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May Genealogy by Tress May Francis
This book is now on a CD

Copy of the cover page of the manuscript Tress May Francis submitted to the
Kentucky Historical Society in August 1956.

Tress May was a daughter of Beverly Clarke May and Annie Laurie Auxier and a granddaughter of William James May and Cynthia Ann Powers. She was educated in the city schools of Prestonsburg. On December 26, 1924 she was married by Rev. Guy Coffman of M.E. Church South to Gordon Francis in the home of her parent in Prestonsburg. She attended Eastern State Teachers College, Richmond, KY and taught her first school at Dwale, Kentucky, followed by seven years in the Prestonsburg City School. She was an active member of the First Methodist Church and the John Graham Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

On August 10, 1956 Tress May Francis wrote the Kentucky Historical Society to submit a copy of the May family history and records that she had compiled over a period of 25 years. These years of research date to a period when descendants of John May and Sarah Phillips May held large annual reunions in Eastern and Central Kentucky. Relatives at these friendly gatherings probably inspired her to compile records of the family and as the work grew and became a large collection she obviously wanted it preserved for future generations. All May descendants should be very grateful for the loving effort she put into this volume of over 500 pages.

Tress met and corresponded with many relatives to collect information on their respective branches of the family. Most of the detailed records in her work are of descendants of three of John and Sarah May's children, Samuel, Thomas and Reuben May. Her information on Samuel's descendants was limited to about 60 pages about members of a few branches of his family. Most of Samuel's children left Floyd County years before the Civil War and as time passed were no longer in contact with their cousins in Eastern Kentucky. She also exchanged family information with other genealogists, primarily Homer Eiler and Mrs. Howard W. Woodruff, who researched and wrote about descendants of John and Sarah's oldest son, John May (Jr.).

Sometime before 1985, Tress gave a copy of her last version of the manuscript, typed on legal size paper, to her first cousin, Josephine (Penie) Davidson Fields. This copy became the source that Samuel Davidson Hatcher used while transcribing its contents to a computer file and recording it on a CD. Now, for the first time, genealogists interested in the May family history can have easy access to this extensive compilation of family records as they existed in 1956.

Letter offering her manuscript to the Kentucky Historical Society

Following a positive response from the Kentucky Historical Society,
Tress sent them her manuscript.


Family Research as of 1956.

When Tress made her work available to the Kentucky Historical Society in 1956, hers was the first comprehensive research on the family branches descended from Samuel, Thomas and Reuben May. Very limited information had been preserved by the family during the previous 156 years they had lived in the Big Sandy Valley in Eastern Kentucky and a only few undocumented traditions served to tell about earlier May ancestors.

The first history of John May and his descendants to make it into print was a short essay in a booklet by Homer Eiler of Topeka, Kansas - a great grandson of John May (Jr.) and a great-great grandson of John and Sarah May. Compiling his work for a number of years prior to 1929, Eiler had only a vague notion of John's ancestors coming to America "about 1725, sooner or later." He assumed they "landed, no doubt, at Baltimore and took up their residence in Maryland, then later in Virginia." Eiler went to some length to proffer a claim that the May family was of early English origin, even if the immigrants might have lived in Germany. He wasn't able to distinguish his ancestor John May from a number of other men with the same name who resided in Virginia prior to the Revolution. Eiler employed genealogists to do research for him, searching through marriage records from courthouses of a dozen counties in Virginia and Maryland. He found that a John May was living in Western North Carolina in the 1790s, but he wasn't able to determine when he arrived in that remote frontier region.

Eiler concluded that, John and Sarah moved to Shelby Creek - in what was then Floyd, but now is Pike County, Kentucky- about 1800. He stated that John died in 1810, which is close to the actual date of 1813. He also succeeded in locating and photographing the graves of John and Sarah on Shelby Creek: "about four miles above its mouth into the Big Sandy River." At one point in his narrative, Eiler makes reference to a list of John's children found in an 1815 Floyd County deed. He speculates that the older children, including his ancestor, John May (Jr.), may have been born in Virginia, and the others born in North Carolina. From the age inscribed on John's tombstone - located in Shelbyville, Illinois - Eiler calculates that he was born in 1783, but also notes that other records say it may have been as early as 1780.


1. Homer Eiler was affiliated with a number of civic and patriotic organizations in Kansas. He also served as a Director and Member of the Executive Board of the Kansas Historical Society.
2. In 1796, the region where John lived became part of the new state of Tennessee.
3. The actual location about 2.2 miles from the river.

© 2006 Fred T. May