DELMARVA ALMANAC

Finding The McCabe Roots - Part II

by Dana Kester-McCabe

This is part two of our interview with Vernon McCabe about the search for his ancestors.

Last week we introduced you to my father in law Vernon McCabe who has spent over thirty years researching his family genealogy. He told us how he got started and some of his experiences finding all his cousins and putting them in his book of the descendants of one John McCabe. This week we will learn about his search to find out who the parents were of this ancestor.

Vernon’s search is filled with promising leads that turned out to be wrong along with those that did bear genealogical fruit. Here is Vernon to tell us a bit about John McCabe:

Vernon McCabe
“How he got here I don’t know. There is a rumor though. There’s not a rumor. Uh, there was an ad placed in a Philadelphia paper many years back, offering a reward for the return of an indentured servant named John McCabe. He was within a year of our John McCabe’s birth. But that could be explained by how long it had been since he ran away from his indentured-ship; that sort of thing.”

“But anyway, uh, I was telling my lawyer about this, one time, and was telling him about the description of John McCabe. And, the last part of it was that he was about 5’8”, and was missing a toe, and had a big mouth. And the lawyer said: “Uh huh. It’s got to be your ancestor.”

“He came and married somewhere around 1752. He got a patent for some property around 1754. And he ended up fighting in the Revolutionary War extensively. I guess, walking most of the time: New Jersey down to South Carolina, I think. And, that is all we really knew until last Spring.”


Vernon mentioned John’s Revolutionary War service. It is worth telling here that John was one of the first to volunteer for Delaware’s storied Continental Regiment early in 1777. This regiment served in most of the major battles of the war and was often called on for especially difficult duties because of their reputation as a valiant cohesive unit of brave fighting soldiers. John McCabe returned in 1783 to Selbyville without many of his fallen comrades, to live out the last years of his life. A few years ago an historic marker telling this story was erected in the cemetery there through the efforts of the former Delaware State Archivist Russell McCabe who is indeed a cousin and in the McCabe book.

The origins of Vernon’s ancestor John McCabe have until recently remained a mystery.

Vernon McCabe:
“No one knew where he came from. We tried, even had a researcher back in Ireland who told me that, well, his name was John McCabe too. And, he said that he had no knowledge of where the guy had come from.”

“Last Fall a cousin from out in Ohio, originating from Selbyville, was scrolling through her internet on Ancestry.com and she came across a name that seemed familiar to her. She kept going and found out that Edward Patrick [McCabe] has married Lydia Winter. And Lydia Winter’s father was named Obadiah Winter. And our John McCabe’s first son’s name was Obadiah. And then, Edward was also a grandson of John McCabe. And there were just too many coincidences that it had to be connected. But then a lot of doubts arose. And uh, I took her information. Anyway, he had seven kids. Four of ‘em left records. And, I did the descendancies from all four brothers.”

“And, of course I already had John. In doing so, I had been contacted years ago by a fellow by the name of M-e-c-a-b-e from New Jersey, had DNA that was similar to mine within one distance, which meant one generation. But they didn’t take their generation back far enough, or couldn’t take their generation back far enough. And, um, my information came down and connected exactly to him. So that was the further proof.”

“Well that didn’t satisfy some people either. And, I tried to find male descendants and the other two brothers’ descendancies. And, finally a week ago I found one up near Albany, and I am very hopeful that he will do the DNA, and I will have a third brother connected. So, it’s taken all these years but finally we have some parentage for John McCabe.”

:“Their name was M-c-C-a-b-e like my spelling is. Well, anyway I don’t think they were very well educated. We’re talking 1695 now, that this fellow was born. He came into New York. He had the seven kids. They spread out from there. And within two generations he had all sorts of spellings for McCabe. There was a M-e-c-a-b-e. The one I am looking at now was M-c-K-e-e-b-y. There was another one that was M-c-C-a-b-y. Apparently: Kabe’s, although I don’t think they’re in this range. But anyway, with in one family four brothers spelled their names differently within two generations.”

“So, they must not have been writing. The only time their names would have been used was when they went to buy a piece of property. And coming from Scotland, they would have gone into the county seat or whatever you call it. And say: “I’m buying a piece of land.” And it’s only the clerk that had to spell it phonetically. And so each one got a different spelling and no one really knew how they spelled their name. I don’t think. But, yes, they all spelled their names wrong so don’t get fooled.”


Records going back a just few decades will have fewer misspellings but even they can have typos. The farther back you go the more likely you are to encounter variety in the way a name is spelled.

If you want start this kind of research family Bibles are a good place to start. There are also the records of churches, schools, the census, the military, marriage licenses, probated wills, or property transfers. Many records are digitized and available online. For example, the Ocean City Lifesaving Station Museum has a collection of records for Old Somerset and Worcester Counties available on their website.

I actually found that it was kind of fun to go to your county court house and go through the old court records searching for long lost relatives. It is a good idea to call ahead and find out what they have available and whether or not you need to make an appointment. There will be minor fees if you want to print out copies of the records.

If you are lucky you will find that your line connects to someone else who has already documented their family members back many generations. Ancestry.com and other pay services can connect you to the work of other genealogists. They have copies of many public records for America. You will have to pay extra to see records from foreign countries.

If you would like to look for your roots here on Delmarva, there are many resources available such as the Nabb Research Center at Salisbury University, and the Delaware State Archives in Dover. Also visit your local library. Most have a section devoted to local history and the main branch of your county system will have regional records for the census and military service in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. These organizations and local historical societies hold genealogy workshops from time to time which we list on our community calendar.

Click here to find part one of this story.

Find out more about the Vernon McCabe and his book The Descendants of John McCabe: mccabegenealogy.com

Here is a check list to get your search started. Collect the following for any ancestors you are looking for:

  • Full Names

  • Birth Date & Location

  • Death Date & Location

  • Marriage Date & Location

  • Occupations & Employers

  • Branch & approximate dates of military service

  • Schools Attended

  • Religious Affiliation & Place of Worship

  • Places they may have owned property


This information may lead you to look for your ancestors' names on ship manifests, in census records, court probate records, church records, among others. Here are links to some resources to help you get started: