Census records may come in handy when trying to trace ancestors, but they come with a downside: in census records, you can only spot those ancestors once every ten years. Using a will as a record to document family connections may be useful, but that, too, comes with a caveat: we only die once—and after that, it's a scramble, sometimes, to find not only the date of death, but the repository for the will, if there even was one.
In order to trace Peleg Tilson as he traveled from his supposed birthplace in the wilderness of Washington County, Virginia, to his land holdings in Washington County, Tennessee, we will first need to examine his whereabouts a bit more precisely than either of those two record options. That's where tax records come in.
The first question driving me to pinpoint Peleg's precise location in time is to discover the location of his daughter Rachel's birth. Rachel, being my third great-grandmother, had been reported with two different places of birth. According to the old Tilson genealogy, she was born in Saint Clair, Virginia—a reasonable statement, given that the Tilson book gives the same place of birth for many of her siblings. But not all.
It was fairly easy to locate a record of Rachel's marriage to James Davis, on September 12, 1822, in Washington County, Tennessee. When we move to the next instance of her name in public records—the 1850 census—we discover the report that she was born, not in Virginia, but in Tennessee. Of course, her place of birth was included in a long string of "ditto" marks from an entry for "Tenn" half a page away. Carelessness of an enumerator? Hard to tell.
Her given age, according to that 1850 census, was forty eight. Doing the math, that would give a year of birth as approximately 1802. But would her parents have been in Tennessee by 1802? The earliest tax record in which I can find Rachel's father—remember, those records provide year by year documentation—is 1806.
True, Peleg did become a landowner in Tennessee, meaning that somewhere there has to have been a will at his passing. But when was that? Finding such a name in later tax records doesn't necessarily mean anything without the reference of an age, as there were at least three Pelegs in that extended Tilson family.
A will for this Peleg would hopefully include an indication that Rachel—by then, a Davis—was his daughter. That's the vital connection I need as my first step in linking my line back through Peleg and then onward to his father William. And William Tilson, the one who wandered far from his birthplace in Massachusetts, would be our next step in following this wild paper chase to confirm Rachel's connection to the line leading back to those Mayflower ancestors.