William H. Jacobs: Two Men, One Ancestor

There were two William Jacobs’, both born about 1840 in Kanawha County, West Virginia. The only distinguishing factor is the names of the parents of each man. Even the middle initial for both migrates from “R” to “H” depending on the record you’re searching.

Were the two men related? That remains to be seen but it certainly seems plausible since there are only two Jacobs’ in Kanawha County in 1840. Floyd Jacobs, who married Drucilla Light, appears to have lived in the vicinity of Malden, WV; Harrison Jacobs appears in both the tax lists of Kanawha and Fayette Counties which puts him nearer the county line of the two. When Harrison (or Samuel H. Jacobs) married his second wife, Mary Jones on 30 January 1843, the county was Kanawha. The minister that officiated was Felix Hansford who lived in Pratt, WV – very near the county line with Fayette. So the two men – Floyd and Harrison – lived in what I consider close proximity to one another and appeared, seemingly, out of nowhere in 1840.

Years ago, about 30 years at the time of this writing, the only info available at that time, was the family legend and the list of Confederate Soldiers at the Archives in Charleston. The family legend stated that, “Mary E. McGraw married William Jacobs and had two children by him before he joined the Civil War, abandoning her and the children, never to be seen nor heard from again.” Joined with that came the list of Confederate Soldiers at Charleston on which a William Jacobs appeared. From that a family history bloomed along with a family tree that was shared and shared and shared, spreading like a wildfire in Ancestry and online, destined to become gospel. The story of William Jacobs became deeper and richer, telling how he was captured during the war, was sent to Camp Chase, Johnson’s Island (Ohio) until he was sent, along with others, to Vicksburg, Mississippi for a POW exchange. Either William Jacobs died at Vicksburg or was killed there was not ascertained but that’s where my cousin’s FindAGrave listing buried him, with no proof. This part of the narrative has also been shared innumerable times throughout the family trees at Ancestry and FamilySearch.

Granted, thirty years ago the NARA had some records scanned into a database of military service members, both Union and CSA, but not ALL records were available. It has taken many years for those historic records to be scanned and made available to the public. Along came Fold3 eventually to make those documents searchable and downloadable to the public. Add to that the State of West Virginia had not made scans of all their records on microfilm. 30 years ago there was a tale that the State of Virginia had not released all the microfilms pertaining to WV counties to the State. Over the years, a great deal of those records have been scanned, shared with FamilySearch for its online database, and vital records (BDM) placed in a searchable database online through the WV Archives (WVculture.org).

Fast forward 30 years. More records, more data, more evidence and information is available now. In fact, a clearer, more accurate picture of history has come to light. Now is the time to correct the errors in your family tree. Like I stated in the title of this blog, there were two William Jacobs but only one is my ancestor, the husband of Mary E. McGraw and the father of Virginia Jacobs Christy and John William “Bill” Jacobs.

Not My Ancestor

William R. Jacobs, the son of Floyd Jacobs and Drucilla Light of Malden, Kanawha County, WV is NOT my ancestor, the husband of Mary E. McGraw. He did not die in 1862 nor is he buried somewhere in Vicksburg, MS. This William R. Jacobs joined the CSA (confederate army) in White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County in August 1861 for a period of 3 years and was assigned to and served in Co. I, 8th VA Cavalry. On or about 9 February 1862, he AND his personal horse were captured in Mercer County and sent to Camp Chase, a POW camp on Johnson’s Island in Ohio. Come 22 November 1862, William R. Jacobs (and others) were taken to Vicksburg, MS for a prisoner exchange. HE DID NOT DIE IN Vicksburg. In fact, he returned to West Virginia where he was counted Present March thru August 1863. On 8 May 1863 at Camp New River Bridge, he requested reimbursement for the horse that was captured with him in Mercer County. His request was granted on the same date for which he received $85.00.

At the close of the war, William R. Jacobs returned to Kanawha County. On 16 June 1868, he married Mary E. ADAMS of Gallia Co., OH. His parents are listed as Floyd & Drucilla; her father is named John. In the 1870 Census of Kanawha County, we find William listed in the household of his mother in Malden Township along with his new bride and three younger siblings. The marriage record can be viewed here:

“West Virginia Vital Research Records – Record Image”. 2024. Wvculture.Org. https://dach-image-proxy.digital-relativity.workers.dev/?film=521720&frame=00066

My Ancestor Is William H. Jacobs

The first question you’re probably asking is, “How do you know?” Because this is the man that married Mary E. MCGRAW. This marriage record is NOT in the searchable database at WVculture.org (the Archives) but is in the searchable catalog at FamilySearch.org. Here is the citation so that you can see if for yourself:

“Familysearch: Sign In”. Familysearch.Org, 2023, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9Z5-FZZB. Accessed 5 Aug 2023. IMG 141 of 554. See also: https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/308753 “Vital statistics, 1853-1860 of West Virginia”

Because the document (book) is so wide, I have made screenshots of the more important parts below. The marriage took place on 20 Feb 1859.

Their names (note that his middle initial is erroneously given as “R”) Wm R. Jacobs, Mary E. McGraw:

William Jacobs to Mary E. McGraw


Their places of birth (groom, bride) Kanawha, Fayette:

Born Kanawha, Fayette

Their parents’ names (groom, bride) Harrison & Jane Jacobs, Martin & Sallie McGraw:

Harrison & Jane Jacobs; Martin & Sallie McGraw


If you’ve read my other blog posts, you’ll realize that sometime after the 1850 Census, Martin and Sarah McGraw moved back to Fayette County from Putnam (formerly Kanawha) where they’d moved around 1843 (he’s in the Tax List on 17 May 1843 along with his brother Thomas). Martin had sold his property on Big Creek (Chimney Corner) so I’ve no way of knowing where in Fayette County the family was living when Mary E. and William Jacobs got “together.” If you’ve studied the death record of Virginia Jacobs, their first child, and did the math, you realize that Mary E. and William married when she was already six months pregnant. Mary’s father Martin died in October 1858 so perhaps the marriage was put off during a brief period of mourning.

I believe the family had returned to the vicinity of Chimney Corner/Gauley Bridge, however. For one thing, Martin’s nephew John A. McGraw lives in the vicinity as do Martin’s brothers Samuel and Henry, their sons and their daughters.

Which brings me to Harrison Jacobs, the father of William, and his location. Harrison is listed in the tax lists, viz: 1835 Tax List Fayette County; 1840 Census Kanawha County; 1842 Tax List Kanawha County; and finally, his marriage record to Mary Jones on 30 January 1843 Kanawha County as “Samuel H. Jacobs.” The officiant was Felix Hansford, a resident of Pratt, Kanawha County, WV. If you map the distance from Pratt to Gauley Bridge, you’ll find a distance of sixteen miles. For all I know, Felix Hansford was the closest minister available. What is evident is in the 1840 Census of Kanawha, in which Harrison appears as the sole householder: no wife, no children. It is plausible that his wife Jane had passed after the birth of William and that William was in the care of Jane’s family, which was common in those days. Three years later, Harrison married Mary Jones, who I believe was also a widow.

There was much moving going on, back and forth between Fayette and Putnam County during the period between 1850 and 1860 in the McGraw and Jacobs family. Martin McGraw Jr is deceased. His daughter Nancy, the youngest child by first wife Nancy Wood, married in Fayette County (Theophilus Harrah) in June 1855. And Mary E. married William Jacobs.

Truthfully, I am unable to locate Martin’s widow (Sarah Johnson McGraw), Mary E or William Jacobs. It is plausible that Mary E. and William returned to Putnam County after the birth of Virginia Jacobs (Christy) born May 1859. Two of Martin and Sarah’s sons are listed in the household of Malinda Milby in the 1860 Census of Putnam County on Poca River. One of the boys is listed in a Lanham household on Poca River just a few doors from the Milby’s. Malinda, if you recall, is the eldest daughter of Martin and his first wife, Nancy Wood. She was living in the Pocatalico region and was widowed herself. Thomas McGraw, Martin’s younger brother, and family lived in the Buffalo area but alas, Thomas passed in 1855, and his wife Catherine was in the household of John O. McGraw/McGrew.

That William and Mary E. were in the Putnam County area is credible for this reason:

On 18 August 1861, William H. “Jacops” enlisted in Co. H, 4th Reg. WV Infantry (Union), aged 21, at Point Pleasant, West Virginia for 3 years. The distance from Point Pleasant to Buffalo, WV is 23 miles; the distance from Point Pleasant to Poca, WV is 43 miles. History of the 4th Regiment shows that the unit fought in skirmishes up and down the Kanawha Valley and even a battle in Kentucky. But the unit came back and were camped, if I recall correctly, in the vicinity of Charleston. In 1862, in the months surrounding the birth of son, John William Jacobs, William is listed as “absent” sometimes “absent – deserted.” Following those Muster Cards, he has miraculously returned to duty, whether voluntarily, by force, or an error marking him “absent,” we find that William H. Jacobs is sent to Memphis, TN where he served as a convalescent guard at the Washington Hospital under orders of “Major Grant” and the War Department. Remember, this is scant weeks after the birth of his son John. From that stint in Memphis, the 4th Regiment of WV was assigned/transferred to serve with the 8th Missouri Volunteers. It is with this unit William served out his tour of duty in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia, before his 3-year term concluded. He was transferred to and mustered out at Wheeling, WV on 26 August 1864.

This is where the history of William H. Jacobs and Mary E. McGraw becomes murky. There is no evidence that he returned home to his wife and children or that he and Mary divorced in that time frame, even though I would like to think that he did come home. I only know that he was definitely within miles of his wife and children when, on 12 October 1864 at Charleston, WV, William enlisted a second time in the Union army for one year. The recorder wrote and signed his name William H. “Jacop.” He was assigned to Co. K, 7th WV Cavalry.

Second enlistment, October 1864 William H Jacop

Following this date (12 October 1864), we find in the records that Mary E. McGraw – using her maiden name – married a second husband, John William Duncan, on 25 November 1864. That’s 44 days after William’s second enlistment.

Reading through the muster roll cards, I found that William was not released when the war ended in April. He was held over for the majority of his full one-year term, having been mustered out on 1 August 1865 at Charleston, West Virginia. From this point until now, I cannot find any evidence of the whereabouts of William H. Jacobs after August 1865. There are numerous “William Jacobs” in several states, men with wives and families but most of whom fought in regiments of the states in which they reside and none of whom applied for a pension having served in either of the two units in which William served. My only option is to wait. Wait until more documents are produced and made available online. If he remarried and had another family, apparently his descendants have not yet taken a DNA test through Ancestry as I keep a close eye on the matches.

It is likely that the family legend of William having “deserted the family” was started by Mary E. McGraw. It was easier, with him gone and unable to contradict her, to tell that “he deserted” rather than “we’re divorced.” The children never knew their father and apparently grew up believing he’d abandoned them. Who knows: Perhaps the divorce was his idea.

This is where my story ends… for now. Just remember, if you’re tempted to copy the info out of one of those innumerable trees in Ancestry or FamilySearch, be sure and check who his parents are: if they are Floyd and Drucilla, you know the tree is wrong. I will keep searching because, after all, its my obsession. And if you learn something new, by all means share it with me. I’ll do my due diligence to determine whether its him.