Founding CFS Member Charles von Dietrich Knighton

The late Charles von Dietrich Knighton was well known in genealogy circles for many years, beginning as a child in 1947 when he found a copy of Sophia Bear Sherlock’s Lineage Memorial. 

A founding member of the Clay Family Society, he contributed mightily to its success, both as a presenter and as a member of the board. For many years he was the chair of the Cemetery Restoration Committee.

Even before retiring from his profession as an interior designer for the federal government, Charles began work on his families, and ultimately in 2006, published his first book on the families with researcher, and another descendant of John Clay (immigrant to Virginia, 1613), Pat Donaldson Mills.

Clay, Bruce, and Kavanaugh Families: Lineage Memorial – Revisited

by Charles von Dietrich Knighton and Patricia M Donaldson

This book traces descendants of three Colonial Virginia families who settled in Kentucky’s bluegrass region before 1800.

  • Clay of the Old Dominion
    Charles Clay, born 1645 in Charles City County, Virginia, died about May 1686 in Henrico County, Virginia. Notable descendants include Dr. Henry Clay (1736-1820) of Bourbon County, Kentucky, his double first cousin General Green Clay (1757-1826), and statesman Henry Clay (1777-1852). Dr. Henry Clay was the father of Elizabeth (Clay) Bruce (1755-1832), of the fifth generation.
  • Bruce of “Kentucke” County, Virginia
    John Bruce was born 30 April 1748 in Virginia, the son of an exiled Highland Scot. He was a Revolutionary War soldier who took up land in what are now Garrard and Lewis Counties in Kentucky, where the family prospered. His numerous descendants include Horatio Gates Bruce (1793-1858), lawyer, and Kentucky State Legislator, Sophia (Bruce) Palmer (c. 1782-1818), and her daughter, Margaret (Palmer) Kavanaugh (1812-1860). Lt. General Andrew Davis Bruce (1894-1969), first chancellor of the University of Houston, Texas, was of the fifth generation.
  • Kavanaugh of the Old South
    Philemon Kavanaugh, born about 1690 to Irish exiles, died in the Colony of Virginia before August, 1744. Philemon’s descendants by his two wives include Philemon (b. 1754) of Culpeper County who was killed by Indians in Montgomery County, Virginia, in 1779 for his red hair; Hubbard Hinde Kavanaugh (1802-1884), Bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Sophia Elizabeth (Kavanaugh) Bear, born 1830 in Garrard County, Kentucky, died 1871 Jefferson County, Indiana, was of the sixth generation.

Lineage Memorial – Revisited, looks at the same Clay, Bruce, and Kavanaugh families as his aunt Sophia Bear Sherlock’s original Lineage, clarifying and correcting some aspects, particularly in light of more recent and verified research, as well as errors that crept into the original by the publisher.

Additionally, Charles has looked extensively at the later generations of the families, bring much down to the mid-twentieth century, and expanding out to some of the allied branches.

The book is graced with cover art by Sallie Clay Lanham, showing her painting of Ashland, home of Senator Henry Clay.

The book is no longer available, however, this “online” version, updated in 2007, with corrections, including a special addition by Shirley Langdon Wilcox) will continue to be updates as members provide new information on these families. Contact Pat Dunford for further information.



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