Now What? First Wives

By David A. Fryxell Premium
Q. I need to find the place (probably in Virginia) and date of death of my ancestor Zephaniah Dyson’s wife. He remarried in 1811, but I can’t find anything on the death of his first wife, Dorotha (or Dorothy) Veirs Dyson.
A. This is long before the start of vital records in Virginia or neighboring states, so you’ll have to do some detective work—and get lucky.
Dorotha/Dorothy’s place of death may have been near where her last child was born (assuming she had children) or where Zephaniah remarried. A good place to start is the family’s church, which may have recorded the first wife’s death or burial (though the family might have moved and switched churches). Look for cemetery records and check the church where Zephaniah remarried for any proof of his first wife’s death that he may have filed in order to take a new wife.
If Zephaniah left land records, they may contain his first wife’s release of dower—or a reason, such as her death, why there wasn’t one. Try tracking down Zephaniah’s estate papers, even if they were probated long after his first wife’s death. Dorotha/Dorothy’s death may be recorded there. Also research her children’s lines forward for mentions of her in descendants’ records.
Look, too, for family Bibles. The Library of Virginia has a collection of old family Bibles, many of them digitized.
Given the time frame, Zephaniah or a close relative may have served in the Revolutionary War. If you can find a connection in the Daughters of the American Revolution’s (DAR) Genealogical Research System, you can write away for the documentation used to establish that genealogical line. This packet might include a record—such as church, court or family Bible documents—that would clear up your mystery. Go to and click on DAR Library, then Online Research, then DAR Genealogical Research System.

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