Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Rest of the Story

There is always a “Rest of the Story.” That’s a thought that might have been popularized by radio announcer Paul Harvey in his weekday program of that name. But I’ve found it true in my own genealogical pursuits. There always seem to be unexpected twists as the ancestral story unfolds.

If you’ve been a constant companion at A Family Tapestry since the season in which I unraveled the story of my father-in-law, World War II Navy recruit—and later Air Force veteran—Frank Stevens, you may remember the point at which I felt the need to share the rest of his story. It was not a comfortable moment, but having read all those letters home from his various posts in the Pacific, Europe and Asia, it helped me see a different man than the one whose legacy presented itself at the time I met the family, years after his passing.

Now that I’m working on my own maternal line, I am sharing discoveries about a family whose roots reach far back into the Southern fabric of our nation—and even before that, into colonial Virginia. My grandmother was indeed a Southern Lady. I always knew that.

I also knew her heritage had been thoroughly researched—all the many lines of her history, from the paternal McClellan side with its Charles, Tyson and Townsend offshoots, to the maternal Broyles side which has led us to the numerous Taliaferros we’ve lately been discussing.

Even though I’ve been doing genealogical research for decades, exploring my mother’s lines has been a late add to my endeavors. There’s a reason for that. First, of course, I already knew I could easily locate several published genealogies of these various surnames, with documentation in some cases reaching back into the 1600s. What could I add to such a body of knowledge? I’m more into genealogy for the “hunt” than for the pedigree, anyhow, and there didn’t seem to be any new ground to cover. I prefer a potentially conquest-rich environment for my research challenges.

However, there is also a second reason I’ve shied away from digging in to these roots. Southern roots come with baggage. And this born-and-bred Northerner shrinks in horror at the thought of what lies intertwined with those refined Southern roots. When one’s personal life experience clashes with that of one’s heritage, it lends a sense of instability to that inner being. And I’m frankly uncomfortable with that.

To say, “Oh how nice,” or “Oh, how lovely” to the delicious life circumstances that graced these ancestors’ good fortune is to ignore the backs of those upon whom those delicacies were borne. But what is to be done about that? As much as it is in my DNA, it is not within my power to revert back through the centuries to make that all go away.

This is a quandary that has been addressed by other researchers as they explore their Southern heritage. I remember author and fellow genealogy blogger, Mariann Regan, discuss what she calls the “psychological briar patch” of subconscious influences upon her slave-holding ancestors. I can’t help but wonder if some of my own ancestors succumbed to similar forces, as I recall the romanticized stories of the Old South passed along through that family to my grandmother.

But what to do about that heritage now? Having been raised in a large metropolitan area in which people from all nations gathered—and now, living quite comfortably in a city on the opposite coast in which my own racial heritage is decidedly in the minority—it seems so foreign to hold the type of attitudes and presumptions that surely were widespread among those of my ancestors’ class, two centuries ago. It’s not as if it’s my obligation to make right what was wrong hundreds of years in the past.

And yet, there are friends of mine who would like to know what their roots are, too. While the research brick walls I struggle with are laced with the anti-Catholic prejudice of subordinated Ireland, or the immigrant silence of forebears who were so embarrassed about their Polish roots that they lied about their origin in their newfound homeland, these friends struggle with what some have called the 1870 brick wall: listed with the dignity of their own freedom through that census, they became cloaked with the invisibility of surname-less slavery by the time of their documentation in that earlier census.

I like the approach Mariann Regan took in responding to her own angst over that position. In addition to writing a book that explores both her thoughts and her research discoveries—Into the Briar Patch: A Family Memoir—she also blogged about the documents she found. Post after post on her blog, she photographed and transcribed records of her slave-holder ancestors—a difficult admission, to be sure, but hopefully a trail from which others can find a connection with their own roots.

It’s been a while since Mariann has posted to her blog, though the material is still there for others’ benefit. Yesterday, though, I found another thoughtful response to the issue of helping researchers connect with their slave ancestors, thanks to a post by True Lewis at NoTes To MySeLf. She directed her readers to a Slave Name Roll Project coordinated by Schalene Dagutis at another blog, Tangled Roots and Trees. Anyone who has a “roll” of slave names on their blog, gleaned from documents, can submit a link to Schalene for inclusion on her Slave Name Roll Project.

In one way, this is not a project for which I would raise my hand, wildly waving it and chanting, “Oh, pick me, pick me!” Somehow, from a perspective like mine, I can’t help but see this as more of a hall of shame. But it is what it is—or, more precisely, it was what it was—and something to get beyond, if we are to help others progress in their own genealogical research.

Though I’ll wince at the addition of each name to the list I’ll compile, in memory of the life it represented, I’ll still know that the good is in the passing along of the information. I hope, if you are in the same uncomfortable position I’m in, you will consider joining the project as well.

Above: "King Cotton," panoramic photograph by J. C. Coovert of Memphis, Tennessee, circa 1907; courtesy United States Library of Congress; in the public domain.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tokens of Their Existence

What is it about ephemera that converts their transitory meaninglessness into zeitgeist collectibles? Here today, but supposed to be gone tomorrow, these are tokens of life lived that were meant to be discarded: theater tickets, old receipts, old envelopes used years later for bookmarks. Hungering to know more about the people who once possessed them, we grasp these straws in hopes of conjuring images of our loved ones’ past.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a stack of such ephemera when working on something else. It was—thankfully—a small stack, but I was still surprised to find it. I had, a year ago, evidently set it aside to work on later, stumped as to where to file these items which appeared to be duplicates of others I’d already worked on.

The whole set was from my aunt’s papers. She’s been gone for over a year now. I had thought I had completely gone over her possessions and finished the sorting, filing and disposing.

Not so. Here were negatives of old photographs already in my possession—and likewise, duplicates of other photos which I had already scanned.

And then, there was a post card.

I turned the card over to read what was on the reverse of a panoramic view of the New York skyline. The note—sent back home to her parents at the end of June, likely at the start of this teacher’s summer vacation—didn’t say anything remarkable. The postmark had the year it was sent partially obliterated, though from the address I could likely guess when it was sent. The five cent postage offered another clue.

“Hi,” the note began, squeezed under the post card label explaining that the view was of “Lower Manhattan, New York City” in seven languages.

Flight to La Guardia was fine—no lunch, however. We are waiting for our helicopter to Kennedy. Then we eat. We looked for you on top. We couldn’t sit together, but across the aisle. Want to fill camera before we get to Kennedy.

Perfunctory message—almost as if my aunt breathed a sigh of relief as she crossed that duty off her list. From Kennedy International Airport, presumably, she and her unnamed companion were off to a European destination, her usual summertime adventure—although she did once head in the other direction and tour India.

Why anyone thought it important to save that card—honestly, the photo is in no way remarkable—I don’t know. But someone did, or I wouldn’t be telling you about it now.

While there isn’t much to glean from this slip of paper, that plus dozens more combined are what I’ve sifted through to find clues about my family’s past. It’s a tedious process, in one way, but a fascinating chase for family members who care to know. And that’s probably the key.

As we go back through the years, further into history, it becomes harder and harder to locate such ephemera. Torn movie tickets stuffed in a pocket of an old jacket still hanging in a deceased relative’s closet are one thing. We can catch such items before the “estate” is liquidated. But what about those three or more generations preceding that? We weren’t around for those opportunities to rescue such pieces from their fated place in the local landfill.

I think it is for such a reason that I value published genealogies and local histories of the 1800s and earlier. If any tokens of our ancestors’ existence have been preserved—at least in a discoverable form—it likely will be found in such collections of stories.

And yet, hoping to find what we are looking for in those compilations is like hoping to get one’s fill at a potluck dinner. Whatever the author—or the sources for his information—brings to the table becomes what is served up to the hopeful reader. Sometimes, that material yields wonderfully unexpected treasures. Sometimes, nary a name is mentioned—or worse, faulty information is passed down to the unsuspecting reader.

Yet, I couldn’t help but peek ahead, when reading the Ivey book on the Taliaferro ancestry. After finding such stories as this family’s connection to Georgia’s poet laureate, or the original Siamese twins, I was primed to find more. I know I will have to cross check everything I read with documentation, and that I will also consult with other published genealogies, but besides the convenient recounting of the genealogies, the “what happened next” aspect of the storytelling exerts a powerful component of its own. After all, it’s not what their names were, or when they were born, or how long they lived that’s most interesting to me. What I really want to know is: what were these people like?

If I have to resort to sifting through the contents of their pockets, or flipping through the stash of saved letters in their desk drawers, that’s what I’ll do. It’s these tokens of our ancestors’ lives that are sometimes the only things left to tell us the answer to the question we are really asking when we pursue our genealogy.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A “Who’s Who” of
Your Own Family History

Have you run into any famous names as you push your way into the unknown of your family’s past history?

I thought it rather notable when I bumped into a name of significance as I rolled through the genealogy of my extended Taliaferro line: Frank Lebby Stanton, writer and creator of the poem from which the Association of Graveyard Rabbits has drawn its name.

Finding mention of that name reminded me of the Unit Studies approach of my homeschooling years: a technique for studying a central figure or topic in history, then exploring all the related trails branching from that one point of examination. Sort of like mind-mapping for curriculum design, developing Unit Studies could escort you through varied educational terrain—math, science, composition, geography, language, sometimes even performing arts or athletics—all while studying history. Unit Studies took learning out of the education box and turned it into an observatory of how life really is, where everything is (or can be) related.

That experience—finding Frank—got me to thinking: could there be others who were once recognized as significant by their peers, during their lifetime?

Of course, that thought led to another: would there be enough of those interesting people in my extended family universe to warrant creation of my own family’s Who’s Who of relatives?

While I thought this an interesting possibility, my inner critic decided finding Frank was definitely a fluke—besides, he was an in-law—and dismissed the idea.

Then I ran into yesterday’s story.

There I was, mindlessly grinding my way through the Taliaferro genealogy I’ve been studying for the past month—Willie Catherine Ivey’s Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. John Taliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro—and I saw the possibility for entry number two in my own family's Who’s Who.

By this point in my progress, I was up to page fifty six in the Ivey text, and working on the descendants of Dr. John’s son Charles. I had moved on to Charles’ son—named John, after his grandfather—who married Martha Wright and moved from the family’s hometown in Surry County, North Carolina, to Tennessee.

This younger John Taliaferro had a son whom he named William, who had been married twice, owing to the death of his first wife sometime before 1869. William and his second wife—a cousin named Martha Franklin whom everyone called (for some inexplicable reason) Pattie—had one child, born in 1870. They named this son Charles Franklin Taliaferro.

While this younger Charles Taliaferro was listed as “a prominent physician,” that is not why I bring up his story today. Since Charles and his wife had no children, I’m certainly not mentioning his story for that reason—he, too, joined the ranks of those who became the last leaf on their family tree’s branch.

It is solely for one sentence in the Ivey book that I bring up Charles’ record today. He married a woman whose own genealogy was notable enough to be included in the Ivey narrative.
He married Ida Virginia Bolejack, daughter of Nathaniel Bolejack and Victoria (Bunker) Bolejack of Mount Airy, N.C…

Up to this point, nothing in the narrative would be unusual for a genealogy book. It is the continuation of that last sentence that made all the difference.
…and granddaughter of Chang Bunker, one of the Siamese twins.

Siamese twins? I thought the name, Chang, to be quite unusual for the spouse of anyone associated with a family whose roots reached back to colonial days in America. More than that, though, while I understood the concept of Siamese twins, I had never given any thought to the reason why such twins might be dubbed “Siamese.”

Straight to Wikipedia I flew, looking for any possible entry on Chang Bunker.

I found one.

Yes, the original Siamese twins were indeed named Chang and Eng, and they were, literally, Siamese. Born in 1811 near Bangkok, they were observed as teenagers by a Scottish merchant living in the area. The merchant realized the financial possibilities in exploiting the curiosity of the twins’ predicament, and entered into a contract with the twins’ family to take the boys on a world tour.

At the end of their agreed contractual terms, the now-world-traveler twins decided that the place where they would most like to settle was an area near Wilkesboro, North Carolina. They adopted Western styles and ways, choosing even to assume an anglicized surname: Bunker. Becoming naturalized American citizens, they went into business for themselves and became an established part of their new community.

Incredibly—and awkwardly, I am assuming—the brothers married. Two sisters became their wives, Chang marrying Adelaide Yates, his brother marrying her sister Sarah Anne.

Chang and Adelaide became parents of eleven children. One of those children was Victoria Bunker, who eventually married Nathaniel Bolejack. They, in turn, became parents of Ida Virginia Bolejack. And she, as we read above, became the wife of Dr. Charles Franklin Taliaferro.

While Chang and his constant-companion brother Eng became worldwide curiosities, Chang’s granddaughter became someone in my own extended family whom I can consider intriguing. If it hadn’t been for stumbling upon her name—and the inclusion of her family’s story in my family’s genealogy—I wouldn’t have revisited the history of the concept of “Siamese twins” and would have missed the personal connection totally. Though yet another in-law to my Taliaferro line, Ida Virginia Bolejack Taliaferro makes a great candidate for my own private Who’s Who of interesting relatives.

Above: "Chang and Eng, the Siamese twins, One Holding a Book," undated lithograph by unidentified publisher; public domain image in the Iconographic Collections at Wellcome Library, from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom; this image shared under Creative Commons Attribution only license CC BY 4.0; via Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Write Choice

Driving home from a meeting the other evening, I had a thought. It was a thought about writing and the many stories we researchers glean from our examination of our own family history.

This particular meeting I had just left was for a specialized group of members of my local genealogical society. Our purpose in meeting every month is to encourage members who wish to write about their family history.

Though the stated purpose sounds impressive, not everyone has the same end product in mind. While some do intend to write actual books, others hope to prepare manuscripts for private sharing among family members, or create a scrapbook, or organize their data to pass along to a relative willing to take up where the originator of the work left off.

Yet, despite the wide variety of hoped-for results, we all have one thing in common: a need for encouragement to Just Do It.

The writing process is very much a journey: a matter of lifting one heavy foot after another, and setting it ahead of the one still firmly planted on the ground. It’s that plodding progress that turns dreaming into doing, paragraphs into pages, and collections into chapters. None of that will happen until we Do It.

Our small group has a number of fascinating stories to tell. One woman’s Norwegian ancestor was a journalist in Bergen who became acquainted with the noted playwright, Henrik Ibsen. A second researcher, fairly new to genealogy, delved into her family’s story with gusto, following her roots to Mexico where, documented in the Spanish language, were published accounts leading her back to the seventeenth century founder of one town—then to further connections in Spain. Another member wants to share her memories of immigrant family members, including an Assyrian grandmother who suffered from post-traumatic stress as a survivor of genocide in her family’s homeland.

These are all stories that need to be told. The question is: how to do it? How to put that one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward?

It is interesting to take the broad perspective, when considering records of family histories. It seems these projects sweep over us in cycles. Depending on the economic conditions of the times, there have been eras in which no one seemed to care “about dead people”—then other periods in which genealogy seems to be a popular passion.

I remember when first learning about my father’s Polish ancestors, a fellow researcher mentioned the blank stares she received from villagers back in her family’s homeland; when it takes every waking moment just to keep body and soul together, the thought of inquiring about one’s dead relatives seems foolishly extravagant.

Here in the United States, by the end of the 1800s, we must have been doing well; several locales had “History of” volumes published with their county or city name included in the title. Likewise, a number of surname studies—at least among the families I’ve been researching—made their appearance with initial print runs in the early 1900s.

The wave seems to be coming back in again with a resurgence in interest in genealogy. And so, we find ourselves gathering in Special Interest Groups, mutually encouraging ourselves as budding writers. Yet, nineteenth century or now, the only cure to lack of accomplishment is still: Just Do It.

I didn’t think of the idea until that long drive home the other night. Being the editor of our local genealogical society’s newsletter, I found it the logical thing to suggest, especially considering our newsletter’s constant need for appropriate content. Simple: encourage our group members to start by writing something small, but worthy of publication.

The same could be applied to all of us in the blogging world: write a scene from your family history that would be of interest to a local genealogical society, then submit it for inclusion in their newsletter. Put that one writing foot in front of the other and, step by step, initiate the journey. After all, those of us who are blogging certainly must have a vested interest in having our work read by others.

Granted, our local society would be most interested in printing stories about people who lived in our county. However, not all our members are researching people who lived here, one hundred years ago. Yet, there is hardly a county or region in this country that doesn’t have a corresponding genealogical society. Someone, somewhere, would be interested in your family’s story—and would love to include it in their local newsletter. It’s just a matter of doing it: putting one word after another on paper, until the story takes shape in a way that makes sense to others.

It seems we writers are always hoping for that bright opportunity for our words to be read—yet miss the humble, plainspoken chances right under our own noses. The accountability of preparing something for publication in a local genealogical society’s newsletter or journal is a practical exercise for the craft, as well as an opportunity to remember one family’s story from local history.

I like how Carmen Nigro put it, in recapping “Twenty Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History” for a recent New York Public Library blog post: “individual voices from the past” provide “important historical documents” through their first-person narratives. These are remembrances that we, as genealogists with the incentive to write, are well equipped to provide.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Some Saturday Stats

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t feel like it.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Three Brothers and a War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Same Place, Same Day, Two Marys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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