Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Genealogical Wandering

Sure, it was Baxter Davis I was targeting in my most recent attempt to figure out just who it was who married my Mayflower ancestor's descendant, Rachel Tilson. James Davis had seemingly come out of nowhere to show up at a pioneer settlement in the hills of northeastern Tennessee—well, more accurately, what would later become part of Tennessee. It seemed there was an early settler in a place called Greasy Cove—later to become the town of Unicoi—who was known as Baxter Davis. Conveniently, I had noticed James and Rachel Davis named their firstborn son that same name: Baxter. Connection?

If you think I was able to come up with digitized documentation identifying anything further on that elder Baxter Davis, think again. The more I try to pursue this line of thinking, the less I seem to accomplish. Other than getting plenty of googling exercise, I haven't found much substance.

Granted, I found many other resources. That's what comes from the "milling about" disorientation from a lack of straightforward research purpose. I only think the Baxter connection will lead me somewhere. It might not. That's the price a researcher pays to experiment with "what if."

In the meantime, I've spent a lot of time wishing I were in Knoxville, researching at the East Tennessee Historical Society's McClung Collection—or at least being able to access the names of settlers included in the society's First Families of Tennessee collection.

I'm realizing, once again, the difficulty of trying to verify facts about ancestors who persistently chose to settle in places where they could maintain their fierce independence. Though my Davis line settled in and around the town of Erwin, Tennessee, claims that their settlement was in Unicoi County are misleading when spoken in the same breath as those 1790s dates. Unicoi, as a county, was simply not a governmental entity until 1875.

In those first-settlement situations, one question concerns the granting of land. Looking back at the last stop in this family's multi-generational migratory process—that spot on the southwestern part of the colony of Virginia near the Holston River—the earlier generation of Tilsons were said (at least by one account) to have moved there to claim land granted for William Tilson's service in the French and Indian War.

How to track records like that? Which would be the governmental entity serving as repository for that? At least, in the case of a paper trail for settlement at Greasy Cove, there are records dating back to January, 1778. But who keeps these records which came into being long before the current governments took charge? This is not going to be a straightforward paper chase.

And yet, stumbling along through those many Google hits, I did find some gems. Of course, I didn't need Google to tell me that the FamilySearch Wiki would provide helpful links for the county. But in my wanderings, I did stumble upon a cool map website providing historic maps of the area. Most importantly, I found a list of publications of local history, thanks to the U.S. GenWeb project for Unicoi County, Tennessee.

Better yet, that list included the option to take a peek at what was inside the cover of several local history books—including one which was apparently written by a distant Davis cousin. Reading the introduction to Linda Davis March's Images of America: Erwin and Unicoi County, I spotted a name in the credits who was not only listed as the author's cousin, but was a woman I had corresponded with, years ago, about our mutual Davis research challenges.

Taking that opportunity to peek at the pages in that book, I found a photograph of my second great grandmother, plus another photograph of her home in Erwin. What a strange experience to open a book at random and find such treasures!

While I wasn't able—yet!—to find anything further on the elusive Baxter Davis, pioneer settler of Greasy Cove, it was reassuring to discover others in the area who are also researching these same lines. It was also informative to find websites and indications of local historical societies for groups which I had no idea were even in existence. It does take some orienting to become facile at the terms of a locality's history, but the more I learn as I wander through this region's history, the better I'm armed with additional search terms.

Be very sure I'll be using that knowledge to my advantage. You will be found out yet, Mr. Baxter Davis!


  1. I hope you ordered the book, what a find! I enjoyed the old photos! Now I wonder what photo was she holding in her hands?

    1. Well, I'm trying to find a copy of the book. Looks like it may only be available at that website, not all booksellers--if it is still available at all. This is definitely a must-find item!


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