Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Not Too Early — But Not Too Late

Exploring the history of land grants in the British North American colony of Virginia has been an interesting side trip on my route to discover what prompted my Massachusetts ancestors to move to the wilderness surrounding the Holston River. I knew that my William Tilson had served in the French and Indian War before marrying his bride in 1762 and moving to southwestern Virginia. But it has taken a lot of digging to determine just how the land in the area might have gotten doled out to willing settlers.

One of the first land grants I found information on was issued in 1745. That year, of course, predates my Tilsons' arrival in the Virginia colony by a considerable amount. Still, to explore the mechanisms of how colonists obtained land in that era, I decided to follow the paper trail.

The 1745 grant was made by the Virginia governor and Council of State to a gentleman by the name of James Patton. His was not a modest receipt of property: the grant entailed a swath of land totaling one hundred thousand acres. The only stipulations, apparently, were that he could not select lands within the boundaries of claims of three other grantees: Lord Fairfax, Benjamin Borden and William Beverley.

In the ensuing years, there has been much interest in the land grants of that same James Patton. Records of a subsequent—1749—land grant he received are housed at the Library of Virginia. An interesting assessment of the longstanding—and possibly suspect—business dealings of James Patton and William Beverley has been offered in the bulletin of a local historical society.

James Patton was not the only one surveying large grants of land received from the Virginia government. Just a few years later, another explorer, Thomas Walker, joined with several others to form a company which received land grants, as well. That company was known as the Loyal Company, and among its founders were men with surnames which make up part of my own heritage: Gilmer, Harvie, Lewis and Meriwether.

Those land grants—of 1745 and 1748—were too early to include my Tilsons' arrival in southwestern Virginia, of course. But in looking at a meandering report I've mentioned previously, an online reprint from a 1937 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly, I noticed author Ralph M. Brown observed,
From the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1764, until 1768, nothing of importance occurred in Southwest Virginia beyond the visits of the Long Hunters and the surveyors for the land companies, few settlements being made.
The great influx of settlers into Southwestern Virginia and Kentucky did not begin until after 1794.

While 1745 was too early a process to include my Tilson settlers in the area, that date of 1794 for a "great influx" of settlers was definitely too late. I needed to find something in the middle to help me understand just what it was that inspired a newlywed William Tilson to opt to leave home and extended family to set up housekeeping with his bride in the wilderness of southwest Virginia.

Fortunately, other "current events" of the time period pointed me to some possibilities. Part of the business woes of the Loyal Company involved fallout from the politics of the era. Once source mentioned "the crown rejected further extension of the grant" held by the Loyal Company as part of a ban on western settlement in 1763.

For those astute history buffs among us, that date of 1763 may have rung a bell—but not for me, unfortunately, as I had to slog through pages and pages before I even realized that date sounded familiar.

And it should have sounded familiar to me, if for nothing else than that William Tilson—who had served with the British in the French and Indian War—was by that year free to marry, to travel, and to relocate his residence, simply on account of the end of his military duties during war time. In other words, with the war now over, the obligatory treaty had to be drawn up. To the victors went the land of the defeated, so Britain now held claim to lands once under French control.

In addition to that, other agreements fell into place. Among them was the provision in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 forbidding all settlement west of a line drawn along the Appalachians. Bottom line: that suddenly rendered void any land grants which had been given by the British government to those American colonists who had fought in the war.

This opens up two additional points to pursue. One: that there were land grants issued by the Crown to colonists for military service before 1763. Second, if that were so, and if that was what instigated the Tilsons' move to Virginia, how was it that he remained there on that now-not-legally-granted property? For William and Mary Tilson remained in southwest Virginia at least through the dates of birth of the seven children I've been able to locate—a stretch of time from 1763 through 1776, and possibly much longer.

Every time I've pried open the answer to one question, all that pops out is yet another question.     


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Daniel Boone Was Here

Oftentimes, I've run into beginning genealogical researchers who get jazzed at the thought their ancestors might be related to someone famous. Kings come to mind here, but also generals or explorers. Once the possibility enters their mind of a connection to greatness, it unfortunately seems to nudge the research work in the wrong direction.

Perhaps as a counter-move in the hope of avoiding such weakness, I've automatically been dismissing any notion of a connection to well-known names of American history. You might have noticed that I glossed over some references, in links last week, to folk hero Daniel Boone.

The more I delve into the history of the Wilderness Road and the land in southwestern Virginia where my Tilson ancestors decided to settle, I can't help but acknowledge that that very place was one in which Daniel Boone used to roam.

In the region around the three forks of the Holston River in Virginia—the place where William and Mary Marcie Tilson settled and where all of their children were born—the way was made possible by adventurers, explorers and land surveyors who passed that way before the Tilsons arrived in 1762 or 1763.

Since this is such a new area of research for me, I've been absorbing an immense amount of material to get up to speed on the necessary background details. Swamped with information overload, perhaps that's why I gravitated to a website with the kind of simple terms best suited for younger students. Sometimes, it's just easier to learn new material by reverting to the simple, concise explanations presented in books intended for grade school students.

In reading one entry at a website called Tennessee4Me, after getting the lay of the land, information-wise, I scanned the article for names of people and geographic locations to help provide keywords for further searching.

That's where I saw the mention of Daniel Boone. Only one year after William and Mary Marcie Tilson's oldest child was born in 1763, Daniel Boone was somewhere in the same area, exploring the Holston valley for a land speculator.

Of course, by the time Daniel Boone was covering the area, the Tilsons had already settled there. Though the name introduces that bright-shiny aspect to the research, what I really needed was a clue as to how land was being distributed before Daniel Boone got there to check it all out.

The same article gave me a few more leads from earlier years. The one name which caught my eye was that of Virginia "adventurer" Thomas Walker, who arrived in the region in 1748 and returned again in 1750. He was key in an entity known as the Loyal Company—a detail I thought might be worth following up on. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Getting Lost in the Details

Can you understand your ancestors without understanding the times in which they were living?

In trying to determine not only why but how my Tilson ancestors left their home in Massachusetts colony after their marriage in 1762 to end up in southwest Virginia, I'm having to absorb a lot of Virginia history. And, not being a speed reader, I'm learning a lot of detail I hadn't anticipated including in my pursuit of family history.

Virginia, like the Florida of my McClellan ancestors, is one of those locations in which I have family roots, but have never traveled through, myself. Thus, it makes the research that much harder, for the place names don't evoke any memories of spatial relationships. I have no idea which two town names might constitute a short trip of a few hours, and which represent distant journeys. Geographic identifiers, such as the Blue Ridge mountains or the Piedmont, the James River or the Shenandoah Valley, mean nothing to me. I have to slog through corollary material like maps and documents to guide me through the explanatory texts I hope will answer the question initiating this search.

What, indeed, made these crazy ancestors travel all that way? And what made them think this was the way to get there?

And so, as I try to retrace my ancestors' steps, I'm wandering down detours of my own, reading summaries of a history so intricate yet seemingly so disconnected from the roots I thought I had.

Take this website found on colonial Virginian expansion, courtesy of Google, explaining the several treaties drawn up in the 1700s which opened the way for westward expansion of the colonies. (Did you know Virginia claimed land rights all the way across the continent to the Pacific Ocean?)

Even as the article meanders through details I once hoped would easily provide me with an answer, I feel as if I'm coming up short when the immigrant pathways outlined in the text mention Scots-Irish traveling on foot to the destinations I thought were the communities formed by my Mayflower English settlers. Somehow, these details don't seem to mix.

And yet, I read on, somehow hoping these recitations of history will lead me to some slight clue producing the answer I'm seeking.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Only Ninety Eight More Shopping Days . . .

It may seem premature to even mention it, but according to the Christmas Countdown Clock, there are only ninety eight more shopping days until the year-end's big gift-giving extravaganza.

Not that I'm into shopping or anything. Our family has graduated from the big fling holiday style; we keep things to a moderate level. What I am looking at are all the possibilities inherent in the holiday season to remind our fellow family members that their family is rich with heritage—and that we are just the ones to share it.

Face it: we've spent days on end, collecting details about ancestors none of our family ever met—let alone heard of. Granted, some of our discoveries may have been less than dramatic, but there are others for whom a story line may have piqued our interest—and can for those with whom we share it.

How to share, though, is the trick. If your family is filled with people whose eyes glaze over, the minute the slightest mention of the dear departed is made, you may have a challenge on your hands to rouse anyone's fascination. But there are ways to share your discoveries, and this season may be the best time in which to prepare.

During a genealogy class I taught this weekend, someone asked about how to scan documents, and I mentioned the Flip-Pal scanner. As an example, I described one of the most novel uses I had heard about using the device: inspired by the Flip-Pal's ability to "stitch" scans of small segments of large documents together, one researcher took this idea literally and scanned an heirloom quilt.

Another project I had heard of was when a woman was puzzling over how to preserve the ties she had inherited from her departed father. I've heard of people taking such ties and crafting them into a quilt, or arranging some in a shadow box, or any other way to transform this token of heritage into a form in which it could be visually shared and enjoyed.

There are any number of creative ways to share our family history with family, one sliver at a time. These brilliant ideas, however, never occur to us in a timely manner. They might pop into our head the night before the family descends on us for Thanksgiving, for instance, or at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. Not, at any rate, at any moment leaving us adequate time to prepare.

I've thought of making up calendar wall hangings, complete with photos marking significant dates of our ancestors: the day our great-grandparents got married, or the birthday of a grandparent. Sometimes these ideas are rather routine and simple, but when blended with stuff we all use everyday, they provide a practical mechanism for us to take a snippet of our research progress and get it out there for everyone to see and enjoy.

You have probably had a few ideas of your own—and if you are the crafty type, please share them with those of us who are creativity-challenged!—but the time to do something about such notions is not right before the holiday rush descends upon us. The time for those creative outbursts is now, when we can brainstorm on how to turn that genealogical-sharing dream into a reality in time for others to enjoy during the upcoming holiday season. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Oh, No! Whatever Has Befallen Us?

Just as the last of the conference-goers were returning home from the Federation of Genealogical Societies event at the beginning of September, I was revving up for presenting another series of classes for the fall semester. A new-to-me library system had requested I teach a workshop series on family history for their patrons. Along with a repeat performance at another library system, I had also been invited back to instruct a ten week series for a program hosted at a nearby community college.

Perhaps thanks to the big pockets and production capabilities of powerhouse genealogical corporations spreading the word, an ever-expanding number of people want to learn this stuff. They're turning out for local, in-person events where they can learn what they've always wondered about: how to trace their family's history.

With all this activity, lately, I've been somewhat preoccupied—enough, at least, to not dwell on the fact that I wish I could have been at that FGS conference, too.

Apparently, what I also missed, at the beginning of that same week, was the deconstruction of the FGS event by the number of social media participants who harangued each other on a topic which could be roughly described as "Why Conferences Are Now Pronounced Dead."

This topic, you may note, is a variation on a similar theme, "Why Genealogical Societies Are Now Pronounced Dead."

I've been oblivious of both of these facts, myself. Two respected analysts in the field, however, took on the issue and provided their assessment of the situation in blog posts of their own.

The first of the two to post was Christine Woodcock of Scottish Genealogy Tips and Tidbits, who mentioned the online chatter revealing a sense that the FGS conference attendance was down. This observation led her to "wonder if large conferences are going the way of microfiche." Citing the prohibitive cost of registration, travel and hotel stays, she compared conferences to the "more convenient and less costly" options for learning, such as webinars.

Almost as if to underscore her point, just a week later, Legacy Family Tree Webinars decided to celebrate their business' seventh anniversary with a week of free access to their most popular webinars. Why, indeed, go through all the trouble and expense of travel when you can curl up at home and learn from the likes of Tom Jones, Lisa Louise Cooke or Diahan Southard?

Just one day after Christine Woodcock published her analysis, another genealogist weighed in with her take on the subject. Amy Johnson Crow reached back into her blog's archives, picked up an old post and spruced it up for a second appearance to address the subject once again. In a cordial rebuttal of her colleague's post, Amy focused on the attendance track records at a number of successful genealogical events to conclude, "Genealogy conferences and seminars are not dead."

Amy Johnson Crow laid the blame for this cyclical discussion at the feet of what she classified as two myths: first, that webinars and other online events are "killing conferences," and secondly, that in-person learning is an outmoded approach. She reminded her readers, "different people learn in different ways" and "there is room for all types of learning models in the genealogy world."

Thankfully, both writers proposed ways to follow up on this issue. I particularly appreciate Christine Woodcock's conclusion that we need to "adjust our thinking," based on an observation she made over interactions on a genealogical society's Facebook page:
Just as we have gone from thinking that the only way to do genealogy research was by writing letters, scouring microfiche and transcribing directories to being comfortable with researching online databases, we need to readjust our understanding of what constitutes membership. Those people [part of the society's Facebook page] do feel that they belong. That they are members. Even if they haven’t paid a fee or attended a meeting. This group is their tribe. We can’t overlook that.

More than that, though, I feel Amy Johnson Crow hit the core of the issue with her comment, "Let's stop the handwringing and do something about it." The angst that seems to be part of these incessant conversations reveals a certain circling-the-drain sense of doom. No, our society's events aren't going to grow up to become RootsTech. But that doesn't signal the demise of in-person events nor of the groups that host them.

There is something about the focus a group nurtures in its outlook. If societies begin harboring these opinions of shrinking return on their efforts, they may well reap what they sow in their mental outlook. On the other hand, for organization which realize that to grow, they need to expand their offerings to meet the needs of their potential as well as current constituents, they likely will set themselves on a path to success that will include the type of in-person events people vote with their feet and their pocketbook to attend.

Above all, to just bemoan a perceived changing tide of event hosting becomes a nonproductive stance. To adopt a proactive approach in developing and providing events that people will want to attend would by far be a more effective way to address the issue.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Way Leading to That New Home

It took a long detour through the colonial history of Virginia in the 1700s just to figure out the way my Tilson ancestors may have taken to move from their settlement in southwestern Virginia to their new home in northeastern Tennessee.

Actually, the way wasn't very far—at least, that is, if I correctly identified the modern locations for those three hundred year old geographic identifiers.

The place where the Tilson family had settled, after leaving their parental homes in Massachusetts some time after William took Mary Marcie Ransom as his bride in 1762, was somewhere near a spot called Saint Clair. That, in turn, eventually became part of Washington County—which, as you can guess, has been carved up countless times since that 1763 arrival date.

At any rate, wherever the place was, it was on the south fork of what I've finally figured out must have been the Holston River. Finding all this out has taken several painstakingly tiny steps, of course, but still doesn't answer my question of how the family got from there—wherever "there" actually was—to the family's ultimate settlement in Washington County, Tennessee.

However, wandering around the Internet for the past few days, I've run across some details of the history of colonial migration. I became fairly certain my hunch to zero in on what was called the Wilderness Road might lead to some answers to my research questions.

Even trying to find out more about the Wilderness Road has been challenging. For one thing, the route went by more than one name. According to one resource, the route was also known as the Great Road or the Great Philadelphia Road.

Can you imagine telling people how to find your home—naming the street bearing your address—and then giving the name of two or three other streets, as well? If that sounds confusing, that about explains how I feel, trying to discern exactly where this ancient route once led.

There might be a reason for this confusion. For one thing, one researcher theorized that, depending on the destination of a traveler, the route might be called one thing, while those heading in the opposite direction would call it something else. Kind of like saying, "I'm on the road to Philadelphia" when heading north, yet, "I'm headed west" when traveling to those new settlements in the wilderness.

Or just go ahead and call it the Wilderness Road. After all, that was the point of the route: a way to access the new lands opening up for colonial settlement.

There was another problem about trying to figure out where this route once was: even academic researchers dispute this road's location. If the experts can't be certain where the route led, how can I determine whether this was the winding road that led my ancestors away from their Virginia door?

According to at least one report, the Wilderness Road leading west began at what is now Kingsport, Tennessee—close to the Washington County area of the state where my Tilsons settled, but certainly not what would convince them to leave their home in southwestern Virginia.

However, there may have been an entirely different route—or possibly just a different name for the same path—forming the basis for the road enticing my ancestors to leave their hard-won settlement in the Virginia wilderness. The foundation for this route, as it turns out, may have been a system of ancient pathways worn by generations of native people, now called by some The Great Indian Warpath.

In an annotated reprint of a 1937 article published in the William and Mary Quarterly containing satellite images on which are superimposed locations from the old trails, an explanation on page 506 of the original text delves into the geographic points on one branch of the Great Indian Warpath which likely led close to the Holston River settlement where the Tilsons had lived.

While this may help me understand just how my Tilson ancestors arrived in Washington County, Tennessee, the rest of this lengthy reprint also helped describe what else might have been happening at the time which might have encouraged people to move to these wilderness locations.

Even in colonial times, the government was offering land grants in the hopes of enticing immigrants to move farther west to form a buffer zone around the more established towns to the east. It would be well worth the research detour to examine just what else was going on in the colonies during the time when William Tilson married in Massachusetts in 1762 and moved to Virginia by 1763.   

Thursday, September 14, 2017

If Not Why, Perhaps How

As I'm struggling with the brick wall in my family history research, I've wanted to learn just why it was that the descendants of my Mayflower ancestors would have left their by-then-established settlement in Massachusetts to move to the backwoods of Virginia in 1763—and then pick up once again and relocate in northeastern Tennessee.

Just because I want to know the answer doesn't necessarily mean I will find the answer. After the journey I've been on to seek out that answer, the corresponding trip through local history of that era has convinced me that perhaps a more helpful question might be how those ancestors moved beyond their Virginia settlement to their stopping place in Washington County, Tennessee.

Googling and then following my nose has unearthed several helpful sites in this information gathering stage. I already knew that the area in question was once part of a place in the state of North Carolina dubbed the Washington District. After Tennessee statehood, that same location became the "mother county"—the oldest county—of the new state.

I've located lists that serve as finding aids to guide me to further resources as I try to sift through the details and determine just why—and how—my ancestors from Massachusetts eventually ended up in Washington County, Tennessee. Of course, the FamilySearch wiki for Washington County genealogical resources provides many links. Interestingly, so does the Tennessee Secretary of State's website, with two pages providing a list of resources and a more detailed bibliography.

Shifting my focus—rather than looking at what I could find about my ancestors' destination, checking what is available about the land they left—I found a website explaining the history of the old Washington County region of Virginia which contained the Holston River area where my Tilsons once lived.

Better yet, I located a page which explained why settlement in these far-west locations was urged: the government of colonial Virginia saw it as a great scheme for creating a "buffer zone" between more-established immigrant communities in the eastern portion of the colony and the ancient wilderness domain of native populations. To that end, by the 1740s, the government was authorizing land grants, such as the Patton Grant and the Loyal Company Grant.

Having located those resources, I began adding to my reading list. I've found a couple other online articles to read about the westward settlement, back in that era—one of which focuses on southwestern Virginia, the other on a more general review of settlement west of the Blue Ridge mountains.

But this was back in the 1740s. When I think of what must have been available to settlers back then, that's when my mind demands to know just how they managed to do what they did. How did they get to their destination? How did they even decide on that destination? For my Tilson, Davis, and Broyles ancestors, what brought them down the path they selected? In fact, what was the path?

Wondering about "how" led me to seek out articles on the way those ancestors got to their new home. That's when I started circling the details on one particular route, known by various names, but generally called the Wilderness Road. I decided it might be worth my while to see if that Wilderness Road was the route that might have led my wandering ancestors to the promise of better land that they might have been seeking. 
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