Saturday, January 31, 2015

Circling the Spot


When the Taliaferro family first came to America, they settled in Virginia. The land they arrived at was, at the time, merely a British colony. By the point in the family’s history that brings us to the generation in question for my current brick wall research quandary, some of the family had removed to Georgia.

As I try to determine who my target person—Mary Taliaferro, about to be wife of Thomas Firth Rainey in 1818—might have descended from, one possible clue could come from examining who else was married in the same Georgia county as she. Could the cluster of Taliaferro weddings pinpoint the specific father of this bride?

According to the records accessible online now—and, granted, these are only gleaned from indices on FamilySearch.org, though some digitized records are accessible at Ancestry.com—there were four Taliaferro family members who married in Oglethorpe County between the years 1809 and 1830. Who were they? Who were their parents?

The earliest of the marriage records was for a “Lewis B. Talefaria” who wed Elizabeth Johnson on August 10, 1809. This was likely Louis Bourbon, son of Martha Merriwether and Benjamin Taliaferro.

Louis’ father Benjamin was born in colonial Virginia, and came of age during the years of the American Revolution, for which cause he served as a lieutenant, and during which service he was promoted to captain. After the war—and possibly owing to a falling out with his brother Zachariah (of my direct line) over the hand of a particular young lady—Benjamin left Virginia for Georgia.

Benjamin’s arrival in Georgia, as it turned out, was timely as well. He played an active part in the formative years of Georgia state government. For his service during the thirty five years he lived in Georgia, Benjamin was posthumously honored by the naming of a county in his memory—Taliaferro County. Though he was noted to have died in Wilkes County, his oldest son’s marriage in Oglethorpe County—that of Louis to Betsy Johnson—may well have taken place in the same basic area, since Oglethorpe County was formed from part of Wilkes County.

So we find, from this earliest Taliaferro marriage record in the Oglethorpe vicinity, that it was a record referring to the eldest son of Benjamin. What of the others?

Besides the 1818 marriage of Mary “Talafero”—whoever she was—the next Taliaferro marriage in Oglethorpe County was that of Polly or Sarah “Taliferro.” She, as Sarah, was recorded as becoming the wife of one Hay T. Landrum, according to the 1829 marriage entry. One of the old genealogical publications I’ve referred to, compiled by Willie Catherine Ivey, noted her as “Polly” and indicated that she “married a Mr. Landrum.” She—whether Polly or Sarah—was daughter of Benjamin’s younger brother, Warren Taliaferro (sometimes referred to in genealogies as Warner Taliaferro).

The final remaining Taliaferro wedding in Oglethorpe during this time period was that of Charles, also a child of Warren Taliaferro. While the marriage index shows his bride’s name as Milanda Meriwether, her name was apparently Mildred Merriwether. This wedding followed close on the heels of Charles’ sister’s wedding—on November 16, 1830.

So, there you have it: four weddings. The earliest was for the eldest son of the eldest Taliaferro brother to move from Virginia to Georgia. The last two, in 1829 and 1830, were for two of the children of the younger Taliaferro brother. Could the remaining Taliaferro marriage in 1818 have been for a child of either of those Taliaferro brothers?

According to Ivey’s Taliaferro genealogy, older brother Benjamin’s youngest daughter was named Mary. However, younger brother Warren—though not having any child named Mary that I can find—was married to a woman named Mary Gilmer. Could it be possible that Warren and Mary named one of their children Mary—but owing to the confusion of having two Marys in the same household, resorted to the use of a nickname? Which of Warren and Mary’s daughters would it be? The only one credited with marrying a Rainey in the Ivey genealogy was listed as Nancy, not Mary. Is Nancy a nickname?

One other detail to consider: this Mary and her husband, Thomas Firth Rainey, eventually had a son, whom they named Warren Taliaferro Rainey. While that seems like a flashing neon light pointing me in the right direction, I’d like just a little more paper-based justification before I accept what seems to be the obvious.



Above: "Signing the Register" by English painter Edmund Blair Leighton; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.    

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Genealogical End Run


While my adopted mystery cousin is enjoying success in his pursuit of the truth regarding his roots, DNA testing has been providing me some helpful assistance in another quest.

Remember my brick wall ancestor, my second great grandmother, Mary Rainey of Columbus, Georgia? The best I had figured on her was that, along with a brother named Thomas, she might have been living in the household of her uncle in the census taken just before her 1871 marriage to Thomas Broyles.



Tracing back in time, I may have discovered her in the home of her widowed mother in 1860. And possibly, I identified her father with the assistance of an 1850 census record.

All that, if you remember, was smashed to pieces when I pulled out those time-honored genealogy publications which insisted that those “parents”—Thomas Firth and Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro Rainey—could not possibly have been the people I had assumed they were. Why? Thomas Firth Rainey supposedly married another woman, identified as Nancy Taliaferro, daughter of Warren and Mary Gilmer Taliaferro. This, despite the fact that there is an Oglethorpe County, Georgia, record of the wedding of Thomas F. Rainey and Mary E. Talafero on June 9, 1818.

Oh, how I wished that “Nancy” was merely the nickname for “Mary.”

We all know how wishes do not a sound genealogy make. But you can’t blame me for hoping.

Just a couple days ago, it turns out, I discovered I might not be left to fruitless hopes or wishes. Among the now over seven hundred matches I’ve received on my autosomal DNA test results, I found one that showed a Rainey among his forebears.

With the Family Tree DNA testing service, every time I receive a match, I am given whatever surname data might have been provided in the other customer's profile. Sometimes, that information is extensive—like an up-to-date, thoroughly-researched GEDCOM. Sometimes, the profile includes only a smattering of surnames—or, worse, nothing at all. Thankfully, for those customers in agreement—and really, why test if you aren’t interested in pursuing such matches?—their matches are supplied with an email address for further contact.

Rest assured: I contacted my potential Rainey match.

As it turned out, his mother was the person serving as administrator for these test results. And she is diligently doing her family history research. It’s nice to make contact with a kindred spirit, keen on pursuing family roots; it’s even more encouraging when that kindred spirit comes with a mutual family relationship.

In this case, the relationship turns out to be fourth cousin. Yes, I know: that is a distant relative. I wouldn’t know the man if I passed him on the street—a highly unlikely scenario in any case, as he is apparently in Texas and I in California. However, the virtue of the discovery is this: if I can use this test result as key to lead me to others related through this particular line, I may be able to demonstrate, via DNA alone, that those time-honored genealogical publications have reported my direct line in error. And that, my friend, would let me run right past that frustrating research brick wall.

All this is thanks to the line of the very brother who was found living with my orphaned second great grandmother back in Columbus, Georgia, in the 1870 census. Thomas Firth Rainey, junior, was by then a Civil War veteran who eventually left his war-torn home state of Georgia to begin life anew in Texas. This DNA match is his direct descendant.

Knowing this gives me only the first step in piecing together an argument to support the notion that my second great grandmother was daughter of Thomas and Mary Taliaferro Rainey. Of course, the next task will be to connect the senior Mary with her Taliaferro parents—the point at which I believe those published genealogies are in error. That, I will only be able to do as I find more matches to either confirm or rule out the connection. But I’m now one step closer to verifying that hypothesis than I was before.

Of course, finding key resources to bolster the paper trail would be primo. Lacking that, I still have recourse through this alternate means of research. And that is the value of this new tool of genealogical research. It’s just a different way to do an end run around that old proverbial brick wall.


Above: Excerpt from 1870 United States Census for Muscogee County, Georgia, courtesy Ancestry.com.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Score Another One For
Genetic Genealogy


Sometimes, participating in DNA testing leads to the overwhelming sense of being lost in a strange world of numbers, big terms, and incomprehensible concepts. Muddling through the middle of it all can seem mind-numbing.

On the other hand, there’s nothing like success to shake one loose of that DNA malaise.

I mentioned to you, back in November, that I was contacted by a person whose mitochondrial DNA test results came back as an exact match to mine. For me, this is an unusual result. Out of the three tests I administer for my family—both my husband’s and my brother’s Y-DNA test and my own mtDNA test—this was the only instance of finding anyone who came as close as that.

The drawback was: the person claiming this exact match is an adoptee.

Put in a tailspin, trying to figure out just who among my mother’s maternal line ancestors—unbeknownst to anyone else in the family—could have put up a child for adoption, I did what I could to help my new mystery cousin with this quest.

The only help I could offer, it turns out, was a feeble attempt at comparing data. You see, if I trace my mother’s maternal line back through the generations, I don’t get very far. As you’ve already realized, if you follow A Family Tapestry with any regularity, is that I am stuck at the level of my second great grandmother.

That's the puzzle I've been trying to unravel, following that email from my mystery cousin back in November. I did write about the search, tangentially, in a couple more posts on DNA in December and earlier this month. Behind the scenes, the two of us were emailing back and forth, comparing notes, discussing possibilities—in my family (despite its limiting, brief documentation) and in his own research.

To his credit, my mystery cousin has been very focused on the pursuit. For someone with a background in genealogical research, this quest might have seemed easier, but there were multiple steep learning curves to mount in his case: the aspects of finding birth parents, overcoming legal obstacles of various states’ “sealed” adoption policies, learning about the world of DNA testing and the skills of genealogical research.

It was the aspect of DNA testing that helped lead this cousin to possible matches. While the mtDNA test provided a bit of direction, the main test that proved useful was the autosomal DNA test. This test identifies matches of a much closer familial range than the mtDNA or Y-DNA test can provide, making it the practical choice for such a pursuit. Not that it makes things easier. The test, in itself, is not a turnkey operation; the researcher does need to know what he is doing—and be prepared to put in lots of work following through with the search. DNA tests are a tool, not “The Answer.”

What I’m so excited to share, today, is that almost exactly two weeks ago, my mystery cousin emailed me the simple announcement:
            I have found my birth mother.

Overjoyed on his behalf, of course I wanted to know the details. This was, after all, somehow a person related to me. While we are still plotting out the nexus between his birth mother’s line and my mother’s line—hint: this may go back a long way beyond my brick wall second great grandmother—I am enjoying the latest reunion news from my cousin. He and his mom have spent hours chatting online, then by telephone and in a face to face meeting.

The conversation didn’t stop with their reunion. Both of them are intensely keen on sharing their story—the pain of the separation, the years of the search, the methods of the search and how they reconnected. Besides, after mounting that steep learning curve, now this cousin has a lot to share, as a resource in helping others with their search for their birth parents as well.

Their story is not over, of course. There is much to catch up on, after a lifetime of separation. Once they move beyond the exhilaration of this reunion, though, I, for one, hope they put their story in a form that can be passed on to others in the same dilemma. Telling their story at conferences would be nice. A book would be great. No matter how they share the saga, though, just the fact that they can share it is the most important part.

Sometimes, it is easy to see how DNA testing can work for others—but hard to actually put it to work for ourselves. In my cousin’s case, as an adoptee totally new to the field of genealogy, he had the motivation to learn—and then, to do what he had learned.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

“Citizen Science” and Genetic Genealogy


Of what purpose is it to determine familial relationships that reach beyond face-to-face familiarity?

It may seem strange to consider family relationships as distant as the eighth cousin scenario I mentioned yesterday. Yet, when we engage in the kind of DNA testing available to us today—and combine that with the paper chase for our family’s roots—we find ourselves delving into those kinds of distant relationships.

Why bother? It’s not like we’re in a rush to assemble the world’s biggest family reunion—although, admittedly, somebody is. However, given the technology and the passion, we are handily equipped to engage in what is being called genetic genealogy. Every time we spring for that hefty DNA test fee, whether we are conscious of this or not, we are participating in assembling a body of knowledge about the joint past of all humanity.

If you haven’t considered this aspect, stop for a moment and consider Spencer Wells’ presentation last fall at the Genetic Genealogy Ireland event, part of Dublin’s Back To Our Past conference. Dr. Wells spearheads the National Genographic Project for National Geographic. His brief video, which you can see at the bottom of GGI2014’s announcement of his keynote presentation, nicely dovetails the Genographic quest with our genealogical pursuits.

You have got to know that there are numerous scientists eager to tap into such an assembled database of DNA results. Researchers are hoping to augment their understanding of pre-historic migratory patterns—as well as find resources to resolve other human challenges: anthropological, genetic, medical.

Along with the amazing arenas open to these researchers, with the rapid expansion of technology comes a mind-boggling enormity of databases. This puts me in mind of a term I was introduced to several years ago, in a book by Jeff Howe. The book’s title—and the word I’d like to dwell on for a few moments here—is Crowdsourcing. While his subtitle reveals the author’s focus—“Why the power of the crowd is driving the future of business”—it is equally applicable to science as well as business.

In fact, another term I had been introduced to at the same time—which fits in handily here—was that of the Citizen Scientist. Before the era of grant-driven scientific research, an acceptable paradigm of research was to include the viable observations of amateurs who were well versed in their field of study. Even at A Family Tapestry, we had met up with one amateur scientist of the early 1900s, in the person of Judge R. C. Flannigan’s wife, Anna Mary Haessly Flannigan, the persevering bird watcher in Michigan.

That grand tradition had all but disappeared in the mid 1900s, but has thankfully been making a comeback. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology organizes projects among its bird-watching adherents through the auspices of its “Citizen Science Program.” In astronomy, some of the latest discoveries have been through the efforts of citizen scientists, a fact not lost upon NASA—which devotes a page on its website, “For Citizen Scientists.” The American Association for the Advancement of Science is launching the first conference of the Citizen Science Association this coming February 11 in San Jose, California. Citizen science has come of age.

Clay Shirky, an author and instructor at New York University, has written about the dynamics behind the resurgence of citizen scientist movement. In his 2008 book, Here Comes Everybody, he examined the impact of the Internet on organizations and group dynamics, observing that technology’s tools boost collaboration in a way that lets it supersede the restrictions that once made many accomplishments the monopoly of institutional prerogative. Key in the shifting dynamic are the online tools that allow groups to get together and achieve tasks that once were considered too costly for their potential value.

In a Wikipedia article on citizen science, that very dynamic was noted:
Large volunteer networks often allow scientists to accomplish tasks that would be too expensive or time consuming to accomplish through other means.

Now, what does all that have to do with DNA testing? Think again about what you are achieving when you spring for that autosomal DNA test. You are not just out on a dilettante’s lark to locate distant relatives.  You are joining the many who are citizen scientists confirming—or correcting—the state-of-the-art conclusions of geneticists about how the human genome should be read. Every time you persevere in confirming a relationship among one of your DNA “matches,” you are sending your informed vote to those who watch the database at large: Yes, this is my sixth cousin, or No, this is not the correct relationship. We are not only using the technology for our own benefit. We are concurrently sending feedback, based on our own genealogical expertise—in a task that surely would be too expensive or time consuming for any research organization to fund on its own. Even an organization as respected and well-funded as National Geographic.

We, too, are citizen scientists.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Enormity of It All


In this era of “us four, no more,” it is hard to conceive of the multiplied numbers of large families begetting large families. Even during the era of immigrant families—those whose families started out large, but due to disease and hardship, saw their numbers dwindle in the end—genealogical records were no more complicated than the effort it took to keep track of all those premature deaths.

In the case of well-to-do colonial American families, however, in many cases, those numbers of hale and hearty descendants were often maintained over multiple generations. Such was the case with the tale of our Taliaferro line.

Even at the point at which I pick up the line in colonial America—not until several generations in, with Zachariah Taliaferro’s birth in Virginia in 1730—there were multiple cousins to be had. Tracing this all had to have been a challenge. Granted, there were several who were up to the challenge, for we have their legacy in the form of books like the Ivey and the Pilcher volumes I mentioned yesterday. But following those lines from that end point through their current-day descendants is a task still needing to be done.

Why do something like that? Because now that we have the technology—and the digitized, searchable resources—we also have the compulsion to do so, thanks to the popularization of DNA tests for genealogical use.

As I've mentioned before, there is no use taking that DNA test without the corresponding assistance of one’s own genealogical paper trail. When you get the results back from your DNA tests, you will meet up with cousins removed by upwards of five generations. How would you confirm the connection, if not armed with the documentation to reveal it?

Now that I have taken those DNA tests—both the full mitochondrial DNA test and the autosomal DNA test—I am grappling with the matchmaking phase of the adventure. As it turns out, quite a few of my matches line up along these long-established colonial family lines—one of them being the Taliaferro family. Yes, the line of large families begetting large families, through multiplied generations. Anyone have a scorecard?

You think I’m jesting? The other day, I grunted through the calculations to arrive at the conclusion that one DNA match and I were eighth cousins, twice removed. Think that’s extreme? Yesterday, I was going through some notes from a three year old email, and realized that a friend of mine had sent me an explanation for how she was a Taliaferro descendant, as well. While I’ve yet to sit down and map it all out, my thumbnail sketch indicates our mutual ancestor is twelve generations removed from us. Yay. We’re cousins. I can’t wait to tell her.

There is one caveat—and yes, that would be yet another reason this pursuit is fraught with difficulties. The caveat is that several of these Taliaferros had the propensity to have their children marry cousins. We saw it when my second great grandfather’s older brother William Broyles married Rebecca Taliaferro, his first cousin once removed. We may also have seen it when my second great grandfather married Mary Rainey, daughter of a Taliaferro—although that is still speculation on my part.

Do these multiple family intermarriages result in elevated centiMorgan counts, when it comes time to review autosomal DNA results? Just ask my eighth cousin, twice removed. He seems to think there is something hidden in the data that makes our relationship closer than what it appears on paper. He is likely right. I suspect the culprit is these multiple Taliaferro marriages.

But how would you know, if you didn’t have the paper trail to check? Sometimes, the numbers get so big, you can’t keep track in your head. That’s the kind of math you have to do on paper.

Given the discovery that a friend of mine, living in the same town as I, turns out to be my cousin—albeit very distant cousin—I wonder how many of us, walking around in our home towns, run into distant relatives every day, but never know it. If you’ve been around in this country long enough—and come from families large enough—those chances may be bigger than you thought.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Just Grunt Through It


Sometimes, the only way to face up to the tedium of genealogical research is to sit down, roll up your sleeves and do it. Just do it.

I took a deep breath and did just that, yesterday.

Well, let me amend that: I took a very deep breath and began this process of genealogical grunt work. This will be a long slog. There are kazillions of Taliaferros. And I am setting out on a task to document them all.

I had thought it might be brilliant to isolate all the Taliaferros who had been married—along with my (possible) third great grandmother, Mary—in the Georgia county of her marriage to Thomas Firth Rainey. At least, then I’d have some strands to trace backwards through time to their Taliaferro parents. It would give me a snapshot in time of which of the family members were living there in Oglethorpe County at the same time.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Using several digitized copies of old genealogies, I tried re-assembling the family line. I started out with three books: Pilcher’s Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher and Kindred Families, Ivey’s Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. JohnTaliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro, and Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia, by George R. Gilmer. For good measure, I threw in Genealogies of Virginia Families from the William and Mary College Quarterly, volume II, to double check those auxiliary lines.

Let’s go back to the marriage records. The FamilySearch.org Georgia marriage collection included nine entries—although several duplicates were included—that fit my search parameters. The trouble was, once I moved beyond the Oglethorpe County records I was seeking for Taliaferro weddings, comparing the details with those in the published genealogies brought more frustration than resolution.

Perhaps I just need to remind myself that, from our computerized vantage point, we have instantaneous access to more records than the average researcher in the early 1900s could ever hope to have.

Perhaps I can set the record straight on some of these lines.

Perhaps, though, I need to tread carefully and not assume I’m just setting things straight. Even government documents have been known to contain errors—not to mention their transcriptions.

And so I went, carefully treading through the text of four different publications, toggling back and forth between the open tabs on my computer, seeing which author said Person A married Person B when another author insisted it was really Person C. For now, I’m banking on the government documents being the voice of authority—but I’ll sure be open to the possibility that it was otherwise. I’ll take time after going through this mind-numbing process to run the names through newspaper archives and other resources to see if I can find any further mention confirming correct names and identities.

I have to remind myself of my underlying purpose for all this. Sometimes, when we get mired in the overwhelming details of the search, we need to cling to that all-important purpose. It’s the anchor that lets us hold firm to our resolve, no matter how much we might want to give it all up.

In the case of this Taliaferro chase, I’m seeking the identity of my third great grandmother and her kin for two reasons:
·       First, to break through the brick wall ancestor that may help me connect with my mystery cousin—and adoptee—with whom I share exact mtDNA results
·       Second, to fill in as many blanks as possible to give me the genealogical road map to navigate through all my autosomal DNA matches I’ve received since testing last December.

In the meantime, I’ll continue the search under cover. No need to dread countless posts recounting endless details. You know how I’ve compared watching genealogical research unfold with witnessing sausage-making. Neither does genealogy lend itself well to becoming a spectator sport. But if I stumble upon something interesting or exciting, you can be sure I’ll bring it up.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Uh-Oh…


Perhaps it was with a certain smug satisfaction that I concluded yesterday’s post—a little too prematurely. Yes, I discovered a record showing Thomas F. Rainey marrying someone named Mary E. Talafero in Oglethorpe County, Georgia. And yes, I’ve seen indications that that same Mary Taliaferro might have been sister to Charles Boutwell Taliaferro—the man who took in two of her unmarried children after her passing. But to find a Mary and Charles who are children of the same Georgia Taliaferro family? Well, that’s the catch.

There is more work to be done. Apparently, that is what the old reports are telling me.

Or, perhaps genealogies published by brick and mortar establishments of bygone years are no more infallible than are e-genealogies shared online today.

Let’s take a look at what can be found on those hallowed pages of another century's researchers.

The first task, logically, would be to seek the parents' names of siblings Mary E. and Charles Boutwell Taliaferro. A number of researchers have assumed a specific Taliaferro parent, but now that I’m trying to plug these two descendants into the larger Taliaferro picture, I’m not so sure.

We can assume, given Charles’ middle name of Boutwell, that he descends from a woman whose maiden name was that same Boutwell—and that we have in the person of the wife of Zachariah Taliaferro (1730 – 1811), named Mary. Given that date range, though, it is more likely that Mary Boutwell Taliaferro would be Charles’ grandmother, not mother. A number of researchers hold the father to be one of Zachariah’s and Mary’s sons, who went by either the name Warren or Warner. I’ve seen both versions—and frankly, looking at the handwriting in some census records, I can see how there could be confusion.

Just to surmount the current distress, let’s assume Charles’ father was Warren/Warner, son of Zachariah and Mary. That would not be too far fetched an assumption. Remember, the cemetery where Charles’ sister Mary was buried was a family burial grounds. If you took a peek at the link I shared yesterday, listing the names of all who were buried at that Johnson Cemetery in Coweta County, Georgia, you’d recognize a resonance in the name of Charles' sister Mary's son, also buried in their plot: Warren Taliaferro Rainey. Who do you suppose that child of Thomas F. and Mary Taliaferro Rainey might have been named after?

In addition, Warren/Warner’s siblings included another sister by the name of Frances, who married someone named Penn. We find her buried, along with Mary Taliaferro Rainey, in that same family cemetery.

All looks reasonably good—until, that is, we head for those time-honored genealogy books.

Before we start entangling ourselves within the annals of family history, let me provide you with a handy online scorecard for the Taliaferro family. No guarantees that this one is totally correct, either, but I like how it provides footnotes for key assertions. From Barbara Breedlove Rollins’ Family Files, you can find the specific section I’m referring to by clicking here.

So, what can we find in the old genealogical reports? Let’s look first at Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher and Kindred Families, compiled by Margaret Campbell Pilcher in 1911. If you are on Ancestry.com, you can find a copy of the text in question provided here. For those not willing to spring for Ancestry’s subscription fees, you can fortunately also access the public domain text through Internet Archive here.

In dense text at the end of the book, the author reviews the descendants of the Virginia colony’s Taliaferro family. At page 400, she begins a recital of all the children of Zachariah and Mary Boutwell Taliaferro. By page 402, the text covers the children of their son Zachariah—most pertinent to the daughter who married into the Broyles line I’ve been discussing for the past month. Two thirds of the way down page 403, the narrative arrives at that son of Zachariah and Mary we've been discussing today, given here as Warner.

According to Ms. Pilcher, Warner married a woman named Mary M. Gilmer, and together they had four children. Ms. Pilcher identifies those children as Nancy, Charles (Boutwell), Sophia and Polly.

If you arrived at the name of that fourth child, Polly, and breathed a sigh of relief, take it back. According to Ms. Pilcher, Polly married a man by the name of Landrum, not Rainey.

But wait! Another one of those four siblings did marry someone by the name of Thomas Rainey. If you are astute enough to notice that none of the remaining candidates, among those four siblings, was named Mary, you get extra points for your keen sense of the obvious.

Yes. We are in trouble.

Okay, so let’s not be too hasty with our judgments. Let’s cross check the Pilcher tome with another equally long-winded title, The Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. John Taliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro. This one, compiled by Willie Catherine Ivey, was the volume I first discovered at the Sutro library in San Francisco during one of my early forays into the treasures hidden in genealogical repositories, years ago. This text, as well, is available through Ancestry.com, but unfortunately, the 1926 volume is not accessible in digitized form online (at least that I can find).

According to the Ivey text, the page 105 outline of Zachariah and Mary’s children lists the son in question as Warren, not Warner. Yet his four children are listed with the same names, and are paired with the same spouses as were listed in the Pilcher book.

What are we to make of that? I suppose we can assume that these old volumes were indeed correct, and take our search elsewhere. After all, there are hundreds of pages of genealogical reports of descendants of the Taliaferro line to be had in these volumes alone. Noting these records would, if nothing else, help me navigate the nearly seven hundred DNA matches I’ve been notified about since taking my own autosomal DNA test. At best, they might help me identify exactly which Mary Taliaferro it was who married someone named Rainey in time to give birth to my second great grandmother.

On the other hand, I’ve spotted mistakes even in revered publications such as these. After all—though not in the two titles cited above—I’ve run across reports insisting that my third great grandfather died young in battle, when that was not the case at all. Besides, one thing we have in our favor that these authors from the early 1900s did not have is digitized copies of all the census records. Where they would have had to take hours—no, more likely, days—of grunt work to slog through bound copies of original documents (if those were even accessible to them at all), we can now, with the tap of our finger, call up the documents in question in rapid succession. It is more likely to find all the verification we need now than it was then, closer in time to the occurrences in question.

So, the question at hand now—given this confusing array of conflicting details—is: where to, next?

And the answer is: actually, I really don’t know.
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