Saturday, February 28, 2015

Some Saturday Stats

Through the years, a number of expletive-laden comments have been made about statistics. After all, not many people have fond memories of their college statistics classes. I can hardly blame them.

Today, though, I am not ashamed to stand and confess, “Statistics is my friend.” Why? In times when a researcher gets so mired in the details as to lose sight of the goal, impartial numbers can serve as encouragement. After all, a number doesn’t bend to make me happy, or tell me lies (contrary to a certain popular quote). A number is a number is a number. And right now, I need some numbers to help me see that I am, indeed, making progress.

It’s the task I’m bogging down in that’s gotten to me: trying to sort through the generations of all the descendants of my Taliaferro line. I’ve gone back to the beginning of the 1700s to start with Richard Taliaferro. From there, I’m wending my way through the descendant lines of each of Richard and Rose Berryman Taliaferro’s thirteen—at least—children.

Last time I talked about this, I had been working on the lines of their son, Dr. John Taliaferro. That was nine days ago.

I’m still working on that same line. Did I make any progress at all?

It doesn’t feel like it.

That, you see, is why I need to employ some numbers. Think of this as my Cheering-Up Party. Statistics are for celebrating.

Turns out, all that hard work did get me somewhere. Last time I looked, I had less than fourteen hundred people in my family tree database. I am now up to almost nineteen hundred. Over five hundred entries in nine days isn’t bad. No wonder it felt so tedious!

Meanwhile, over at Family Tree DNA, where my autosomal DNA “Family Finder” test results await my return, the match tally is racing me. Last time I looked, I had seven hundred fifty matches. Now, there are seven hundred sixty seven.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to add any more of those matches to my confirmed relationships count. There is so much yet to learn about those ancestors seven generations back—and beyond.

When you find yourself doing a lot of work, yet having precious little to show for the effort, it is statistics that can shine the light on your progress. Yes, I’ve been swamped under the data dump from endless pages of old genealogies. But sometimes, it helps to stop what you are doing and come up for air. Keeping a count of the mile markers passed, the surnames aggregated, the records collected helps.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Three Brothers and a War

Absorbing the sweeping panorama of the Taliaferro family history in rapid-fire succession of generations as I have been, I’ve fast-forwarded through quite a bit of family drama. Because I’m taking as methodical an approach as possible using an established genealogy, I’ve started with the siblings of my fifth great grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, reading forward through time in all the descendant branches.

Right now, I’m following the lines of Zachariah’s brother, Dr. John Taliaferro, born just three years after my ancestor’s 1730 arrival in colonial Virginia. Working through the descendants of John’s daughter Rose—no doubt named after his own mother, Rose Berryman—I have now been approaching the generation spanning the Civil War.

Reading through genealogies tends to subordinate major historical events to that dull—though constant—litany of name, date of birth, date of marriage to specified spouse, listed issue, and, eventually, date of death. The droning of that thrum, thrum, thrum through the ages almost obliterates the realization that those born in the 1840s were most certainly exposed to great upheaval in their young adult lives, twenty years later.

As I moved through the lines of Dr. John’s daughter Rose, the consecutive details on one page of the  genealogy shook me out of that hypnotic lethargy. Rose, who had married a man by name of Joseph Porter, had several children, though the task of documenting them had been challenging, as some from that generation of the family moved from Wilkinson County in Georgia to land in the southern region of Alabama.

Their (possibly) youngest child, Richard Porter, was one of the family who had left their home in Georgia. He and his wife, the former Mary Collins Paul, had at least eleven children.

As I reviewed the details from the genealogical record, I ran across three brothers, born consecutively around the early 1840s. James Henry Porter was born in 1839, followed by Julius Nicholas Porter in 1841 and John Ambrose Benjamin Porter in 1843.

In the book I was consulting—Willie Catherine Ivey’s Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. JohnTaliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro—each young man’s entry was followed by an extra comment: killed in Civil War.

Three sons in one family were lost in one war. I can hardly think of how a loss like that could have been borne. The news reached the family when the first one fell—Julius in January, 1862—and was followed later that same year with confirmation of Benjamin’s loss in August. Less than a year after that—in May, 1863—a third report carried news of the loss of the oldest of the three brothers, James.

I realize casualties like these were experienced by many other families as well—a combination of the prevalence of large families with lack of policy limiting any one family’s risk of losing several sons in military service. When you realize that over six hundred thousand soldiers lost their lives in this war—including an estimated thirty percent of all Southern white males between the ages of eighteen and forty—you gain an academic sense of the enormity of the carnage in those Southern states of my forebears.

What is not as easy to grasp, though, is the impact such tragedy must have had on the individual families living through those times. Reviewing the vital statistics as we in genealogy are wont to do—the litany of name, birth, marriage, death—seems to pass us through such details unscathed. It dulls our senses to the pain of life experiences.

Sometimes, though, despite the repetition, a glitch in the rhythm of life knocks us out of step. Three young sons in a row with names pinned next to premature dates of death can do that. Though this era was also a time filled with childhood deaths and deaths of young mothers, you know this kind of loss must have been received with a great deal of pain by their family, no matter how large it may have been.   

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Same Place, Same Day, Two Marys

Sometimes, genealogical research conundrums drive me to distraction. Prepare yourself for another rabbit trail from said distraction.

As I plow through the ages and generations of Taliaferros and their related lines, it begins to dawn on me just how many of those kin could claim the name Mary Taliaferro.

It all started when I located the actual paperwork—digitized online, of course—for the marriage of my third great grandparents.

I was first alerted to this documentation, thanks to the much-maligned shaky-leaf hints at One hint linked me to a typewritten statement transcribed from some Oglethorpe County, Georgia, official’s records in the early 1800s.

Underneath entry number 1537 dated May 30th, the record added the following:
FACT OF CEREMONY. (Recorded Page 61, Original Book “A”.)
I hereby certify that on the 9th day of June 1818 I joined in holy wedlock Thos. F. Rainey and Mary E. Taliferro.                       Nicholas Powers, M. G.

“M. G.,” of course, referring to the designation “Minister of the Gospel,” informed me—presumably—of the name of the couple’s pastor, from which I might be able to infer the church they attended. I began to think of how I could determine which church might have kept corresponding records of the family’s early years, and how I could possibly locate more information on this nagging roadblock to my research progress. You see, this is the couple for whom I have no other confirmation of the wife’s name. According to other records, Thomas was to be happily married to someone named Nancy, not Mary.

I also began to grouse about not being able to access the original record books, themselves, where I could ascertain for myself whether the transcription was handled properly. After all, people can make mistakes—and, given the abysmal state of some officials’ handwriting, such mistakes were often come by quite honestly.

What was “Original Book ‘A’” and how could I get a look at it?

No sooner said than digitally served up, for the shaky leaves at Ancestry turn out to be prescient, as well. There, in all its abysmal glory, was the near-illegible entry confirming that Nicholas Powers “joined in holy wedlock” Thomas F. Rainey and Mary E. “Talafero.”

Looking back at the original transcript, I’d say that unnamed transcriber got this one right—well, close enough, considering the misspelling of that deceptive Taliaferro surname.

Somehow, in double checking the entry, my eye, caught once again at the name of the minister, happened to slip below to the very next line on the transcription, where, on the exact same day, an entry was made for the marriage of one Nicholas Powers.

Same man? Could the Rev. Nicholas Powers have been in to the Oglethorpe County offices to file the proper paperwork on two of his parishioners, and then slip in the requisite forms for his own marriage at the same time?

But there was more. On this same date—May 30, 1818—this same Nicholas Powers (at least, we presume it was the same man) was not only declaring that he was marrying Mary Taliaferro to Thomas Rainey, he was declaring that he was marrying Mary Taliaferro…to himself.


How could this be? There must have been some confusion in the transcription.

I looked back to the original, handwritten record, to see if I could find the second entry in its original form. Now that I was taking a close look at the original record, I discovered how disjointed it was. Nothing was in date order. This was the record from the Oglethorpe “Ordinary Office,” and apparently, when someone showed up to hand-enter a record, it got the next empty line on the page—whether in date order or not.

It turned out that Thomas Rainey’s wedding was recorded on May 30, but apparently transpired on June 9. Though I checked the page preceding and following the duly noted page 61, I could not find any marriage of a second Mary Taliaferro. Did two Mary Taliaferros get married like the May 30 entries declared? Or was one merely a clerical error? And if not, who was the second Mary? Or was one of the grooms’ names a mistake?

I was beginning to see my recently-acquired confidence over finding Mary Taliaferro’s husband fading into the ether.

Sitting down to think through this puzzle about the consecutively numbered entries, I realized that entry number 1537—Thomas Rainey’s entry—had the follow-up “Fact of Ceremony” entered below it, while entry number 1538—that for the minister, himself—did not. Did the second couple file their intention, yet get cold feet before that fateful day in which they were to meet at the altar?

History, thankfully, was on my side in supplying ample additional evidence that Nicholas Powers did get married to a Mary Taliaferro. But I had yet to figure that out.

I did, eventually, find another digitized, handwritten record book of marriage records—yes, again thanks to’s shaky leaf hints—showing the two consecutive entries. Both dated May 30, 1818, and following one after another on the same page, were the entries I sought.

In the end, it all came down to one specific detail that allowed me to tell the Marys apart: their middle initial. Thomas Rainey, you see, married Mary E. Taliaferro, while his pastor was wed to Mary M. Taliaferro.

While I still cannot find what I need to confirm my suspicions on this case, I believe the Mary who married Thomas Rainey was herself the daughter of the Mary who married the minister. The elder Mary, you see, was the widow of Warren Taliaferro, who apparently died before 1818. This widow was the former Mary Meriwether Gilmer, daughter of Thomas Meriwether Gilmer and Elizabeth Lewis Gilmer. Her 1818 marriage to Nicholas Powers would have been her second.

The only rub is that, if this elder Mary was indeed mother of the Mary who married Thomas Rainey in 1818, both she and her daughter, at their respective first marriages, would have had to have been quite young. You see, the elder Mary—if her headstone can be believed—was born in 1786. The younger Mary was born in 1804.

I’ll let you do the math and decide whether there’s enough margin for this possibility.

All images above courtesy, with specific document locations indicated by in-line hyperlinks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stopping to Smell
Those Genealogical Roses

Every now and then, I run across a solitary detail that makes me perk up and realize the discovery calls for a break from the relentless grind of research. This week, I had such a moment.

Sometimes, in completing genealogical projects, it seems I am just flying through the steps, gleaning data from documents and affixing them to the appropriate locations on my extended family tree. In the case of this current project—that of laying down the foundation of the entire Taliaferro line from settlement in the American colony of Virginia to current day descendants—the rush seems doubly weighing.

The current Taliaferro line I’ve been concentrating on has been that of Dr. John Taliaferro, son of Richard Taliaferro and his wife, Rose Berryman. If you recall your Taliaferro genealogy well—and I can’t blame you if you don’t, even after reading along here at A Family Tapestry faithfully for the last few months—you will realize that Dr. John was younger brother of the Zachariah Taliaferro who was my sixth great grandfather.

My purpose in gathering what seems like extraneous family detail is to provide a database from which to extract links to the seven hundred fifty matches to my autosomal DNA test—many of whom likely relate to me thanks to such colonial connections as the extended Taliaferro family.

Right now, I’ve been laying down a tentative family trail by use of published genealogies from the prior century. I realize these may be rife with fallacies, but I am also certain that, with the aid of computerized search assistance, I can verify those details which were correct in the original publications and modify those which need attention.

The current book I’ve been using has been Willie Catherine Ivey’s The Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. John Taliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro, originally published in 1926. There are several copies of this compilation in libraries across the nation. Thankfully, the Sutro Library in San Francisco was within driving range for me to locate it in my earliest days of research, long before the dawn of convenient online search capabilities—but that edition is now available online through subscription services such as and Heritage Quest.

So there I was, following the line of Dr. John Taliaferro through the decades. I went from his son Richard Taliaferro to his daughter Mary Hardin Taliaferro and her husband Elijah Lingo, to their daughter Mary Hardin Lingo who married Joseph Chappell, to their daughter Varilla Behethland Chappell, wife of Josiah Webster Jossey.

At that point, I started copying out the information on the Jossey daughters, Lorene and Leona. Lorene happened to marry a man whose surname was McNabb, and I couldn’t help but chuckle when that surname conjured up images of law enforcement caricatures created by opportunists in the cartoon world.

I found my mind jerked back to the real world when I moved on to the entry on Lorene’s younger sister, Leona. Born in 1870, by the time she turned the appropriate eighteen years of age, she was given in marriage to a man listed in the Ivey book as Frank L. Stanton. The author’s narrative went on to explain,
Mr. Stanton is Poet Laureate of Georgia and is also connected with The Atlanta Constitution.

Poet laureate? Connected to The Atlanta Constitution? This might be cause to stop and investigate.

I turned to the ever-handy Wikipedia to check out my hunches. Wikipedia obliged, with an article explaining that Frank Lebby Stanton was indeed a columnists for The Constitution—as well as being a well-known lyricist and, two years before his death, appointed the first poet laureate of the State of Georgia by then-governor, Clifford Walker.

Stanton’s roots provide some grounding for his career trajectory. As early as the 1860 census, the three year old Franklin L. Stanton was in the South Carolina household of editor Valentine Stanton. After the Civil War, he was apprenticed to a printer—an occupation he assumed in his early twenties, as witnessed by this 1879 city directory for Charleston, South Carolina.

Through a series of career moves—coupled with sage advice from luminaries in the field of journalism—Stanton ended up in his position as editor and columnist at The Constitution by 1889.

That is all very nicely academic for those of you who aren’t really concerned about the monotonous details of the in-laws of other people’s families. However, by following this Stanton rabbit trail, I discovered a bit more about just what prompted the governor of Georgia to pin Frank L. Stanton with the title of Poet Laureate.

I also discovered how I connect with the creator of the poem inspiring the dubbing of the organization, Graveyard Rabbits.

Perhaps, as a genealogical researcher yourself, you are familiar with the concept of The Association of Graveyard Rabbits. It doesn’t take but a moment of perusing their website to spot a couplet from the poem that inspired their name:
Among the graves…in the gloom and gleam,
Content to dwell where the dead men dream…

The author of that verse, of course, was none other than Georgia’s first Poet Laureate, Frank Lebby Stanton.

In a beautiful setting on a different website—A Graveyard Rabbit in Southeast Missouri—blogger Anne Berbling shares the entire poem on the right sidebar, just under the Graveyard Rabbit logo.

The original poem, “The Graveyard Rabbit,” first appeared in Edmund Clarence Stedman’s American Anthology 1787-1900, along with four other Stanton poems. In addition, many of Stanton’s poems were set to music, including the lullaby, “Mighty Lak’ a Rose,” one of several “dialect songs” of the era—though this one has endured through generations.

The rose became a trademark detail of Stanton’s work, reappearing in such poems as “Keep A-Goin’!”
If you strike a thorn or rose,
Keep a-goin’!
If it hails or if it snows,
Keep a-goin!
’Tain’t no use to sit and whine
When the fish ain’t on your line;
Bait your hook an’ keep a-tryin’—
Keep a’goin’!

Do you suppose, at the point of his death in 1927, that his contemporaries who took their place in my immediate family line realized their connection to so beloved a writer? Hardly. My maternal grandmother, descending from the same Richard and Rose Taliaferro line, would have been fifth cousin to Leona Jossey Stanton, Frank’s wife.

How many of you know your fifth cousins?

Yet, more of us are familiar with the work of Frank Lebby Stanton than we realize. From lengthy to lyrical, Stanton’s works adorned the pages of over three hundred publication in three languages, commemorated occasions of state, and were carried on catchy tunes of his time. He was acknowledged by many as the prototype for American newspaper columnists. Even at the close of his life, Stanton's 1927 memorial carries the quatrain so widely quoted during his lifetime:
This old world we’re livin’ in
Is mighty hard to beat.
You get a thorn with every rose,
But ain’t the roses sweet?

Strictly speaking, it would be unlikely for a genealogist to make a detour to consider the in-laws of a fifth cousin, twice removed. But sometimes, even we need to lift our noses from our research grindstones and stop to smell the roses.

Photograph, top right: Frank Lebby Stanton, circa 1920; below, 1901 cover of sheet music with lyrics written by Frank Stanton, "Mighty Lak' a Rose." Both images courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Genealogy of Chocolate

While my daughter was in the midst of a semester abroad, studying in Ireland, she saved one treat for herself at the end of her school commitment: a trip to Paris. But, of course! Where else would a longtime student of the French language wish to go?

As a consolation prize, upon her return home—barely in time for Christmas—she brought special gifts. One of them was an exquisite bar of chocolate, wrapped simply in a transparent plastic wrapper with an orange cardboard label affixed to the exterior.

The label itself—barring the fact that it is in French and not our native English—was plainspoken as well: Chocolatier à Paris à la Mère de Famille. A line on the side of the container added the note: Depuis 1761.

I assure you: words cannot begin to describe the delectable treat resting inside. It is like no other chocolate I’ve had the privilege of sampling. If you are ever in Paris, think of me and buy me another bar of this delicacy. I have been nursing this solitary treat through the weeks following its presentation at Christmas and, sadly, there are only a few squares of the precious stuff remaining.

Despite its marvelous smoothness, though, that is not why I chose to tell you about it today. I have another reason. Actually, it is a rather sorry reason, owing to the foul temper in which I remain, subsequent to spending hours searching for the specific link connecting my second great grandmother to the rest of the Taliaferro clan in Virginia. I am stuck in 1851—not a very impressive date for those delving into colonial genealogies. I should be wallowing in the names of my many ancestors preceding that brick wall date. Somewhere like 1761 should be no problem whatsoever for a surname as well documented as Taliaferro.

But here I sit, stymied with the mismatched records which will not let me budge beyond that 1851 Waterloo. And yet a chocolate bar—a chocolate bar, of all things—can do a better job of tracing its history beyond that taunting 1851 roadblock.

I should be able to do better than a chocolate bar.

French chocolate bar label from Paris

Monday, February 23, 2015

Making the Connection

Working as I have lately, trying to connect my matrilineal line with that of a mystery cousin who sports the exact same mitochondrial DNA match, I’ve begun to have a vague dread of participating in the genealogical equivalent of building the transcontinental railroad. You know: one line starts in the east and works its way west, the other starts in the west and heads eastward, with one great celebration supposedly happening when the twain meet up in the middle.

Somewhere, tickling the back of my mind, is a similar warning from the real Transcontinental Railroad. I wanted to pull up the story for you, because I found it so incredible when I first learned of it, and thought it contained lessons for those of us stuck in such research problems as mine. Of course, finding any mention of that story online ate up the greater part of my allotted time yesterday in preparation for writing this. But slight as it is, at least I’ve found one mention of the vignette, and that’s good enough for me.

You see, amidst all the drama of the massive American project—to build the nation’s first overland route and secure a connection from the already-existing rail network in the eastern half of the continent to the San Francisco Bay at the western terminus—there were some technical difficulties.

Totally understandable, of course. Think of it: the project called for nearly two thousand miles of railroad line, laid down through the relative wilderness of the western portion of the country. Rather than having one company start at one end and work their way to the other side, the plan enlisted the work of three railroad companies: Western Pacific, Central Pacific and Union Pacific. Their task: to deliver a product that would meet up in the middle. With a strategy like that, there was bound to be problems.

Of course, learning about the feat from our side of history, we hear about all the hoopla of the successful meeting at Promontory Summit, Utah, where the legendary “Last Spike” of gold—no, silver…no, gold and silver—was supposedly driven into place, celebrating the connection of the two lines and the completion of the mammoth project.

What we don’t hear—at least, not often—was that those two lines didn’t exactly meet in the middle. We hear a lot about the construction challenges. About clashes between Chinese and Irish labor teams. And especially, about the grand celebration at the end. But not about how the railroad companies failed to make their own connection.

It took a lot of searching to find any report of this little detail online, but I found one mention of it—not in any of the usually expected places, mind you, but it will do for the point I have to make.

I had to borrow the narrative from a contributor to an economics blog. The writer, Mark Pribonic, was mentioning how he and his daughter, while on a ski vacation in Utah, decided to take a detour to visit the Promontory Summit museum established to commemorate this great accomplishment, the Transcontinental Railroad. Apparently, the historic site includes a self-guided walking tour alongside the original railroad grade built for the project.

It was at the second stop on this walking trail that the author happens upon the very thing I wanted to point out. I’ll let him share the observation in his own words.
At that moment we were standing on the grade built by the Central Pacific and there less than fifty yards below was the grade built by the Union Pacific. The grades did not meet but ran parallel to each other and had continued that way for 250 miles—almost a year’s work.

The author adds that the guidebook mentioned that “the work camps for the two groups were literally separated by a hillside.”

So, what does that have to do with genealogy? Just recall the current project in which I’ve got myself entangled. I’m racing my way back in history to a supposed point on my mother’s line from which I can catapult forward in time, tracing every woman’s line back down to modern times. Concurrently, my mystery cousin is pushing his way back through the generations on his mother’s line.

We are hoping to meet in the middle.

Considering stories like the miscalculations of the Transcontinental Railroad, this does not bode well for us.

For almost any such project, it provides a warning of dire consequences. Do not, for instance, think any hearsay that you are related to George Washington, or Charlemagne—or whoever strikes your fancy from the halls of history—is an appropriate impetus to begin your own Transcontinental project. You and history will not meet up in the middle.

And neither will we—possibly. At least our Transcontinental project is more like a U-turn than a badly conceived straight line. But I still need to keep in mind the risks inherent in such a project. And, above all, not yield to the temptation to “make it work” by bending a few fuzzy possibilities into links. After all, I’m not up for being a passenger on a genealogical train wreck.

Above: "The Last Spike," 1881 painting by Thomas Hill, commemorating the 1869 ceremony of the driving of the Last Spike of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Shoot the Moon

Trajectory may be everything, when it comes to hitting a moving target. And yes, my genealogical target is ever in motion, for I’m tracing the surname changes through the generations of my matrilineal line. Not only that, but I’m seeking to connect that line—as our mitochondrial DNA test results tell us—to that of a man whose mother is an exact match to me. Somewhere, way back in time, his mother and my mother share a joint mother’s mother’s mother.

Only thing: which generation turns out to be the nexus between our two lines, we don’t know. I know where I’ve ended up: with a woman named Mary Taliaferro who became wife of Thomas Firth Rainey in Georgia. I guess you can call this my current matrilineal terminus.

In his train ride through the maternal generations, my mystery cousin has also made progress back to the early 1800s. Only problem: his final stop led him back to Kentucky, not Georgia.

We have not made a connection. Yet.

Obviously, our moving target is still moving. Backwards in time, we need to chase the maternal generations yet one more time. At least.

Frustrating as that may seem, you have to remember a lot has been accomplished on the part of this mystery cousin. First, he had to overcome an enormous obstacle: having been adopted, up until last month, he had no idea who to name as Step One on his matrilineal trail. I bet finding me as his exact match for the DNA test was indeed an adrenaline rush. After all, of all my “matches” for the mtDNA test, I have none that display as exact match. None. Apparently, neither does he.

Of course, that in itself doesn’t mean much. Our common ancestor could still be centuries beyond our reach. After all, an exact match could mean someone living within a range of the last seven hundred to one thousand years. That would call for an exceedingly long—and nigh impossible—paper trail.

But let’s get started anyhow. After all, a journey of a thousand miles—or generations—begins with but one step.

Here’s how Joel’s thousand steps start out. For privacy’s sake, I’ll start with the maiden names of those no longer living. With certainty, my mystery cousin can assert that his great grandmother’s maiden name was Forbes. From there, the maiden name in the next generation was McLaughlin.

By then, we are back in Texas in the late 1800s. The surname trail begins to grow cold. The next step might be a maiden name of Stinebaugh—name of a family moving to Cooke County, Texas, from Missouri. Or could it be Stonebough? Unfortunately for us, the only marriage record accessible online carries with it that frustrating Southern convention of including only initials for first and middle name—compounded by the fact that these details can be only gleaned from a transcription, not an actual digitized document. Could Stonebough be merely sloppy rendering of the handwritten Stinebaugh? Or should this be the new search trail to explore?

Frustratingly, of the death certificates that could be located for Frances B. Stinebaugh McLaughlin’s children, the entry for mother’s maiden name reads a disappointing “unknown.” No help there.

Following Frances and her parents from 1880 Cooke County, Texas, to their former home in Missouri, there is a Stinebaugh family which matches the names of her parents, William and Sarah A. Stinebaugh. While I can’t locate the family in 1870, in 1860—minus Frances, of course—there is a small household comprised of farmer William Stinebaugh and his wife, Sarah A. The ages, incredibly, seem to match, as do the states in which each person was born—Missouri for William, Kentucky for Sarah.

As to Sarah’s maiden name, though, I have yet to find any documentation. I haven’t found any reasonable listings in Missouri—nor in Kentucky. My only clue—and this one would be a very weak link—is that their 1860 household contained a farmhand by the name of Jasper B. Wills—the very surname other researchers have associated with Sarah, herself. While it is not lost upon me that this Jasper also happened to be born in Kentucky—as had Sarah—it could still just be a matter of a farmhand being simply a farmhand. Just in case, though, I’ll keep that hint in mind.

According to the 1860 census—if this, indeed, is the snapshot of the right Stinebaugh family in Missouri—Sarah would have been born around 1839. Barring any discoveries of marriage records for a William Stinebaugh and bride named Sarah, my next task will be to scour the findings for Kentucky, paying special attention to any families containing both a Sarah and a Jasper, with a surname Wills.

Even if that turns out to be correct, though, it will still be a hollow victory. You see, while I’m tracing my way backwards in time through my mystery cousin’s matrilineal line, I’m also working forward in all the female lines connecting to my own matrilineal line. While my work is in no way completed there, I have yet to run across any mention of the surname Wills. Nor Stinebaugh. Not even McLaughlin. There may be two or three generations yet to go from that point before I run into any familiar maiden names—if even then.

Hitting a moving target is always a challenge. So many variables need to be taken into consideration. As I move back through the generations—not only on my matrilineal line, but also on that of my distant cousin—I am doing just that: tracking a moving target. That target may be close. Or it may be quite distant, indeed.

It used to be considered impossible to hit a target as immense as the moon. Removed so far from us, even at our vantage point, it presented a visible target—yet the distance was so vast as to render the feat impossible.

Now, we know differently. All it took was technology. Today, we can say we have aimed for the moon, and hit our moving target.

Someday—DNA testing, digitized document collections and search algorithms combined—we will be able to say the same for genealogical quests we currently think impossible. I’m certainly game to think I can shoot for this moon of mine.

Above: Seaport by Moonlight, 1771 oil on canvas by Claude Joseph Vernet; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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