When faced with multiple ancestors sporting the same given name, it’s sometimes challenging to determine which one is which. Perhaps the best defense is to identify each identically-named ancestor in more than one way. Just as a hand slips easily into a well-fit glove, determining multiple qualifiers for each individual helps finger the right one.
That, at least, seemed like a sound idea when I thought to apply it to my William Tilson family in Washington County, Virginia. After having followed his sons to—and this detail does not help the differentiation effort—Washington County, Tennessee, William had returned to his old farm in Virginia, where his daughter Janet now lived with her husband, Joseph Cole.
Sounds easy, right? I have two additional identifying relationships to connect with this William to assure I have the right people.
All would have gone swimmingly, if only there were but one Joseph Cole. Apparently, there wasn’t.
Now the task begins to find multiple identifiers to finger the right Joseph Cole. I turned back to the Mercer Tilson genealogy book to pick up some clues. According to The Tilson Genealogy, Janet Tilson—likely born in 1776—had married Joseph Cole and continued to live in the area on what was noted to be “the original William Tilson farm.”
According to that genealogy, the couple had three children. In addition to unnamed twin daughters, for whom no date of birth was supplied, the couple had a son, whom they named Sampson.
An additional note by the author stated his date of birth was “perhaps 1810.”
When trying to gather multiple identifiers for an individual, “perhaps” doesn’t cut it.
“Oh,” you say, “Sampson isn’t that common a given name; this will be sufficient.”
Let’s check Find A Grave to see what trouble is headed our way. Fortunately, the Mercer Tilson narrative includes a separate entry for the son of Joseph and Janet, indicating that Sampson died “about” 1894, and that he was buried in Lutheran Church Cemetery in Saint Clair, Virginia. The book also mentions that he was married to Eliza Cole, and includes the names of several children, so we should have several means of identifying the right man.
Right away, we find an entry for a Sampson Cole who was born “perhaps” in 1810 and died “about” 1894—actually, 1811 and 1893. I’d call that close.
While he might have been listed as having a wife named Eliza Cole (check) and several children, some of whose names from the Tilson genealogy matched the Find A Grave listing (check), unfortunately, the helpful Find A Grave volunteer who created Sampson Cole’s memorial noted that Sampson was son of David Mason Cole and Remember Woolsey.
So much for finding the qualifier to help us identify the right Joseph Cole who married William Tilson’s daughter, Janet. The more we struggle with these details, the tighter the snare seems to shut.
Perhaps there was a different Sampson Cole who was son of Joseph and Janet. After all, not being sure whether the “Lutheran Church Cemetery” in the old village designation, “Saint Clair,” would be the same as the Saint James Lutheran Church Cemetery where this Sampson Cole was buried, perhaps I should be looking for a different Sampson.
Using the search engine at Find A Grave, I entered my parameters for any Sampson Cole who died before 1899—just to give a little leeway—and was buried in Virginia. The results handed me a list of four gentlemen by that same name, none of whom had dates of birth or death remotely close to my possibilities—other than the Sampson we’d already located, of course.
Though I had been hoping that a Sampson, married to an Eliza, who was son of Joseph, who was husband of Janet, might provide enough variables to point me in the right direction, that is not how this search is turning out. Apparently—and yes, even with a name like Sampson—it takes more details than these to ascertain that we are talking about the right individual.