Did my great-great-grandfather have a brother named Thomas? That question started this quest.

I don’t know who the parents are of my great-great-grandfather, Edward Whitfield “Whit” Dennis. Through DNA testing, I do know he is related to the Dennis family who raised him. Whether his mother was unwed Narcissa Dennis or one of her brothers, I am unsure. (I am currently waiting on my father’s Y-DNA test results to come back.)

On the 1870 census, this Dennis household was listed twice:

  1. Syntha Dennis 72
    Narcissa Dennis 43
    Edward Dennis 13 *My great-great-grandfather
    Thomas Dennis 20
  2. Sidda Dennis 80
    Narassa Dennis 46
    Dennis Thomas 19 (Thomas Dennis)
    Edward Thomas 12 (Edward Dennis) *My great-great-grandfather

Sidda/Sintha is the grandmother. Narcissa is her daughter. Edward/Whit has always been presumably Narcissa’s son, although I am not so sure. Who is Thomas? I couldn’t find him on earlier or later census records.

I did a search on Ancestry.com for Thomas Dennis, born in Stewart County, Tennessee about 1850. The result from the Illinois Database of Illinois Veterans stood out:

Name Thomas James Dennis
Rank Private
Unit 29th Illinois Infantry
Height 5′ 5
Complexion LIGHT
Occupation Farmer
Birth Date Abt 1845
Birth Place Stewart CO, TN
War Civil War
War Years 1861-1865
Service Entry Age 18
Service Entry Date 23 Dec 1863
Service Entry Place Metropolis, IL
Joined By Whom CPT CURTIS
Period 3 YRS
Residence Place Metropolis, Massac CO, IL
Record Source Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls
URL http://www.ilsos.gov/isaveterans/civilMusterSearch.do?key=65139

Born in Stewart County, Tennessee?! I tried to fit Thomas into another known Stewart County Dennis family line, but couldn’t. One noticeable discrepancy is his age. If this is the same Thomas, when he joined in 1863 he would have been only 13, close to 14 years old. From research on his unit, he seemed to be a “back up”. This is the only record I could find for Thomas James Dennis. There were a few other Dennis surnames in Metropolis, Illinois at the time, but none I could clearly link to Thomas. (A middle aged woman named Martha Dennis, born in Tennessee, is living with people who have different last names.)

Another thing about this record piqued my interest. It says Thomas enrolled at Metropolis, Illinois. As you might know, Metropolis is on the river. Dennis family lore says that, “Two orphaned boys came in to Tobacco Port.” (It was passed down that this was either Samuel Dennis or Whit Dennis, however through research I’ve ruled out Samuel.) Tobacco Port in Stewart County is also on the river. It’s plausible Thomas and his brother came back to Stewart County by the river, since they knew they had family there. Take a look at this map with places highlighted:


I am thankful that Illinois kept such good records of Civil War soldiers. We know his middle name was James, he was 5’5, light hair, and blue eyes.

I want to know more about Thomas James Dennis. Did he die young? Did he move away and live a long life? Was he my third great-uncle?

If you have any leads on Thomas or any other Dennis family members, I urge you to email me at downhomegenealogy@gmail.com. I would love to solve this mystery one day.


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