by Neil Allen Bristow
Rev. January 2003
Most of the Kentucky Bristows can trace their descent back to John Bristow (1649?-1716), who settled in Middlesex County, Virginia. There have been four major published genealogies of his line:
An early effort was that by Myon Edison Bristow, "Notes on the Bristow Family," which originally appeared in several installments in Tyler's Quarterly Historical Magazine, July, 1940 (XII No 4) through April 1942 (XIV No 4). It is more readily available in the reprint collection, Genealogies of Virginia Families from Tyler's Quarterly (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1981), 1: 221-275. [James Morgan of Texas tells me it is now available on a Family Tree Maker CD, #187.]
Building on M. E. Bristow's work, John Walton examined two of the more notable Kentucky branches in "Politicians and Statesmen: Bristows in American Government", originally published in the Filson Club History Quarterly 48: 305-326. It has been reprinted in Genealogies of Kentucky Families from the Filson Club History Quarterly (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1981), 68-89. [The article is now online at Duane Bristow's excellent site.]
The most complete genealogy to date (in terms of numbers of lines covered) is Gordon Byron Woolley's John Bristow of Middlesex and His Descendants through Ten Generations (New York: Vantage Press, 1969).
Another comprehensive work is J. Gary Woodward, The Bristows of Virginia and Some of their Descendants (1049 Fifth Avenue, Leavenworth, KS: author, 1991).
- Gary has posted the full text, along with much other material, on the new
Bristows of Virginia site on Yahoo. (Access requires signing up for a free Yahoo account and joining the group, but the wealth of information makes it worthwhile.)
These published works drew on the diligent labors of many researchers. Among them was Judge Louis Lunsford Bristow (1850-1921), whose work was continued after his death by his niece and nephew, Mary Elizabeth Coombs (Mrs George F Eaton) and Joseph Edward Coombs. Mrs Eaton, who died in 1992 at the age of 105, was actively pursuing family history well into her 90s. She and her daughter, Jane Bea Eaton (Mrs Clinton E White), were familiar figures throughout north-central Kentucky, visiting family graveyards, delving into old records, and showing new owners of old homesteads a bit of the property's history. She and her brother Joe also maintained a lively correspondence with cousins around the country. Among Mary Coombs Eaton's efforts was the compilation of "The Bristow Blue Book", which was an attempt to update information about the family, with emphasis on the descendants of Reuben Louis Bristow and Statira Bonaparte (Stephens) Bristow, her grandparents. Copies of the Blue Book, along with much related material, can be seen at the Kenton County Public Library's Local History-Genealogy collection in Covington.
Some of Reuben and Statira's line can also be found in Herbert E. Ryle's Antecedents and Descendants of Benjamin Stephens of Orange County, Virginia, and Kentucky (Upper Marlboro, MD: author, 1970). This was updated in The Stephens/Ryle Book: The History and Descendants of Benjamin Stephens, Sr., of Orange County, Virginia and Campbell County, Ky and John Ryle, Sr., of Anson County, North Carolina Who Died in 1777 and Whose Children Settled in Boone County, Kentucky, published in 1987.
Much of the information presented by Woolley and Ryle, and Mary Coombs Eaton, has been verified by tracking down primary sources. I have found only a few minor errors, usually involving the inevitable interpretation of dates, the use of a nickname, or the confusion of cousins bearing the same name. I only regret that they did not supply source documentation to assist their younger cousins.
Some browsing on the web has turned up references to one recent and two earlier works, which I have not been able to run down. If anyone can supply more information, please let me know.
- Floridel Shaw Kennedy Bristow, The Many Branches of the Bristow Family Tree --, 1996. [Listing on AOL]
- Bertha Anderson Bristow, An Historical Genealogy of the James Franklin (Frank) Bristow Family Line --, 1968. [Listing on AOL]
- (Another listing I found on AOL, Bristow; Bristow; More Bristow by Frank Dickens, turns out to be a compilation of a long-running British comic strip, featuring a bemused fellow named Bristow. Anthony Guter, a fan of the strip, clued me in and provided a link to the creator's site. Not much there of genealogical import, but it may provide a chuckle or two.)
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a catalog entry for
- Nola Egle Mahaffey, Bristow Gleanings ([n.p.]: author, 1992)
The Allen County Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana has a catalog entry for letters of an Oregon pioneer (who is discussed in Walton):
- Elijah Lafayette Bristow (1832-1887), Letters, 1857 - 1864 (Eugene, OR: Lane County Historical Society, 1961?) [Originals in Lane County Historical Museum]
Joseph D. Bristow passes along the following title which deals with a Southern branch:
- Sarah N. Spencer, compiler, Mississippi Bristers, Ancestors and Descendants Twelve Generations 1649-1995. (Copyright 1995 by Sarah N. Spencer - Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 95-69339) All Correspondence and book orders should be directed to Sarah N. Spencer, 430 Monticello Street, Bogue Chitto, MS 39629
Two contemporary, first-person sources are also available for the Kentucky Bristows. The journals of Reuben's sister, Mary Beckley Bristow (1808-1890), provide a wealth of clues about four generations of the family and give valuable insights into life in 19th-century Kentucky. I have published an annotated version of her writings, known in the family as Aunt Pollys Diary. Images of the originals are available on microfilm at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, as items M-144 and M-380 in the Special Collections department of the Margaret I. King Library. A photocopy is in the Kenton County Public Library.
The second contemporary source is General Leonard Stephens' correspondence with his brother William, which has many references to his son-in-law, Reuben Bristow, and his family. The original documents are at the Missouri Historical Society Library in Saint Louis. I have posted my transcriptions of the General's letters and diaries. Transcripts are to be found in Ruth Douglass Stephens, Stephens Letters and Documents (Fair Lawn, NJ: author, 1987).
Additional Bristow genealogical notes and abstracts have been posted at my Bristow Family pages.
Some of the Bristows and their inlaws were the subjects of biographical sketches in the numerous Kentucky and county histories that have appeared over the years. Although of widely variable quality, the sketches can often clarify connections passed over by previous family historians and lead into fruitful lines of research. Michael L. Cook's Kentucky Index of Biographical Sketches (Evansville, IN: Cook Publications, 1986) is the first place to check. Online versions of many of these can be found at the Kentucky Biographies site.
Finally, those who seek a better understanding of the lives of the immigrant John Bristow and his neighbors in early Tidewater Virginia should consult Darrett B. Rutman and Anita H. Rutman, A Place in Time: Middlesex County, Virginia, 1650-1750 (New York: Norton, 1984).
Most genealogical libraries will have the first two references. All other references, unless otherwise noted, can be found at the Kentucky Historical Society Library in Frankfort, which is an almost limitless trove of information.
Several other works touch on small branches of our tree, but deal mostly with inlaws. They include:
- Walter Burges Smith II, CG, Edward Clark Genealogy, 1676-1988... (Camden ME: Picton Press, 1988) [re William Bristow = Margaret Clark, Middlesex VA]
- Deborah A. Sprouse, The Seale Family of Old Virginia (Edgewood, MD: Edgewood Press, 1981)
- Blanche Elizabeth Adcock Lawless, A Family History: Adcock, John, of Buckingham County Virginia (Astoria, IL: Stevens Publishing, Rev Ed 1973)
There were also some Bristows who favored the Bristol form of the name and took a wrong turn and settled in early New England. They are treated in Donald Lines Jacobus, Richard and Henry Bristow or Bristol of Guilford and New Haven, Conn. A reprint from unknown source is at the FHL [929.237 A1 no 6764].
The wonderful Library of Virginia (formerly the Virginia State Library) has an annotated copy of a rare work dealing with the Bristows in Tudor England.
- Charles A. Bernau, Fellow of Soc of Genealogists, London, comp., Record of the Bristowe Family (Privately printed, 1913. Copy 11/20) [annotated photocopy VSL CS489.B861]
Among the several memoirs by Bristows, I especially enjoyed Joseph Quayle Bristow, Tales of Old Fort Gibson: Memories along the Trail to Yesterday of the Oklahoma Indian Territory and the Old South (New York: Exposition Press, c1961)
For additional leads, consult the Library of Congress on-line catalog.
Also do not neglect the LDS Family History Library catalog.
For articles dealing primarily with Bristows, check PERSI (the Periodical Source Index), now published on CD for the Allen County Public Library by Ancestry. An on-line version is available for those who subscribe to Ancestry.com
If anyone can add to this list, please do. Complete bibliographical information (author, title, publication data) is appreciated, but not necessary. I invite your comments and corrections. Drop me a note.