Nickens Home Page

Welcome to the Nickens Family History site!

The purpose of this site is to present an overview and history of Nickens families of the United States. Much of the information here is the result of research conducted by the administrator of this site over the last 25 years.  In the process of trying to overcome a brick wall and discover the roots of my Nickens lineage I collected a wide variety of information about Nickens families in every location I found them.

The research uncovered fascinating aspects of the social history of this country encompassed within one family history.  Today the census tells us that about half of the Nickens in this country are identified as African American and about half are identified as white. Despite those identities, however, many come from common roots. This is not a case  of African American families taking the names of slave owners, or descending from slave owners. Rather, it is a story of white families descending from admixed families who were classified as free people of color before the Civil War.

I began my research by picking up the trail where my uncle had run into a brick wall in early Tennessee. The problem that my uncle had was in trying to find a white Nickens family who would be the ancestors of our oldest identified ancestor born in Tennessee in 1842.  He found the majority of the Nickens families were identified as mulatto or black in different census years, and dismissed those families as possibilities. Although a couple of the families appeared to be identified as white, our ancestor did not fit into those families. He was unable to find an answer.

When I began my own research, more resources were available and I was able to travel to libraries and local court houses to examine more records. It became apparent that all the Nickens families in Tennesse were related, whether they were identified as white, black or mulatto. That lead me down the path of further research into the Nickens throughout the country to see how they were related and where different family lines originated. Tracking historical migration of those families, it was clear that all paths lead back to North Carolina and Virginia. With the help of information published by researchers like Paul Heinegg, the path lead eventually to Lancaster County, Virginia as the origin of most of the Nickens lines in the US.

Although the original intent was to publish the information I have collected in book form, I feel a website will make the information more accessible and more widely available. This history is not just my history, after all, but is the history of countless descendants today. This format has the additional benefit of allowing for immediate updating when new information is discovered, and it is an ongoing search. Since the core of my research has focused on the Nickens surname, the Society of One Name Studies seemed to offer a good location to house this website.

A secondary purpose of this site is to present the history of this family in a manner that allows for easy access to images and documents. Rather than relying on footnotes to reference different source materials, images of those source materials can be displayed within the website.  The aim is to gradually upload and make available images of the many primary sources that tell the story of different family histories. In addition, there is the added benefit of the ability to easily move back and forth to connected information on different pages.

A fair amount has been written about this family. Unfortunately some of it is wrong and some is speculation that is presented as facts. Although there is certainly room for different interpretations of records, stories without a basis in records are simply fiction.  These pages will attempt to identify and make available the records that do exist so interested researchers and family members at least have access to the same records.

The site is far from complete and more material and analysis will continue to be added. Also, some major gaps remain in our knowledge about the early history of various Nickens lines and hopefully material will be uncovered that fills in some of those gaps. DNA will also be of use as more test results become available and may contribute to answering some of those questions in the future.

Questions, comments, corrections and disagreements based on reasoned and documented arguments are most welcome.

Janice Nickens Valdez

NIckens Surname

Today the surname Nickens is found primarily in the United States. Although the name Nickens was also found in England historically, it appears that the Nickens surname in the United States did not derive from the English name. The name apparently died out in England as no current instances of the name were found in a quick survey. Studying historical occurrences of name in England is a future project.

In 2010 there were about 3,246 individuals with the surname Nickens counted in the US Federal census.  Given that about 43 percent are white and 46 percent are black, this might suggest two different origins of these families. The surprising thing is that most of them actually share a common origin.

The census statistics do not reflect the full picture of  identity because there is also a small percentage that identify as Hispanic as indicated in the table.  A smalll percentage identify as Native American and perhaps in other ways as well.

The census statistics reflect how people identify culturally and socially. While social identity reflects one aspect of ancestry, DNA records more complex aspects of genetic ancestry. What DNA shows for various Nickens descendants tested to date is a mixture (of varying percentages) of European, African, Native American, and traces of South Asian and Middle Eastern ancestry. The Nickens are an American family with ancestors from all over the world who came to North America and mixed together with each other and with native people to create, as Joel Williamson (1995) says, a new people.

Nickens in the 2000 and 2010 US Federal Census

Names compiled from the 2000 and 2010 US Census

Name Rank Number Of People People Per 100,000 Population Year White Percent Black Percent Hispanic Percent
NICKENS 9940 3,246 1.10 2010 43.19% 48.46% 2.90%
NICKENS 10270 2,876 1.07 2000 45.13% 48.96% 1.29%

Brief History

The Nickens have an interesting and unusual history. The majority of Nickens in the United States today descend from a family who made their appearance in records in Lancaster County Virginia in 1690.

The name Nickens itself apparently originated with the family in the early 1700s. While the name Nickens was also found in England historically, it appears that the Nickens surname in the United States did not derive from the English name. Instead, the name seems to have derived from the name Yoconohawckon, a name used by a couple who were freed in the 1690 will of John Carter, Jr., a wealthy and influential figure in early Virginia history. The couple were identified as Black Dick and Chriss in the will and they were to be set free along with three children. After several years they were identified with the name Yoconohawcon and then eventually members of the family moved to using the name Nickon, then Nicken and then Nickens. See Evolution of the Nickens Name for records and discussion of the development of the name.


From this Lancaster County family descended many Nickens lines.  One of the interesting facts about the family is that descendants today, stemming from the same roots, identify as African American, White and/or Native American. In some cases migration facilitated a change in identify as some descendant lines established themselves as White when moving to new locations.

From Lancaster County Virginia descendants spread to other parts of Virginia, to North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and eventually to many other states. This website has information organized by states and includes descriptions of the migration and settlement patterns of Nickens families in each state.

Migration paths varied. The earliest out migration from Lancaster County occurred sometime before 1750 to North Carolina, and then some of the North Carolina descendants moved on to Tennessee shortly after 1800.  Other family members gradually moved from Lancaster County to other counties in Virginia, and shortly after 1800 one group migrated to Ohio. In 1820 descendants were living in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Ohio. There is also evidence of an early family in Pennsylvania and one in New York.

Location of Families with Surname Nickens 1790-1880

If you are interested in your recent family history, or are not sure where your Nickens family connects to the Nickens history, you can begin with where your family was living around 1900. That should provide enough information to connect to other branches and follow your family backward to other locations.  If you are interested in the deeper history of the Nickens you can begin with the Evolution of the Nickens Name and the Virginia 1700s pages and move forward as branches migrate to different locations.