Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Uncle I Never Met

John Laskowski must have been a steady guy. Firstborn son of Anton and Mary Laskowski, he arrived in the family’s Polish household in August of 1880. Along with the rest of his family—his two siblings Michko and Sophia arrived in short order—he made the trip west to a German port and then aboard a ship bound for America. By the time of the 1892 New York State census, he was living with his family in an apartment in Brooklyn.

John seemed to be the solid type who latched on to tradition and held fast. He found and married a Polish girl from the neighborhood where he grew up—“Blanche” Aktabowska—and raised the customary large Catholic family of at least six children.

Unlike either of his siblings, John kept the surname he arrived with. It wasn’t hard to find him in any of the subsequent federal census enumerations, or the available state census records. Working as a common laborer, he lived the rest of his days in his adopted homeland—varying the location only so much as to move from one New York City borough to another. His 1930 death being registered in Manhattan may only be a factor of which hospital he was taken to; his last noted residence was in Queens.

In sharp contrast, my grandmother—his sister Sophia—seemed to want to have nothing to do with her outmoded Polish roots. Though she may well have married a good Polish boy, there was nothing left of that telltale surname sign to alert me to the fact. Gone was the Polish surname. In its place arose a solid, respectable Irish name. Even the “Sophia” was gone—my grandmother opting for the more modern (or at least American) sounding “Sophie.”

Likewise, Sophie’s younger brother shed the telltale “-ski” from his surname, and disappeared into the American melting pot, allegedly under the name of Lasko. The “Michko” nickname showing in the 1892 census evolved into the more acceptable “Michael.”

It took a lot of searching—coupled with futile prying into the sealed family business that the older generation seemed to have vowed never to reveal—to even discover that Sophie had a maiden name, and that it was Laskowska. Even acting upon the hunch that the surname might have been shortened in Michko’s case, I still haven’t been able to locate a reasonable possibility that might have been him.

As for John, thankfully his rock-like resolve to not shed his identity allowed me to at least trace his side of my father’s family. Every step of the way, I kept myself anchored in John’s routine appearance in records, hoping—hoping—he would someday cross paths again with his siblings and alert me to their whereabouts as well.

I don’t know why this happens, but sometimes, chance events can catch our attention and make us remember—and reconsider—tasks long since set aside. I’m sure glad that was the dynamic that occurred when I spotted Randy Seaver’s post on the latest New York City record additions at That post tickled my memory, and I soon found myself playing the “what if” game online with New York City records again.

I didn’t even let myself get frustrated when the usual disappointing lack of results hit me again while trying my hand at either my grandmother’s or Michko’s data. They are simply not there to be found, much as I discovered years ago when trawling through microfilms or even in the earliest years of online genealogy at places like the Italian Genealogical Group (it’s not just for NYC Italians, you know).

When it came to John, however—the one who was always there, leaving me signs of his whereabouts every ten years—I encountered a surprise so stellar, it nearly took my breath away.

I found his immigration records.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Different Direction

Confession: another rabbit trail was calling my name yesterday and…I listened.

Yes, I caved. I took the bait. I fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

And I think I will be down at the bottom of a big pile of data for a long time.

Here’s how it happened:

Once upon a time, long, long ago—yes, in fact, back in June of 2009—I took an old family photo that my cousin Skip sent me, scanned it and posted it on my Facebook page. It was probably a little something I did in honor of Father’s Day, even though my father has been long gone, himself. In the photo—a family grouping that included my grandmother, her brother and their parents—my father was peeking over the shoulders of the women in the back row. At the time, he was a teenager. My aunt, all perky in her summer dress, was sporting a big white bow on the top of her little blonde head.

As things sometimes go on Facebook, some friends and family saw it and commented on it, over the next few days. The comments dribbled off after that. Then, some other relatives saw it the next winter and commented, starting the conversation back up again.

And that was the end of it.

Until Monday morning.

I don’t know why Facebook photos resurrect, but they do. And once someone gloms onto a photo—writes another comment—the thing is back in circulation again, as fresh as if it were posted within the past hour.

This time, more relatives shared their memories of the family mystery—the shock is, after being told we were Irish all our growing-up years, it turns out we are actually Polish on my dad’s side of the family—and we got to compare notes on what each of us knew about the “secret.”

Chapter Two: a blogger dangles the bait. I’ll just come out and say it: it wasn’t really blogger Randy Seaver’s fault for leading me astray, but his post yesterday about how has added more New York City records reminded me that I really need to see what’s gone online since the last time I poked around the data at any of the usual genealogical places.

While the records Randy mentioned were all just indices, not digitized images (which I hope will someday be forthcoming, as well), believe me: an index is infinitely better than trawling through miles and miles of microfilm. Take my word for it. The last time I seriously looked at my paternal branch of the family tree, it was when microfilm was the only game in town.

It was time for an update.

Gone was the afternoon, before I knew it. I looked not only at, but at the latest additions at, as well. I kept keying in names of my family, seeing whose documents made the cut in this latest release of genealogical treasures. I can’t say I made stellar progress—there is an unexplained instance of a radical name change—but stumbling upon one single document, I located several key facts about this family. You might say I garnered a genealogical grand slam.

Of course, being a document which captured the reporting party’s assertions, in a way, the record is not providing me anything more than hearsay. But it is the word of a father, reporting such juicy tidbits as the name of the ship he sailed on, the names of the rest of his family, and the date at which he arrived in New York harbor.

Better yet, that one document became the Big Reveal by sharing the name of the town in which my grandmother’s brother was born. If he was born there, let’s say I have a pretty good guess as to where she was born.

You know I can’t stop with just this one document. Every detail on that page becomes a hint to lead me toward another document. Each clue equips me with the tools to ferret out yet more details. It’s the chain reaction of research.

Something tells me I’m going to be on this rabbit trail for a long time.

Above: Photograph of various members of the Laskowski family in or near New York City, circa 1917; photograph in private collection of the author.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In Wonder-land

I’ve found some matching DNA!

It isn’t every day that a dedicated adherent to the tasks of genetic genealogy can make such a celebratory claim.

Actually, the pursuit of distant cousins who share my DNA—either mitochondrial or autosomal—has been quite frustrating. It seems like a process of sifting through haystacks to find the proverbial needle. Sometimes, I wonder what benefit this new technology has provided us. Sometimes, I wonder if someone forgot to insert the needle in said haystack.

Of course, having nearly eight hundred matches on my account isn’t making this any easier. But I try to keep up with the task. I’ve found that many of those matches are people who, for whatever reason, got themselves talked into testing, but didn’t have the fanatic interest in genealogy that you and I share. Some never bothered to post their family tree on the DNA company’s website. Others didn’t avail themselves of the opportunity to even type in the most commonly-occurring of their surnames. Of the limited number of those remaining on my match list, some posted such a minimalist tree that it serves little to no use at all—especially those well-meaning individuals who thought it best to protect their privacy by not allowing anyone to see any of the names in the tree that they did post online.

Of what help is that?

To complicate matters, I am not only searching for the needle in my family haystack, but I’ve convinced both my husband and my brother to have their DNA test done, as well. Part of the deal was that I would serve as administrator of their cases. While their numbers aren’t as daunting—my husband checks in at around four hundred matches as of last Thursday, and my brother trails him by about eighty—I still haven’t been able to find more than a smattering of hits belonging to parties on the other side of the match, willing and able to confirm my guesses.

So, as you can imagine, it was quite an adrenaline rush to see Charlie’s comment here the other day. Apparently, he was as surprised as I was to see my name pop up in the DNA test results for one of the relatives he is monitoring for his family.

Yet, when we each checked the other’s genealogy, nary a surname seemed to connect. What’s up with that?

I realize that, once you edge toward the “fifth to remote” cousin range, you come closer to matching people by sheer coincidence: “Identical By State” results, as they are called. IBS results are those in which there are identical segments or sequences of DNA, but that state did not result from common descent. In other words, it was just a coincidence, not a true relationship. There is no great-grandparent to the nth degree out there, just waiting to be discovered by you and your “match.”

In this case, however, the suspected relationship range was in a safer second-to-fourth cousin segment. That should mean we are keepers. If, that is, we can find a way to connect on paper.

True, I have gaps in my family tree. I suspect this particular match has a tree with gaps in it, as well.

I’ve come close with some other results, as well. I try to keep plugging away at the test results as they come in. Every week or two, I glean the results on my “Family Finder” test at Family Tree DNA, to see what new matches show up. For each new match, I explore the trees that are posted, and then send an email to my new match, introducing myself, sharing the link to my more-thorough tree at—and hoping for a reply in the affirmative.

Meanwhile, I’m furiously hurrying through building my own tree out, generation by generation, for all those relatives in the big murky middle—everything between the patrilineal and matrilineal lines.

And yet, I can’t help but wonder: isn’t there a better way to find the connections that make me and my fellow cousins matches? Isn’t there a more efficient way to trawl through all the surnames?

Short of finding a way to build a better family tree—and a way for the DNA companies to provide more facile search capabilities for those results they provide—I doubt there will be any way to lessen that feeling of impossibility. As amazing as the DNA technology may be, the path to those “match” answers still is paved with lots of hard work and perseverance.

Isn’t that the way it always is with real life?

Above: Pieter Brueghel the Elder, "The Harvesters," oil on panel circa 1565; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Muddling Through "Matrilineal"

In trying to explain to people the DNA testing concept of patrilineal and matrilineal lines, I’ve always been at a loss to succinctly deliver the goods. Short of actually pulling out pen and paper and mocking up a family tree chart—to which I add the line tracing both the patrilineal and matrilineal concepts—I’m often greeted with blank stares. Even by people smitten by the genealogy bug.

How can this be, I often wonder. But it is what it is. Still, it bugs me—just a tiny bit—because I realize the need for the genetic genealogy community to be mindful of good P.R. The DNA world—a world of terms and concepts too “science-y” to emit that user-friendly invitation to partake of its treasures—could use some capable ambassadors to bridge the gap between mind-boggling concepts and the warm fuzzies of customer satisfaction.

Today, while reading fellow blogger Randy Seaver’s week in review, I noticed his suggestion of a DNA blog I wasn’t familiar with. Since I could use all the help I can get in mounting that steep DNA learning curve, I took Randy’s suggestion and clicked on over to Kitty Cooper’s Blog. There, while perusing her archives, the answer to my little DNA PR dilemma slithered out of my subconscious and onto my mental horizon.

Let me try it out here. If you didn’t already know what the terms patrilineal and matrilineal meant, I’d ask you to imagine a world filled with countries having either of only two forms of government. One would be a monarchy. The other would be a democracy.

Now, assuming for a moment that the only ones who could become kings in that monarchy would be men, and the only ones in that democracy who could be elected to represent the people would be women, we have now set the stage for our discussion about patrilineal and matrilineal lines.

You see, the patrilineal concept is like the succession of sons inheriting the throne upon the death of their father, the king. Only “kings” could be in the patrilineal line: the current king now reigning is son of the king who just died. That king was son of the previous king. As far back as the history of that monarchy could go—assuming this was a world without war (and definitely devoid of intrigue)—the line would always pass from a man to his father. That is the patrilineal line: like a monarchy. (Sorry, Queen Elizabeth!)

When I explain what I’m trying to achieve with Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, it seems the patrilineal concept has a slightly better chance of being grasped by the innocent bystanders I am accosting with my testing proposals. So let’s test our political analogy on the matrilineal concept and see if it works as well as the monarchy example for the men.

Our second type of government, as I mentioned, would be a democracy. In other words, each governing position would be filled by election. Now, totally opposite of the monarchy we just discussed in our previous example, imagine that the only ones who could be elected in this other type of country would be women—not men. For every election cycle (in other words, for every generation), another woman would fill the position. One could never be quite sure who the next senator would be, for instance, but one thing you’d know for sure: it would be another woman.

Election cycle after election cycle—in other words, generation after generation—you knew someone would be selected to fill the position, but with each iteration came a woman with a different name. One generation, it could be Susan Smith. Another generation, it might be Jane Jones. Though the names would always change, each elected woman would still always receive the title, Senator.

To trace the history of this government back in time, the challenge would not be to find the most recent Senator, Jane Jones, and follow her surname back through time. It would be, instead, to find the list of senators, and follow that senatorial succession along its historical timeline. It would be the elected role of senator—in genealogy, that would be the role of mother—that is followed in our study. The office, not the person—from senator to senator to senator.

Perhaps that muddies the waters just as much as any other description I’ve heard. I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that when I mention following the genetic line of the mother, people often seem to think of all the women in a family—not just the mother, her mother, and the mother before that one. Or to begin following the ancestors of that woman's surname. But in the case of the mother's line, as we know, each generation presents a different mother's maiden name.

As if in one great big dance—or one historic succession of elections—the female players keep changing position. Without a set surname remaining constant while we trace the family back through time, the only established identity these women have is their title: in my allegory, senator—or, in the case of genetic genealogy, mother.

Maybe, as genetic genealogy testing becomes more prevalent—and, hopefully, the cost continues to come down, making the process more pocketbook-friendly as well—it will suffice all but the most novice among us to simply bandy about the terms, patrilineal and matrilineal. Until then, barring the handy use of pen and paper, perhaps a comparison like this will help clear up the definitions.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stuffy Old Genealogy Tomes Tell All

What do you do when it’s 1855 and you have no tell-all tabloids to keep you informed when standing in line at the dry goods store?

Apparently, you read genealogy books.

One of my resources, in following my Taliaferro and related lines, is a book that was first published in 1855. Written by former governor of Georgia, George R. Gilmer, it was known by one of those traditionally-elongated titles of the era: Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia, of the Cherokees, and the Author. Let’s just call the book Sketches for convenience.

The Gilmer book was re-printed, in a “corrected” form, in 1926 and then again—this time, with an added index for ease in researching—by the Genealogical Publishing Company in 1965.

“That most charming book,” as the foreword to the corrected edition of Sketches noted, had a mixed reception,
…because of the chatty style, unpleasant gossip, minutiae of descriptions, and the too candid truths therein about so many prominent people. The author’s unvarnished story and lack of extenuation made his book distasteful to many who were aggrieved thereby.

The foreword did go on to admit,
This history, however, written as it is in this most unusual style will always remain as an oasis in the moral desert of truculent and time serving literature.

So, what did the tell-alls of mid nineteenth century America say?

Remember the woman I mentioned yesterday—the one I suspect might be in my direct matrilineal line? Here’s what Governor Gilmer had to say about her on page 15 of the most current edition of his book:
Mary Meriwether, the oldest daughter [of Thomas Meriwether Gilmer and Elizabeth Lewis] is a woman of good understanding. She married successively two very indolent, inefficient men, whom by her industry she saved from poverty. The first was Warren Taliaferro, brother of Col. Benjamin Taliaferro; the second, Nicholas Powers, a handsome Irishman.

Should you think this was just a slip of the pen in a late-night writing session, here’s an additional passage from Sketches, this time focusing on the Taliaferro side of the genealogy:
Warren Taliaferro was tall, muscular, good-tempered, very indolent and inefficient. He constantly reminded those who listened to his conversation of his Italian descent. He married Mary M. Gilmer, daughter of Thomas M. Gilmer. He was a fond husband and father.

Sure, the author blended the good with the bad in his version of the family memoir. But when it came to the bad, George Gilmer seemed to hold no inhibitions about expressing his opinion. Take this entry about Warren Taliaferro’s older brother:
Richard Taliaferro was deformed—his legs and thighs being only a span or two long, whilst his body was of ordinary length and size, and his head unusually large. His mind was of good capacity, but his deformity so soured his temper, and mortified his pride, as to drive him from society. He never married, became very penurious, and died without ever having enjoyed the love or commiseration of any but his nearest kin.

How’s that for a eulogy?

Though a passage like this might permit you a glimpse into just what it was that had some of the good governor’s readers outraged at his opinions, apparently the plainspokenness of this former generation carried the day. Gilmer’s genealogy went on to be cited and his stories paraphrased in other genealogies, as well.

An 1892 publication, The Meriwethers and Their Connections, followed suit in divulging one of those personal stories, the subject of which undoubtedly would die a thousand deaths if she had known what had been said about her. Just imagine this scenario:
David Meriwether, the third son of Thomas and Elizabeth Thornton Meriwether, was a quiet, upright man… He married Mary Harvie, a very sensible, good woman, and one of the best of wives. She was so fat when old, that she seldom left the house. Her husband was usually found by her side. She weighed between three and four hundred, and was tall in proportion. He was low in stature, and weighed about a hundred and twenty. Her seat was a broad split-bottom chair, and when she rose up, she put each hand upon a round of the chair, and ascended so gradually, and for so long a time, that she looked as if she would never stop.

David and Mary Harvie Meriwether, incidentally, were the parents of the charming young lady, Martha, who became the focus of the struggle between brothers Benjamin and Zachariah Taliaferro for her hand in marriage. My fourth great grandfather lost.

Not to be out-done in this genealogical tell-all, Colonel James Edmonds Saunders—aided and abetted, no less, by his granddaughter, Elizabeth Saunders Blair Stubbs—added to the Mary Harvie story in their own version in 1899:
She was one of a family of nine brothers and sisters, whose aggregate weight exceeded 2700 pounds. When Mrs. Meriweather [sic] became old, she weighed between 300 and 400 pounds. The four daughters in this family were all well favored…

The Saunders narrative, Early Settlers of Alabama, continued with the next generation of this Taliaferro family,
Major Benjamin Taliaferro [son of Martha Meriwether, whose mother was Mary Harvie] married Martha Watkins, in Georgia; moved to Alabama and lived in Marengo county. He was low in stature, but very squarely built, and in old age weighed largely over 300 pounds. He inherited the fattening tendency from his grandmother.

Still, there were some kind words to add to the picture.
Major Benjamin T. was of sprightly mind, and sharp wit; and he had a fund of the best Georgia anecdotes, which made him the life of every company he entered. His rippling, guttural laugh much resembled that of the renowned English actor Hackett, when he personated Falstaff.

Good, bad or indifferent, these authors’ observations about the foibles of our ancestors at least give us an idea of what these people of past generations were like. Perhaps the kindness was—at least, I hope this was so—that the subjects of the sketches in these genealogical narratives were, by then, long gone.

Yet, we have to remember that the candid nature of such writings does not guarantee their accuracy. The transparency of the authors lends somewhat of a charm to what would otherwise be the dull droning of begats—but that doesn’t mean we are safe to allow ourselves to be beguiled by what made it into print, well over one hundred years ago.

A warning from the author of Sketches, himself, reminds us to take the information we glean from such manuscripts with caution. In the 1926 edition of his work, Governor Gilmer wrote, regarding himself,
Old age and long continued ill-health have made the author’s hand tremulous and his sight dim, so that he writes badly and cannot readily perceive mistakes. He employed copyists to transcribe his manuscript. They made many mistakes. The author could not supervise the printing. The printer added to the mistakes of the author and copyists.

And you think these time-honored genealogies are reliable resources?  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

On the Trail

I’m back to that perennial struggle between staying on the research itinerary’s timetable and stopping to smell the flowers along the roadside.

Admittedly, I’ve spent a lot of time smelling those roses lately. When genealogical research finally makes it back to colonial times in this country, it’s time to really enjoy the scenery. It seems like every surname could be connected to something of significance.

Whether it’s history or a serious case of inbreeding, I don’t know. But it sure is tempting to follow those rabbit trails.

Take this week, for instance. I was truly repentant for my past transgressions of following my nose onto the Tilson line—even though it led me straight to Mayflower Society eligibility. I meant well when I promised I’d head back to the main trail and stick to my original purposes.

But then I stumbled upon another set of surnames that made me wonder. And my resolve faltered.

Yes, I took the detour.

But it was only a small one. Really.

You see, if I want to figure out how my mitochondrial DNA test results lead me back to an exact match with someone who was adopted at birth, one thing’s for sure: I need to stick with the matrilineal trail that leads from my mother to her mother to her mother. There is no deviating from this line. After all, that’s what matrilineal means.

Since I have one of those annoying brick wall road blocks keeping me from moving up that trail beyond my third great grandmother, I will have to engage in some guess work to test the possibilities of who her mother might have been.

That leaves me stuck at third great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro, wife of Thomas Firth Rainey. Since both of them died in Georgia before their daughter—my second great grandmother, Mary Rainey Broyles—married in 1871, I had to glean some clues from the nearest census record.

Fortunately, as we’ve already seen, I was able to find a Mary “Reiney” in the 1870 census. Along with a Thomas Reiney, she was living in the household of Charles and Mildred Taliaferro. In addition, there was a Minnie “Broyes”—which I suspected might actually be Broyles—in the household.

Could Thomas be Mary’s brother, I wondered. Since Minnie’s mother also turned out to be a Taliaferro, could sixty one year old Charles be the guardian of choice for this branch of the Taliaferro family?

Looking backwards one decade, I was able to locate siblings Thomas and Mary in the household of widowed Mary (Elizabeth Taliaferro) Rainey in 1860. One more decade, and I had located the senior Mary’s husband’s name—Thomas Firth Rainey—in addition to a marriage record for the couple in 1818 Oglethorpe County, Georgia.

Here’s where the guessing game revved up. Next question: so who would have been the mother of Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro? Remember, my quest calls for strict adherence to the matrilineal line—no wandering!

Thinking that there had to be a reason why Charles Taliaferro took in two of Mary Elizabeth’s children after her death, I decided to play the “what if” game and call Charles Mary Elizabeth’s brother. After all, it is possible.

Then the quest was on to find a Taliaferro family which included a brother-sister team of Charles and Mary Elizabeth. While the part about Mary Elizabeth had me stymied, I did know Charles’ middle name was Boutwell, and that there was a Boutwell maiden name in another of my Taliaferro lines.

Checking out the family of Warren Taliaferro, sure enough, there was a son named Charles Boutwell Taliaferro—I already knew this—but he didn’t have a sister named Mary Elizabeth. My only options in this four-child family were sisters Nancy, Sarah and Lucy (who also went by the name Sophia). One published genealogy of the last century noted that Nancy married a Thomas Rainey.

Could Nancy be Mary Elizabeth? Since I’ve yet to find any solid documentation—other than a marriage record indicating Thomas married someone named Mary Taliaferro—I decided to continue playing the “what if” game.

So, what if “Mary” was really “Nancy” and her father was Warren Taliaferro? Who did Warren marry?

The answer to this, according to various published genealogies, was Mary Meriwether Gilmer. (And, because Warren died fairly early in their marriage, Mary married, second, a man who likely served as her family’s minister, Nicholas Powers, with whom she went on to have six additional children.)

This Mary becomes the next entry in my hypothetical matrilineal line, then. And the question moves on to be, “And who was her mother?”

The answer to this next sequence is that Mary Meriwether Gilmer was daughter of Thomas Meriwether Gilmer and his wife, Elizabeth Lewis.

By this time, the repetition of the name Meriwether, coupled with the addition of the maiden name Lewis, started to ring a bell.

Ding! It’s Rabbit Trail Time! What name do you know that contains both a Meriwether and a Lewis?

You know I went to check that one out.

Gone was the pursuit of matrilineal lines. Now I wanted to follow that Meriwether line as far back as I could. I wanted to make some connections. To continue the genealogical litany, Thomas Meriwether Gilmer was son of Peachy Ridgeway Gilmer—yes, that was his name—and his wife, Mary Meriwether.

Ah ha! That’s where the Meriwether surname came in!

Jumping tracks to follow her name—and, in case you’re lost, no, that would not be part of my matrilineal line; now it’s just for the sheer curiosity of the joy ride—Mary Meriwether, wife of Thomas M. Gilmer was daughter of Thomas Meriwether and his wife, Elizabeth Thornton.

Now for the long descent down the other side of the family mountain.

Mary, daughter of Thomas Meriwether, had a sister named Lucy. According to Louisa H. A. Minor’s 1892 The Meriwethers and Their Connections, Mary’s sister Lucy was “a woman of sterling sense and admirable qualities.”

Lucy was one of those women of that era whose husband’s early demise was followed by another marriage. Though I don’t know why Lucy’s first husband died, I do know his name and rank: Colonel William Lewis.

Lewis? Ah, now you sense what I’m after. A wedding in which a maiden name might be blended with a married surname.

And what do you get? Meriwether Lewis.

Yes, that one.

To recap—just in case you lost track—the grandmother of my suspected fourth great grandmother Mary Meriwether Gilmer Taliaferro Powers was sister to the mother of Meriwether Lewis. That same suspected fourth great grandmother was thus first cousin, once removed, from the renowned explorer, Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame. That could make me his first cousin, a kazillion times removed. Even so, that’s a rabbit trail worth exploring.

Above: Portrait of Meriwether Lewis, circa 1807, by Charles Willson Peale; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Refocusing on Square One

The truth is, I’ve been running away from reality. And the reality is that I’m not finding what I’m looking for.

Sometimes, it’s just easier to keep looking—looking for anything, as long as it keeps yielding discoveries. Sometimes, getting more genealogical goodies feels like progress, even if it isn’t the stuff I need to be finding.

If you haven’t noticed, it’s been almost a month since I was last back on track with my stated purpose. Oh, granted, finding the how and why of my connection to the Mayflower has been a blast. But it wasn’t in my original game plan.

I still need to break through the brick wall of discovering which family my orphaned second great grandmother belonged to. And, if I was right about my original guess of Mary Rainey Broyles’ mother being Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro Rainey, then who were her parents? The genealogy books covering that line in that era, in my estimation, have got it all wrong—but where is my proof that I’m any closer to the truth?

So, I dither around with finding “clues” to plug into other family members’ trees and fool myself into thinking I’m making progress. I may be gathering a larger count of individuals in my tree, but I’m still missing the mark.

Remember, it’s all in seeking a connection between my matrilineal line and that of the mystery adoptee who, one day several months ago now, showed up on my digital front door, announcing that our DNA tests showed an exact match we share.

Even where I’ve been stuck for the last month—wondering about third great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro Rainey—I can’t gain any traction. Not even with the four other Rainey daughters whose potential descendants could also trace a line that would lead to exact matches, if I could ever convince one of their descendants to agree to mitochondrial DNA testing.

If. Of course, that “if” won’t happen any time soon, because I can’t even determine what became of three of those siblings of my second great grandmother.

Don’t get your hopes up on the fourth of the sisters—I already know she died unmarried before 1851.

However, if I can, somehow, find the “happily ever after” for what must likely be the married version of sisters Martha, Sarah, and Mildred Rainey—and if any of them had daughters who had daughters—then perhaps I’ll find a way to see how close a match we might have to our mystery cousin.

Above: Long Island, New York, artist William Moore Davis (1829-1920), The Lady Behind the Door; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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