Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Smoking Gun

Arriving at the right generation, with the right Zachariah Taliaferro, it looks like I’ve connected the dots between my mother’s maternal line and the patriot that entitles me to D.A.R. membership. With such a long line of ancestors, and such a tedious paper trail, it is nearly breathtaking when I realize how tenuous the connection to this lineage society membership actually is.

My claim to that small part of the glory days of the American Revolution is actually based on one piece of evidence that I, myself, would have considered of a secondary nature. But there it is, accepted and published for all to see within the database of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution: two page numbers in one single, solitary book.

If you are thinking that the book is an index of death records, or some other compendium of vital statistics, think again. This book is not even published by any government entity. And yet, pages two and seventy five hold the very facts that bestow upon me the qualifications for membership.

This smoking gun—the corollary record of my fifth great grandfather’s service on behalf of the fledgling country—was the evidence uncovered by a researcher specializing in Virginia documents. Her name was Lenora Higgenbotham Sweeny. The book in question, known as Amherst County, Virginia in the Revolution, was originally published by the J. P. Bell Company in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1951. A review of the book appeared in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, volume 60, number 2, in April of the following year. The review, for those subscribing to JSTOR, can still be read here. According to Google™ Books, a reprint of the volume was issued by Southern Historical Press in 1998. However, Genealogical.com indicates that even the second version of the book is now out of print—although Amazon breathlessly insists that, if you hurry, you may purchase one of the last two copies available here.

For the saner among us who hold the purse strings tightly, this coveted book can be found elsewhere. Thankful as I am for my local public library—and especially for the excellent collection of material compiled there steadily through the years by our county’s genealogical society—our local system does not own a copy of the book. However, for the cost of an hour’s drive to a nearby city’s college library, I may obtain a copy on loan. Or I may simply inquire as to obtaining it through inter-library loan. I suspect I’ll take that route.

Actually, I needn’t take any such route at all. It’s simply curiosity that drives me to seek the volume. For, if you’ve noticed by clicking all the links I’ve provided, each stop along the way in this search has provided editorial notes of the historical import of the book. Evidently, Mrs. Sweeny stumbled upon something quite remarkable in her quest through all those dusty back rooms and courthouse records: long lists of rosters and payrolls from militia and rifle companies, claims for property taken, and pension applications. All for the very county in which my ancestor lived. And I’d like to take a look for myself. There are, after all, two hundred and twelve pages of potential bunny trails to be explored.

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