The parents of Thomas Jefferson Short has been eluding researchers for a while. Follow me as I trace his parentage, using Courthouse Research and DNA. We will also be discussing other family members: William S Short, Elizabeth Short, James Robert Short, Joshua Mastin Short, and Isaac Short.

Getting Started: Reviewing the information that had already been found:

Thomas Jefferson Short born 27 September 1805 & died in Greene County Illinois 9 August 1876. This information can be found from his tombstone, Short Cemetery, Wrights, Greene County, Illinois.

Some researchers list Purnell Short as Thomas Jefferson Shorts father. The only place this information can be found in print was an unsourced conclusion that was placed on find-a-grave by another contributor, which has since been removed.

Lesson #1: Do not blindly accept someone’s conclusions as the gospel truth (documented or undocumented) including mine.

Census Records:

1830, Greene County, Illinois- Thos G Short, age 20-29

1840, Greene County, Illinois (Mount Airy) – Thomas J Short, age 30-39

1850, Greene County, Illinois (Between Macoupin and Apple Creeks) – Thomas Short, age 45, born about 1805 in Tennessee

1860 Greene County, Illinois (Mount Airy) – Tho J Short, age 54, born abt 1806 in Tennessee

1870 Greene County, Illinois (Greenfield) – T J Short, age 64, born abt 1806 in Tennessee

Marriage Records:

Catherine Overby, 22 November 1823, Maury County, Tennessee Rebecca Whittle, 10 January 1851, Greene County, Illinois

Misc Findings:

Book compiled by the Greene County & Jersey County Historical Society named “History of Greene and Jersey Counties, Illinois…” published 1855; pages 885 and 1016 states the following of Thomas Jefferson Short: (information was given by Thomas’ son, William)

  • “Settled in [Rubicon] township about the year 1834, although he came to the county in 1829, living about 5 years near Carrollton”
  • “born in Tennessee Sept 27, 1805, his father being of German descent, his mother of Irish descent”
  • Came from Summertown, Tennessee to Greene County Illinois in the fall of 1829 (page 1016)
  • He had 16 children by his first wife & 2 by his second wife. At the time of his death, he had 72 grandchildren, and some great-grandchildren.
  • He was a Democrat, served as county commissioner for 3 terms & was a justice of the peace.
  • He and his wife were both members of the M.E. church
  • At the time of his death, he owned 1100 acres of land

This same book says of Purnell Short (page 1016)

  • “Col. Purnell Short, a Kentuckian, came to Carrollton Township in 1830 from his ‘native heath’ about 1830”
  • He resided there about 1 year when he moved to Woodville Township where he died

A couple of questions kept nagging at me – If Purnell was the father of this Thomas Jefferson Short, (Purnell did have a son named Thomas Jefferson Short as well) and the Short Cemetery already had several internments’s in 1854, at the time of Purnells death in 1854, then why was he buried in another cemetery? Thomas was born in Tennessee, moved to Illinois from Tennessee, but Purnell came from Kentucky? Something was amiss.

Research Goal: Find the Parents of Thomas Jefferson Short:

Maybe Purnell is the father, but then again, maybe not. First, we need to prove or disprove that Purnell is Thomas’ father. So I set out to find the proof. Contacted the Greene County Historical & Genealogical Society, and received all the vertical family files they had in the surname Short, totaling 629 pages. I did not find anything claiming Purnell as his father. Another Short family researcher had sent in a family group sheet listing William Short & Sarah / Sallie (unknown maiden name) as Thomas’ parents. This too was unsourced. Unfortunately, there was no more information as to the parents of Thomas.

Greene County Courthouse (Illinois)

Next, I took a trip to the Greene County Courthouse. I looked at the probate records for Purnell and William. Purnell moved from Kentucky to Illinois, and died in 1854. Burial in Mount Gilead Cemetery, Carrollton, Greene County, Illinois. His will, probate by his son, Glover. Furthermore, there is no documentation of Thomas associated with Purnell.

There was no probate record for a William, other than that of Thomas’ son, also named William. However, I did find William S Short was the admin of the probate of Louis Garrett, dated in the 1840s.

Land Records

Remember the Greene County book had Thomas as owning 1100 acres of land? Next stop at the courthouse was the land office. Ah, finally, something to build on. I found 4 pages of land deeds, all filed on December 3, 1836, on consecutive pages of the deed book. Listing transactions between Thomas, Joshua, William & James Short, along with Drewry / Drury Overby (brother to Thomas wife, Catherine, and James wife Amy). Furthermore, there are also property deeds listed between Thomas J Short & William Short up to 1845.

Land records for Purnell do not show up any transactions between him and any of the above-mentioned people. Nor does it show any land records that would be close to the same locations. By now, I think it is safe to say that Purnell is not Thomas’ father.

Clue: Four consecutive pages of deeds, all filed the same day. In that day families commonly all made a journey to the courthouse on the same day to file their lands.

If Purnell is not Thomas’ father, Is William?

Obviously, we have a family connection. However, is William old enough to be the father of Thomas? In looking at the 1830 census for Greene County, we have Thomas and William both listed on the same page. William is 40-50 years of age. Still, to close to make a decision.

In 1830 William is between 40-50 years old and has 9 children, no slaves. According to the ages of the children on the 1830 census, William would have at least 7 children on the 1820 census. Since we know Thomas came from Tennessee, we can assume the others did as well at this point.

Back to Tennessee…

So taking a trip back to the 1820 census in Tennessee. William is Head of Household at this time.

  • First of all, there are 2 Williams, that can be ruled out by age as they are both above 45 years old. One in Franklin County and the other in Jackson County.
  • Secondly, we have William in Bedford County is in the 26-44 year-old bracket, and has 5 children, plus 1 slave in his household. However, a closer look reveals that his children are not of the right age brackets as well. This William is the only Short listed in Bedford County, and there are no Overbys.
  • Last, there is William of Sumner County, Tennessee. This William is also in the 26-44 year-old bracket and has 7 children. All the children line up as far as the ages of the 1830 census as well.

William and Elizabeth in Tennessee

I decided to focus on the William of Sumner County first. Others with the surname Short listed in the Sumner County Tennessee census: (Remember in 1820, Thomas would be in the 10-16 age bracket) William has only 1 male child in 1820, listed in the under age 10 bracket.

  • Elizabeth Short is on the line below William. Her household has males: 1 under age 10, and 2 age 10-16, along with 1 female age 10-16. Elizabeth is age is 26-45
  • Isaac Short, who has 2 males and 3 females all under age 10.

So William does not have a male in the 1820 census that would be the right age as Thomas, but Elizabeth does….

Taking a closer look at Elizabeth and William

Next, let’s take a look at 1810 census. There is no original 1810 census for Tennessee, due to lost records, fires etc. We do, however, have a typed copy of the 1810 census found in the Family Search catalog.(page 22) William is found living in Grainger County, Tennessee, again, right next door to Elizabeth.  In addition, note that just a couple lines below this we see the name Thomas Henderson, and William Windham.

Because the records for this time period are so scarce, I took a look once again at the Family Search catalog for any records for Grainger County. In the 1796-1813 court minutes. I found some interesting information:

  • image 48 / page 85 –  In 1798 we have a William and James Short in the court records as having guardians assigned to them after the death of William & James’ father, also named James Short. James, bound to James Meriott to learn the business of house carpenter; William, bound to John Burton to learn the business of a tailor.
  • image 86 / page 160 –  William and John Burton end the agreement, and Thomas Henderson becomes the guardian of William.

Two Williams in Grainger County

William married Sarah Spralding in Grainger County in 1806. The marriage license was bonded by Thomas Henderson & William Windham, the license is also signed by William Short himself.

Some say William married Nancy Cassidy as his second wife in Grainger County in 1821, on this marriage record this William Short made his mark, indicating he cannot write his name.

So now we have connected William to the Thomas Henderson of Grainger County, Tennessee. Thomas Henderson is also connected to the probate of the James Short who died in Grainger County Tennessee. (See the Grainger County court records 1796 – 1813, pages 91-92, 39 and 35) Therefore, we have connected William to James.

The land deed records of Greene County Illinois all lists a Sarah or Sallie as Williams wife. If William were to remarry in Grainger in 1821, then move to Illinois in 1829, The land deeds would give the spouses name as Nancy. These marriages are not the same William, spouse names do not correlate, as well as William married to Sarah could write, whereas the William who married to Nancy could not.

Moving on…

In searching for the probate records of Thomas, we return to Greene County. I noticed that Thomas was the administrator of  2 other probates. One was Isaac Short, probate in 1838. (not the same Isaac of Sumner County, but is important to note family naming traditions) The other was Joshua Mastin Short, probate 1841. Who are these people and how do they fit in?

Isaac Short

(Not the same Isaac of Sumner County Tennessee)

William, Charles, and Sally, were the 3 infants of Isaac Short at the time of his death in 1838. To which John J Hardin was appointed the guardian. (Estate file box #68)

Documents from the Greene County courthouse, circuit court boxes (box #27 file 5) revealed a document signed by B.J. Scott (another administrator of Isaac probate) naming William & Sarah as Isaacs parents and included sisters names: Nancy “who has intermarried with a man unknown”, Elizabeth Short who married John Bube, Cynthia Short who married Joshua McDaniel and Fanny Short.

Also states that the widow, Paulina (maiden name was Rook, as discovered in the Greene County marriage records) has remarried to Stephen Coonrod. (Document dated April 1841) Also note that in the land records, dated 18 Jan 1840, William deeds the property to “the heirs of Isaac Short”.

Williams other son, Charles Short

William had 1 other son, named Charles, born in Cumberland County, Tennessee in 1825. In the membership records of the Iowa GAR it lists Charles parents as William Short and Sarah Sproddle. William is still in Illinois in September 1845, when he sells his land to Thomas, and died before 1850, probably in the vicinity of Grant County, Wisconsin.

In the 1850 census of Benton Wisconsin (Lafayette County, which is next to Grant County) Sarah, the wife of William is living with her son, Charles Martin Short, and his wife Ann, and grandson Charles. The census shows Sarahs age as 63 and born about 1787 in Tennessee. In 1860 she is still living with Charles and family, in Benton, Wisconsin.

Joshua Mastin Short

Joshua Mastin Short probate records from the Greene County Courthouse

  • Dated 9 January 1947. Whereupon Thomas J Short made an affidavit in which he states that about on the 3rd day of January AD 1847, Joshua M Short departed this life….Ordered that administration of said estate be granted to Thomas J Short”
  • Final report of administration dated September 1876 “amount held for distribution between 6 heirs children….Benjamin Short, George W Short, May Haggard, Nancy Jane Pinkerton, Catherine Crayne, Julian Crayne”
  • A note dated 5 Sept 1876 – “We the undersigned being the brothers and sisters Joshua M Short, deceased hereby acknowledge that our mother, Ann Hunter, decd…” [Anns maiden name was Chaney, she must have remarried] signed Nancy Jane Pinkerton, Catheren Crayne, Julie Ann Crayne
  • Two promissory notes, one dated 30 August 1830 & signed by Joshua M Short, Thomas J Short & Drewry Overby. The other dated 9 November 1840 signed by Joshua M Short & William Short.

James Robert Short

The Blackhawk War pension records (#4923) he states: “I am a married man. My Wifes full name is Sarah J Short. Her maiden name was Sarah Jane Walton. We were married in Kaufman County, Texas December 27th, 1867… My former wifes maiden name was Amie Overby, She died June 1st, 1867. After our marriage, she was named Amie Short.

He then goes on to list his children: John R Short b. 9 October 1834; Mary S Short b. 4 May 1841; Susan K Short b. 27 April 1843; James E Short b. 8 April 1847; Tennessee Short b. 27 October 1848; Nicholas M Short b. 12 January 1851; George W Short b. 7 May 1857; Jesse F.M. Short b. 29 November 1868; Robert J Short b. 28 May 1872. It also says James was a private, enlisted in 1832 in Carrollton, Illinois & was discharged later that year.

In the probate records of Thomas Jefferson Short, there was found a record of a debt between James R Short & Thomas that had been marked “good” in the records. In the estate box was found a letter from James, while living in Kansas, to Thomas dated 1867, asking Thomas if he would loan him $100.00.

DNA Evidence

A known “Short” DNA match to my father also tested his YDNA (we will call him Y1) He is of Irish descent. Y1 is a descendant of the Isaac of Sumner County 1820 Census. I had believed that the information in the book was an error, until….

I recently found a male “Short” direct descendant through Thomas’ son Henry and had his YDNA tested, (we will call him Y2). The results came back with a whole new direction of research.

The results show that Y2 is not a Short, he is a Counts. The interesting thing about this Y2 test, one of his closest YDNA matches is also an autosomal match to my father. Since the MRCA for Y2 and my father is Thomas, the NPE would have taken place before Thomas.

Since Y1 match being the descendant of Isaac, (found in the 1820 Sumner County, Tennessee census) brother to William, this would indicate the NPE is Thomas’ parents. Therefore, I believe Thomas is the son of Elizabeth Short, who was born a Short, and one of the sons of Nicholas Counts 1751-1838 Grainger County Tennessee. (This Counts family is also of German descent, spelled Kuntze) That he had 2 brothers, Joshua Mastin Short, and James Robert Short.

**We have just received the YDNA results of a descendant of James Robert Short. I will post more information as we weave our way through the results.

For the Short surname forum on anscavating click here


Greene County Historical & Genealogical Society; PO Box 137; Carrollton, Illinois 62016 – (217) 942-6013
Greene County Illinois Courthouse; 520 N Main Street #2; Carrollton, Illinois 62616 – (217) 942-6731

About the author: Christina Marshall
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