watson born in 1849. By the time of the 1850 census, Mary was back home with her parents John and Margaret Earnest. It is possible that John William and Mary divorced in 1849. There is a record in Frankfort for a divorce for William and Mary Young for that year.

Simon's brother Henry was born in 1827. Never married, he died in 1860 at the age of thirty-three.

The 1840 Federal Census of Bracken County, Kentucky alludes to the possibility of additional children for John and Margaret Earnest. One, a son James, another son and at least two daughters were found on that census and also on the 1850 Federal Census. Nothing more is currently available on them.

As for John and Margaret Earnest, they lived their life close to son Simon on his property. While no date of death is available, they appear to have died about the time of the Civil War.

This ends the early history of the Earnest family. With continued research, the family in the twentieth will be recorded in the near future.


Dan Hamm
School House Knob
Pulaski County, Kentucky
February 20, 2003


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