The Unsolved Mystery of John Isham Bullard

As an amateur genealogist, be prepared to sometimes get things wrong. Bruce Lee said, “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”

In late 2019, I came to the startling realization that my third-great-grandfather, John Bullard, was not who I thought he was.

I studied my grandmother’s brother’s Ancestry DNA test and found very weak matches to descendants of Mary Reeves and Henry Bullard, John’s supposed parents. There were much higher matches to other Bullard family descendants who were not closely related to Henry Bullard.

So…how did I get this wrong? I copied from everyone else’s family tree. Yes, I did that. But, it looked legit! There WAS a John Bullard who was Henry’s son. He was probably about the same age as my John Bullard. They both lived in the same rural county, DeKalb, in Tennessee. Both were said to be in the Civil War. My relatives even had John linked as a son to Henry on their family trees, so I thought it checked out.

However, DNA doesn’t lie. There are strong matches to a different group of Bullards who ALSO ended up in DeKalb County, Tennessee. Using census data, I couldn’t confirm or eliminate any Johns.

I used a Civil War pension record retrieval service to order the pension packet for John Bullard; his pension was originally requested by his daughter, Nancy Jane Bullard Carroll. I hoped this would solve the mystery of John’s parents, but it didn’t. It did provide some clues as to his real identity and also where Nancy was living in a year where I couldn’t find her on the census record (1910/1911 – Fort Towson, Oklahoma).

Here in the link to Google Drive to retrieve John Bullard’s entire pension file. If you have trouble accessing it, email me at and I’ll email you a copy.

Without further ado, here is the complete records timeline for the “real” John Bullard. Let’s solve this mystery together!

Records Timeline

John Isham Bullard – The only proof of his full name comes from Nancy’s Declaration of a Minor Child in Order to Obtain a Pension.

Minor Child Declaration - John Bullard's Daughter Nancy Jane

Birth year – Unknown. He’s not identifiable on any census records. It could range from 1851 to earlier if we estimate he was at least 18 in 1869 when he married Margaret Pack.

Birth place – John was born in North Carolina according to Nancy’s answers of her father’s birth place on the 1880, 1900, and 1920 census. DNA shows matches with Bullards from Robeson and Columbus counties in North Carolina.

1861 – 1865 – Nancy Carroll states that her father was in the Civil War in her pension request. She says he was a Corporal in the 2nd Volunteer Calvary, Company A or B (Union). There was no John Bullard in that Calvary. Here is one of the letters she was sent in response.

1911 Bullard Commissioner Letter

In a letter dated 22 Oct. 1895, Nancy gives additional names of the men her father served under: Captain L.N. Woodside and Colonel W.M. Hathaway. She apologizes for any previous wrong information, saying it came from her mother. She says the names of Woodside and Hathaway came from her father’s “comrade out in service with him” who resides in Franklin, Kentucky, named B.W. Bullard. B.W. Bullard is Burgoyne W. Bullard whose son, Charles, married Nancy’s husband’s sister, Ida Carroll. DNA points to Burgoyne and John being related, likely cousins. (My best guess right now is that their fathers were brothers.)

Nancy letter with commanders 1895

  • Who was “Captain L.N. Woodside”? – In 1862, L.N. Woodside was a private in Company A of the Fifth (Union) Regiment Calvary, sometimes called the First Middle Tennessee Calvary, Stoke’s Calvary. This group was made up of DeKalb County men. There was a Lieutenant L.N. Woodside, appointed 21 Mar 1864, to Company G of the First Federal Regiment of Mounted Infantry, made up of DeKalb County men. (Source: History of DeKalb County)
  • Who was “Colonel W.M. Hathaway”? – In the Fourth (Union) Mounted Infantry, William L. Hathaway was appointed captain 29 Oct. 1864 of Company F. Hathaway lived in Liberty, DeKalb County (pg. 235, History of DeKalb County)
  • Was B.W. Bullard of Franklin, Kentucky in the Civil War? – Burgoyne was born Dec. 1848. In 1860, he was 13, living with parents Stephen and Irena Bullard in Columbus, North Carolina. That’s young to be in the Civil War, but not impossible. I do not know when he moved to Tennessee. He is there by 1870, living with mother, Irena in DeKalb County. I have found no record of Burgoyne being in the Civil War.

23 Dec 1869 – “I.J. Bullard” married “M.J. Pack” in DeKalb County, Tennessee. 150 years ago! (Tennessee Marriage Records)

IJ Bullard and MJ Pack

1870 – The Bullard family is not on the census for this year.

Apr 1870 – John dies of “brain fever” in Cannon County, Tennessee. (See document above – “Declaration of a Minor Child in Order to Obtain a Pension”)

29 Sep 1870 – Nancy Jane Bullard is born to Margaret Jane Pack Bullard. She was the only child of John according to the below letter from 1908. John never had the chance to meet his daughter.

DNA testing indicates John Isham Bullard had some Native American ancestry.

Do you also descend from Nancy Jane Bullard Carroll/Carrell? Any information you have would be helpful in solving this mystery! Email me at

Posted 11 Jan 2020

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