Early obituaries often aren’t much help to modern day genealogists. While lauding the deceased and “preaching him/her into Heaven” with phrasing such as “esteemed father, devoted son,” they often don’t give us the details we desire.

For example, in 1844, my ancestor Darius O’Neil’s obituary appeared in a Jonesborough newspaper. Imagine my delight when I ran across it one day and the headline, “Darious (sic) O’Neal is no more,” jumped out at me!

After mentioning his service in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, the latter when “time had worn his furrowed brow,” the obituary didn’t provide diddly squat about him. No mention of wife or children by name! Nothing about his childhood in Virginia, his move to Tennessee, his occupation: nada.

By the late 1800s, obituary writers began to do a little better. The obituary of John Jackson Penland, which appeared in the Montgomery Vindicator on Feb. 1, 1899, is an example.

John Jackson Penland died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Sarah O’Dell at Bridgeport (Tennessee), Friday, January 12, 1899, after a lingering illness of two weeks. He was born near Asheville, NC on December 20, 1814, and at the age of 19 his father moved to this county settling on Big Creek (Del Rio) and brought his son with him. Mr. Penland divided his time between blacksmithing and farming. He abandoned his blacksmithing a number of years ago, but his garden and fields received his constant care up to the time of his death. On January 20, 1846, he was united to Miss Nellie Justus, a daughter of the late Reuben and Mary Justus, and to them 14 children were born, all of whom reached maturity, and all but two of whom survive him. On Wednesday before Christmas he started from his home afoot to spend Christmas with his son, W.H. Penland, stopping over night with his daughter, Mrs. Sarah O’Dell, at Bridgeport, and next morning he was taken sick and unable to travel. Medical attention was ministered to him, but to no effect, and he expired Friday, January 13, in the 86th year of his life, his burial occurring in the Del Rio burying group. The deceased leaves a widow and twelve children to mourn his loss. His children are W.H. and A.W. Penland of this place, J.R. Penland and Mrs. Eunice Trotter of Sevierville, R.T. Penland of Sheridan, Oregan, Mrs. Sarah O’Dell and Mrs. Alice Draper of Bridgeport, Mrs. Julia O’Dell of Del Rio, and Misses Jan, Victoria, and Dora Penland (no place of residence given).

More Penland history found online states that John Jackson Penland was a son of Abraham D. and Frances (Jones) Penland, who lived on Hominy Creek, Buncombe County, N.C. After their children were born, Abraham and Frances left Buncombe County and settled at Big Creek (an earlier name for Del Rio).

Although Penland’s obituary states he was the father of 14 children and that 12 survived him, only eleven are actually named in the obituary.

I have put together the following list of the Penland children and their spouses:

1) John W. Penland (born in 1841), who married Rebecca Self

2) William (Hugh) Henry Penland (1848–1920), who married Mary Reagan

3) Harriet Evaline Penland (1849–1886), who married William A. Maddron

4) Reuben Penland (1851-1943), who married Mary Amanda Lloyd (1852–1939)

5) Mary Jane Frances Penland (1852-1919), who never married

6) James Royal Penland (1854-1918), who married Sallie Stuart (1861-1946)

7) Sarah Ellen Penland (1860-1901), who married Jacob O’Dell

8) Julia Caroline O’Dell (1864-1905), who married John O’Dell

9) China Alice O’Dell (1867-1916), who married Joseph Breeden Draper

10) Sina Eunice O’Dell (1867-1924), who married Louis Steven Trotter

11) Victoria Elizabeth Penland (1869—no death date), who never married

12) Aaron Wesley Penland (born in 1871), who married Bertie Elmira Heniger

13) Anna Dora Penland (1873–1932)

14) Jan O’Dell (no more knowledge)

I hope this bit of Penland history will help future generations continue to put together their family history. They were among the earliest settlers in Big Creek (Del Rio) and deserve to be remembered.

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