William Marcellus Cornett

A recent request from a Cornett descendant prompted me to compile the information I had on William Marcellus Cornett, and his father, William “James” Cornett.  When I originally worked on James, I found the record for  his marriage was mixed up and incorrectly combined with the marriage record for another man named Antone Sawner.  In this article, I share the records which will prove James’ lineage, correctly connect him to other Cornetts in Henrico Co, VA, and at the very end, the rebuke I had for online genealogy sites who (still today) have the mixed-up marriage information online.   A big thank you to Nadine Cornett for the photo of her ancestor, William Marcellus Cornett.


The internet has become a wonderful tool for genealogists, as well as every other researcher in the world.  Online genealogy sites are amazing.  Although, I get frustrated with incorrect information on individual’s pedigree charts, the sites provide access to original records that would take many miles of travel, many gallons of gas, and many hours—if not days—of research to collect.  I can visit Charles County, Maryland, from the comfort of my home in Indiana—for free—thanks to Familysearch.org.  But…just because it’s a record at a site, like Familysearch, does not mean that is correct.

I’m going to share two records in particular, which will present an insurmountable brick wall, IF one does not check the original records.

Familysearch.org shows the following two records when one does a search for Cornett in the Film, No. 2048455.

BLOG WMCornett 01[i]

These two records are actually related to each other—just wait to you see how.

We’ll begin with the earlier one: Wm. I. Cornett to Nancy, 17 September, 1857, Henrico County, Virginia.  From another record, we learn that William J. Cornett married Nancy E. Miller on 12 September, 1857. [ii]   Sometimes in old script, a J and an I are interchangeable; that’s an easy explanation for the difference in the middle initial. The difference in the day may indicate that there was a marriage bond , then a wedding date, or it could be that someone creating the index could not decipher a 2 from a 7.  The only way to find out is to look at the original.

The screenshot above states that Wm. I. Cornett is the son of Benedict and Christian Cornett.  Who is Benedict Cornett?  That name has never popped up before.  There is good reason it has not popped up before—Benedict Cornett did not exist.  On page 22 of the original record, we see the marriage record of Wm J. Cornett to Nancy E. Miller.  His parents are listed as “no father” and hers is listed as Wm P. Miller. No mothers were included.  Then on page 24, there is a marriage for Anton Sawner to Sarah Ann Jordan Sept 18, 1861.  His parents are Benedict and Christian Sawner.

This is what I think happened.  The pages were arranged with entries spanning across two large pages.  Someone probably had multiple photocopies to get all of the pages reproduced.  Then, somehow, some of those photocopies, got rearranged in such a way that it looked like Wm J. Cornett had parents Benedict and Christian.  The Cornett surname was assumed by the indexer at Familysearch.

In the second record, Nancy Ellen Cornett married Charles Henry on 21 October, 1866.[iii]  It says that her parents are William P. Cornett and Martha Miller.  If anyone ever puts that on their pedigree, they are going to have an eternal brick wall because Nancy Ellen Cornett was the widow of William J. “James” Cornett from the earlier record above.  She was not born a Cornett; she was the daughter of William P. Miller and his wife, Martha.  Her second husband was Charles Henry, son of Hugh and Cassie Henry. Again, the indexer assumed Cornett as her father’s name from her name, even though the original record clearly calls him Miller.

The 1870 Census of Brookland, Henrico County, Virginia, shows the family of Charles and Nancy E. Henry.[iv]

HENRY                  Charles                 43

Nancy E.               30

CORNETT             Joseph W.           12

William M.           11

Nannie J.               8

HENRY                  Julia B.                    3

Hugh B.                9/12


This census report supports that Charles and Nancy E. Cornett were married.  She had Cornett children by a previous husband born 1858 to 1862.  There are two Henry children, born about 1866 and 1869.

Going back ten years, to 1860, we find the family of James and Ellen Cornett.[v]

CORNETT             James                   25

Ellen                      21

Wesley                   2

Marcellus            11/12

If it isn’t clear, Ellen in 1860 is Nancy E. in 1870.  Wesley in 1860 is Joseph W. in 1870, and Marcellus in 1860 is William M. in 1870.  William Marcellus Cornett, died on 8 July, 1943, at Richmond, Virginia, and his death certificate gives his parents’ names as William James Cornett and Nancy Ellen Miller.[vi]

Going back ten more years, to 1850, we find an interesting household of Cornetts.

CORNETT             Elizabeth              50

Nancy                   45

Rebecca               33

Sarah                     30

Ellen                      19

James                   17

Melissa                 7

The will of Francis “Frank” Cornett, Jr.,[vii] specifically states, “I feel disposed to give unto my daughter Mary Cornett her being and invalid my tract of land….and if my other daughters names, Elizabeth  Nancy  Rebecah  Judah  and Sarah choses to stay with Mary & reside on the place they are to have the use and profits of the plantation and every article attached to it, and to support their sister Mary Cornett…and if any or all of them should fail to comply with this will they are to be disposed of any property belonging to the place…and if any or all of them should marry, they are to be disposed of any right or claim on the proper…”

Elizabeth, Nancy, Rebecca, and Sarah, apparently held to their father’s demands.  These four sisters are the first four women in the 1850 census.  Now, the daughters did not marry, but that does not  mean they did not have children.  Ellen E. Cornett married Phillip M. Fletcher on 13 October, 1853, in Henrico County.  The record gives Phillip’s father’s name—Arthur Fletcher—and Ellen’s mother’s name.  Her mother was Nancy Cornett.  Nancy is the mother of Ellen, the fifth person named in the 1850 census record; Ellen was her illegitimate daughter.  Recall that James—also known as William J.—had “no father” written on his marriage record.  He was also an illegitimate child, presumably another child of Nancy.

In 1860, Elizabeth, age 60, Rebecca 48, Edward Alley 52, Sarah Alley 37, Malissa Cornett 18, and Sarah Alley, 3, are listed.[viii]  Sarah Cornett married Edwin Alley on 23 September, 1857.[ix]  Both were listed as “widowed” but I have doubts about Sarah!  Since Malissa was still listed with her probable aunts Elizabeth and Rebecca, she may have been a daughter of Sarah.  Nancy Cornett is not listed, and it is presumed she died, her two children—Ellen and James William—married, and on their own.

Francis Cornett, Jr. is named in the will of his father, Francis Cornett, Sr.;[x] the mother’s name was Susannah.  Francis Cornett, Sr. was the son of John Cornett, Sr. who obtained a grant for land in 1733 Henrico County, Virginia,[xi] and died after 1774 (date of his last land transaction[xii]). (John Cornett, Sr. was not the husband of Elizabeth (Bacon) Mosby, his son, John, Jr. married her.)

NOTE: Please see the short letter below the notes for more information about the mixed-up marriage info at FamilySearch.org.

[i] Search for “last names” Cornett, on FHL Film No. 2048455.

[ii] “Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XR6K-712 : 11 February 2018), Wm J. Cornett and Nancy E. Miller, 12 Sep 1857; citing Henrico Co., Virginia, reference p 22 # 49; FHL microfilm 31,855.

[iii] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XR3Z-5T4

[iv] Charles Henry household, 1870 U.S. Census, Brookland, Henrico, VA, p 67, dwelling 550, family 543.

[v] James Cornett household, 1860 U.S. Census, Western Subdivision, Henrico, VA, p 154, dwelling 1152, family 1148.

[vi] Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014. Source Information: Ancestry.com. Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Virginia, Deaths, 1912–2014. Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia.

[vii] Francis Cornett will, written Aug 29, 1834, recorded 6 July 1835.

[viii] Elizabeth Cornett household, U.S. Census, Western Subdivison, p 151, dwelling 1146, family 1132.

[ix] https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XR6K-FB3

[x] Will of Francis Cornett,Sr. 1803, Will Book 9, p 175 (Henrico County Microfilm Reel No. 58, LVA)

[xi] Bert Mayes and Selena Mayes DuLac.  Henrico County Virginia Land Patent Abstracts With Some Plat Maps, Vol II, 2007, page 156.

[xii] Deed from John Cornett Sen. To Hobson Owen,  October, 1774 (3 October, 1774), Henrico County, Virginia, Library of Virginia Microfilm Reel 3, p 2227-28.

Email to FamilySearch about incorrect information on FHL Film No. 2048455

The original message, Jan 2015, to FamilySearch.org about the mixed-up marriages. Familysearch promptly responded, and a case created for the message. My guess is that the information is incorrectly entered–and that cannot be changed–but we can make people aware that the mistake is there.

I’m not sure where to turn on this issue.  It’s possible I am missing some great information, but I think it more likely that a terrible mix up has occurred.  Here is what I find. 

Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org both list marriages for Henrico County in their databases (Select Marriages at Ancestry).  I have noticed double entries for some people.  An example from Ancestry: 

From Ancestry.com. Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014.  Original data:  Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

Wm. I. Cornett, male, single,  married 17 Sep 1857, Henrico Co, VA.  Father Benedict Cornett, mother Christian, spouse Nancy.  FHL Film Number 2048455, Ref ID F#2048455 Image 474. 

From Ancestry.com. Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014.  Original data:  Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

Wm J. Cornett, male, single, married 12 Sep 1857, Henrico Co, VA. Spouse Nancy E. Miller, father Wm R. Miller. FHL Film Number 31885, Ref ID p22, #49. 

These are two entries for the same event.  The day is off on one, and the additional information is also different. 

I ordered the Marriage Register of Henrico Co, VA,from the Library of Virginia through InterLibrary Loan.  The actual record reads this way: 

Page 22, No. 49

1857, Sep 12, Henrico County.  Wm J. Cornett, single, born Henrico, “No Father.”  Nancy E. Miller, single, born Henrico, father Wm P. Miller.  (Additional info shows Wm J. Cornett was a laborer or seller, and Geo Exall was the officiant.) 

Later on in this Marriage Register, I find on page 24, an Anton Sawner who has parents Benedict and Christian Sawner listed.   

Antone Sauner is listed in the Ancestry database with a marriage to Sarah Ann Jordan on 15 Sep 1861, no parental information listed, FHL Film Number 2048455, Ref ID F#2048455 Image 473 

Another example

John Cornell, male, single, 23, born Henrico Va, married 6 Nov 1861, Henrico Co, VA. Father Churchwell Cornell, mother E. Pratt, spouse Judith Pate.  FHL Film Number 2048455, Ref ID: F#2048455 Image 473.

 From same database is the following. 

John Cornett, male, single, 23, born Henrico Va, married 6 Nov 1861, Henrico Co, VA.  Father William Cornett, mother Lucy; spouse Judith Pate, female, single, 22, born Henrico Va, father Samuel Pate, mother Jane.  FHL Film Number 31855, Ref Id: p 24 #19.

The actual register reads thus:

Page 24, (I don’t have  the line number)

1861, Nov 5/ Nov 6, Henrico, John Cornett, single 23, born Henrico, parents William and Lucy Cornett; Judith Pate, 22, single, born Henrico, parents Samuel and Jane Pate.  Farmer, officant Geo. E. Exall.

 (The difference between Cornell and Cornett is something that researchers on both families expect to run into, but these mixed up parents is inexcusable.)

 Interestingly, there is a James A. Pratt listed in this database whose parents are Com.Pratt and Lucy Cornett, and his spouse is a widow named Nancy A. Griffin, whose parents are shown as Saml Griffin and Jane Pate.  This is from FHL Film Number 2048455, Ref ID: F#2048455 Image 474

 The other entry shows Jas A. Pratt as son of Churchwell and E. Pratt, md to Nancy A. Griffin (and this one says she was born in Albemarle Co, and was a widow, but no parental info.) Source: FHL Film Number 31855, Ref ID: p 22, #61.  (Unfortunately, I  had returned the film before I could check this marriage.)

 What this tells me is that the “source” FHL 2048455 cannot be trusted.  People listed on Image 473 have their parents listed under the wrong person on Image 474, with the names manually altered.

 There is a marriage for a Charles Henry to Nancy Ellen Cornett,widow, on 21 Oct 1866.  In the FHL # 2048455 Image 497 entry, her parents are listed as Wm P. Cornett and Martha Miller. 

In the 31855 entry shows Charles Henry to Nancy Ellen Cornette, widow, and her parents are listed as Wm P. and Martha Miller.  (This last entry is correct, Nancy E. Miller md. William James Cornett, 12 Sep 1857—see above entry.)

 Obviously, checking original sources is the only way to be sure of your information, but this particular source, with LDS Batch number M01795-8, is horribly inaccurate…and has wasted my time looking for people who did not exist!