Thursday, April 22, 2021

Collateral Damage


When the search for details on direct ancestral lines results in no leads whatsoever, one tactic is to look at what information can be found on the ancestor's siblings. Collateral lines are those family members who are not in one's direct line of descent from a given ancestor. The possibility is that, while documentation may be lacking in one direct line, something is sure to show up, once the researcher delves into those other lines.

Here I sit, stuck on the research sidelines, because after three weeks of searching, I have failed to produce any information connecting Mary Carroll Gordon to her parents—other than a mention of "Polly Gorden" in her possible father's will. True, the western outpost of colonial Virginia where her father chose to settle—the region soon to become Monongalia County, once the colonies revolted from British rule—was sparsely populated and not well equipped to fulfill the normal functions of an organized government (not to mention, be able to protect from the ravages of fire, which eventually destroyed their few records in 1796).

But if I couldn't find any further connection to Mary's previous generation, I had three other family members mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will for which to create a family tree and trace the next generation's records for wills, property and tax records, and other signs of their continued existence in Monongalia County.

So far, no luck.

To make matters even worse, I'm not yet convinced that I've located the right person for that supposed step-brother of the Carroll children, a man named in Anthony's will as James Walls. The other day, we discussed those research woes having to do with the uncertainty of spelling in those early records—was the name really Walls? Or could it have been Wales? Or Wall? Or even Wells, a surname which provided ample possibilities in the Mon County vicinity.

It was Wells which became the surname throwing me a curve. Remembering that Mary Carroll, once she was married to William Gordon—the Gordons being another family in the Monongalia County vicinity—had moved to Pennsylvania, I wondered whether there were any mentions of that surname claimed by Anthony Carroll's supposed stepson in the new region.

Turning to local historian Howard Leckey's book, The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families, what should I stumble upon but someone with almost the same name, who had married into the Gordon family. And had a son named James, as well. 

This did not bode well for any neatly packaged theories derived from collateral lines. Not only did I have a James Wells—a more likely surname than Walls—but I had someone with a demonstrated connection to another part of the extended family. Could it be that the transcription of Anthony Carroll's will included a misspelling of James' surname?

It was then that I realized there was something missing from the equation: a timeline for these collateral lines. With lack of documentation comes lack of dates. It would help to have such details more clearly defined, which means we'll need to look first at what dates we have for Mary Carroll Gordon and the others mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will—plus the James Wells who married into the extended Gordon family—before we can evaluate whether this discovery represents a viable possibility for the missing fourth heir of Anthony Carroll's "children."

So much for the idea of easily gleaning clues from those collateral lines. Before that technique can be of any use to us, we still need more information.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Covering Ground While Standing Still


One difficulty in dealing with my research goal to discover the parentage of Mary Carroll Gordon was realizing the number of places this woman's family lived during a lifetime which began before the birth of our own nation. To see her possible father mentioned as originating in Great Britain and settling first in Annapolis, before traveling over rugged terrain to reach Monongalia County in the far western reaches of colonial Virginia sets the stage, mentally, for us to assume that when Mary married William Gordon in Monongalia County and moved to Pennsylvania, that she likewise faced an enormously challenging journey.

Not so, it may turn out. Much like a limber tourist to the Four Corners monument might plunk down one limb in each of four southwestern American states, these Carroll and Gordon ancestors of my mother-in-law might have owned property contained within what, in their time, was considered all part of one county.

We noticed the first sign of that possibility yesterday, in pondering the identity of the fourth "child" mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will: a person by the name of James Walls. Whether finding the right James Walls, we stumbled upon an account of one person by that name who at first had settled in what was then Monongalia County—until the county lines were redrawn to form the new Preston County.

It will probably be helpful, at this point, to review what we had learned last week about the geography of this remote back corner of colonial Virginia. In what could be called by some a greedy land grab, the Virginia colony had entertained some impossibly grandiose notions as to what their domain should encompass. Their neighbors to the north, in Pennsylvania, had done likewise.

Actually, these geographic designations were originally set by what apparently were conflicting charters granted by two different English kings—one to Lord Baltimore by King Charles I, creating the colony of Maryland, and the other to William Penn by King Charles II. In time, the border disputes which arose prompted a fair appraisal in the form of a land survey, thus engaging the services of two land surveyors by the names of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.

The dividing line they proposed, while figuring prominently in future years of America's history, somehow fell short, just when approaching the very territory where Anthony Carroll and some of the Gordon family members had settled. That region, if you remember, just a few years later was established by colonial Virginia as the District of West Augusta. Because the Mason-Dixon line had not been extended beyond the western border of Maryland, both Virginia and neighboring Pennsylvania laid claim to the land lying within the District of West Augusta.

That, as it turns out, puts us right inside the original domain of Monongalia County, itself a far more encompassing region than in subsequent years. So large was its claim that, at its start in 1776, three counties which eventually became the domain of Pennsylvania were included in Monongalia County. And two of those counties—Washington County, from which Greene County was later carved—figure in the continuing story of Mary Carroll and her husband, William Gordon.

When the border dispute was resolved by the extension of the Mason-Dixon line westward in 1781, part of that land claimed by Virginia in Monongalia County became part of the state of Pennsylvania. While I might have imagined that Mary, after her marriage to William Gordon—likely in 1793 in Monongalia County—traveled long distances to arrive at the couple's new home in "Tenmile Country" in Washington County, what might actually have happened was that the land they lived on simply experienced a shift in political control from one county—and state—to another.

All of Mary and William's children—and the best I can tell was that there were eleven of them, beginning with their son James in 1794—were born in either Washington County, Pennsylvania, or the newer Greene County after 1796. Perhaps even then, that designation of a newer location was simply due to politics, not the buying or selling of property on the part of the Gordons.

All along, they could have been standing still on the same turf. And I, in turn, need to disabuse myself of the notion that Mary, having left her father's home, had traveled far beyond her community to settle in a distant land. They all lived within the greater river basin of the Monongahela, whether in one state or the next.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Trouble With Spelling


I don't suppose it would be entirely necessary to determine just who James Walls, heir of Anthony Carroll, actually was. I do have one reason for my search, however. Depending on who James Walls was—and how he was related to his benefactor—I might simultaneously uncover information which could help answer other research questions. For one, it might identify who Anthony Carroll's wife Temperance was, and if she had been previously married to someone named Walls. For another, it might straighten out yet another relationship mess I've stumbled upon. That, as it turns out, has to do with some spelling issues during that same time period of Anthony's will—the early 1800s.

I've searched for information on James Walls, believe me. And I've realized one thing: in the area of Monongalia County, the western region formerly part of the state of Virginia, there were several similar surnames to be found, all claiming James as a given name. In addition to James Walls, there was the predictable James Wells. Besides that, though, there was James Wills. And, in nearby Preston County, there was a James Wales—and yes, I looked, and can't excuse that as simply poor handwriting; it actually looks like Wales.

If that time period was rife with clever clerks who considered the knack of creative spelling to be a way to demonstrate their intelligence, how will I ever know I've found the right James Walls?

One thing I did find: Anthony Carroll—the one who named James Walls in his will—lived in what at the time was called the "Eastern District" of Monongalia County. He was easily spotted in the 1820 census under that heading. Of course, creative spelling rendered his surname as "Carrill." But we can use our imagination, too.

So, it would be no surprise to find, in the 1830 census, an entry in that same Eastern District for someone named James Walls. But trying to find him in the 1820 census, I can only come up with someone named James Wells. Same person? Impossible to tell from that entry alone.

Remembering our discovery that so much more was written on Anthony Carroll's family in the history book published for neighboring Preston County than for Monongalia County, itself, I wandered over to that neighboring county to see what could be found there for anyone named James Walls.

Fortunately, there was something to be found in A History of Preston County, West Virginia. The entry on one featured community member by the name of John Ormand Walls began with this promising observation on his family's roots: "The Walls family, of Grant District, are descendants from James Walls...."

Of course, we have to realize that, despite the nearness of the two counties, there was no guarantee that this James Walls was the same as the one we are seeking. However, the continuation of that sentence in the history book provided some insight: "...who settled in that part of the county before its separation from Monongalia."

I took a look at a map. Sure enough, somewhat to the northwest of Preston County was what is the remainder of Monongalia County, now all in West Virginia. What we have, at least in this situation, could be someone who, at one point, lived in Monongalia County—until the county lines were redrawn, carving out the new county—and suddenly, he was a resident of Preston County.

That, apparently, was what happened. Preston County, formed in 1818 from Monongalia County, may well have included what had previously been claimed as part of the "Eastern District" of the former county. While James Walls was clearly listed in Monongalia County in the 1830 census, that doesn't necessarily preclude his owning property in what eventually became the other county.

Whether the James Walls in the History of Preston County turns out to be the same as the James Walls mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will, I can't yet determine. But stumbling upon this detail points up one condition to remember: boundaries change. In the case of the vast colonial region which once encompassed Monongalia County, not only was it affected by this relatively benign boundary change, but there also were other boundary disputes which may come into play as we continue to explore the possible relatives of Mary Carroll Gordon. The lesson to be learned: know your geography—even the minutiae of historical changes to those borders.    

Monday, April 19, 2021

Another Anthony


When searching for ancestors, do you ever look up the wrong person?

I realize that is an odd question. Of course we all make mistakes. But what I mean is, do you ever deliberately look up the wrong person in your search for an elusive ancestor?

Right now, I'm stuck in my pursuit of the parents of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll Gordon. It seems reasonable that the unsubstantiated claims in several publicly posted family trees could be right when they affirm that Mary Carroll's father was a man in Monongalia County named Anthony Carroll, and that her mother was named Temperance Dunaway. After all, Anthony's own will provides for a daughter by the name of Polly Gorden, who could well have been our Mary.

But what of our discoveries last week, in which a hundred year old history book from a nearby county—Preston County, now in West Virginia—provides another set of stories? These, too, were unsubstantiated, but could well have originated from, say, a family Bible's records, or stories passed down the generations in another branch of the Carroll family. After all, those passages were included in the biographies of two Preston County men: Hardin Duvall Carroll, and his father, James H. Carroll.

It was in that very same biographical entry that we found the back story on our Anthony Carroll: that, arriving from England, he settled first in Annapolis, then settled in that frontier region of what eventually became Monongalia County. It was also that same narrative which produced the erroneous date of Anthony Carroll's death as 1832, when we can see from the court reports that his will was filed in February of 1830.

With nagging doubts swirling in my mind, it might seem reasonable to be solely focused on verifiable facts. Perhaps my weakness for the Bright Shiny Objects of rabbit trails has overcome me once again, but I couldn't help notice some parallel details in a family history of another Anthony Carroll.

The discovery came about like this: I wondered what the possibility would be of finding documents I needed if I shifted my search to another provider. I've done this quite a bit, composing a search query on a different website in hopes the terms would trigger different results at other companies. So I switched from searching at, and moved to There, I tried looking for marriage records for, first, Anthony Carroll and a wife named, simply, Temperance—and then, secondly, a search for his marriage to someone with a surname Walls.

This search attempt didn't produce anything specific to help my speculation that the second James mentioned in his will—James Walls—was son of Anthony's supposed fourth wife. However, I did spot something of interest: records concerning a different Anthony Carroll.

The time frames were too far off to have belonged to our Anthony Carroll, of course. And this one lived in Preston County, not Monongalia County. But I found it a curious discovery that this Anthony happened to have, for his wife, a woman named Temperance

This clearly could not have been our Anthony, as the search result I just mentioned was for the 1850 census—long after our Anthony was gone. But could the stories about the two Anthonys have been telescoped to meld into one family saga? This younger Anthony, after all, was likely son of the original Anthony's son James Carroll.

In pursuit of answers triggered by this new discovery, I admit the research path will either lead me (hopefully) to further information on our Anthony Carroll, or I will learn far more than I care to know about someone else's family. Still, the chance to benefit my own research is worth the risk, and I'll spend some more time learning about this other Anthony Carroll's family.

In the meantime, there is one other task yet to complete: following the trail of the heir of Anthony Carroll named James Walls.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

When Your Pedigree Collapses


Most people, when researching the story of their ancestors, might chart their relationships by sketching out a pedigree chart. For each generation the researcher steps back in time, the number of ancestors will usually double. 

While we each can count two parents, then four grandparents, then eight greats, that is not always the mathematical progression for every researcher's family tree. In some instances—and my mother-in-law's tree is a prime example—some branches of that ancestral tree duplicate the names entered elsewhere in the family. Cousins married cousins of various degrees of relationship.

Genealogists call that issue pedigree collapse. It's not all that rare, either. People from isolated communities—South Pacific islanders come to mind here, or residents of valley communities nestled between indomitable mountain ranges—end up marrying people whose families have been remotely related for generations. In previous centuries—such as during the early colonial period in America—limited populations of marriageable age sometimes meant a decreased count of great-grandparents.

For the unsuspecting avocational genealogist—that would be me—building a family tree for my mother-in-law meant pushing each individual family line back through generations, oblivious to the fact that that ancestor's name had also showed up on another family line, way on the other side of the ever-expanding pedigree chart. Eventually, the "oh, duh" moment hit me, and it would be time to "merge" individuals in that tree. 

Though that "rinse, repeat" mantra has been my tune over the decades, I'm still surprised to discover yet another duplicate person entered in my mother-in-law's tree. This was one of those weeks. In tracking some lines, I've discovered not only duplicates, but triplicate entries, thanks to the many lines which have intertwined themselves through the branches of Perry County, Ohio, relatives since the founding families settled in that region in the early 1800s. I'm sure even more will surface.

So what does that mean for my biweekly count? Since my research goal for April involves one of my mother-in-law's ancestors, I have certainly been adding several individuals to her tree. At the same time, having to comb through the generations to remove duplicate entries does make me feel like I'm going backwards.

However, the numbers don't say so—which is a good point for advocating the practice of keeping track of progress. After shedding so many repeated entries on her tree, I feel so much better to realize that though I may be collapsing, say, three individuals down to one, I've managed to add 197 new names to my mother-in-law's tree over the past two weeks. And that count includes all the individuals whose duplicated names needed to go "poof!" That tree has now reached 20,562 people.

Of course realizing just where the lines converge becomes important, once we introduce the element of DNA testing. DNA matches descending from intermarried lines can sometimes show up with a greater centiMorgan count—making the relationship look closer—but a telltale sign is sometimes the larger count of small matching segments. Such signs are immediately visible when using a chromosome browser, but even knowing to look for the segment count will help provide a clue that there may have been intermarried lines in a family's history. 

During these same past two weeks, I was busy adding 115 names to my own tree, as well. Of course, I'm not encountering as many duplicate entries there, and the total count on my family's tree has made it up to 25,581. But as I stretch back to those colonial times, I will begin to encounter some pedigree collapse on my mother's side, as well. It's just not as pronounced as that isolated region in my mother-in-law's home in Perry County where, for generations, a relatively small group of settlers intermarried.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Only Constant is Change


For those of you who like your family tree "just so"—and kept that way—don't look now, but there's another change afoot at 

I'll have to admit: most of the changes coming our way from the various genealogical giants on the for-profit side of the equation have been, at the very least, benign. Many are outright helpful. Not so, this latest addition to the toolbox.

I happen to prefer viewing a document and deciding for myself whether the person featured is indeed my ancestor—not just taking someone else's word for it. When building my tree on Ancestry, I always look at the document in question before clicking to make it part of my "footnote" column on an ancestor's profile.

It used to be such a simple process. View hint. Click through to view document. Examine evidence. Choose yes. Or no. And move on to the next hint.

Now? It takes a tango with a jungle of transcribed information sliding into view from yet another page before I can get to that small, hyperlinked "View Record Page" key to access the stuff I wanted to see in the first place. Tedious.

I'm sure someone means well. It's quite obvious with another recent addition—the "tour" of the 1940 census—that Ancestry takes their calling as educators to heart. They want their product to be usable, and with so many newcomers taking delight in discovering their roots, the company surely understands their responsibility to enable customers to benefit from their product.

But it would be helpful for customers to have a way to decide whether an upgraded option is helpful—or simply more clutter standing in the way of attaining our research goals. After all, so many ancestors, so little time.

Why call for yet another step to coax me into doing what I already do without fail, anyhow? If I could find the switch to turn that option to "off" and dispatch this new feature to the ignored hints bin, I'd gladly do so.

Perhaps for some, options like this are necessary training wheels. I appreciate the "app" feeling shaping the research behavior of new subscribers. But when we're ready to start pedaling on our own, it's nice to not have to lug around those extra wheels as baggage.

Friday, April 16, 2021

"I've Heard That Story Before"


Stories about our ancestors, repeated often enough, sometimes take on the aura of truth. I'm sure everyone has them: those questionable recitations of the ancestral "Indian princess" or the immigration saga of "there were three brothers..."

Sometimes, though, those stories turn out to be true, when taken at face value and researched, using proper techniques to evaluate what we find in source documents.

The story I'm going to share today lies somewhere in the middle: not too outrageous, and not too bland—but hardly can I say it is "just right" and justify swallowing the tale whole. Let's just say I'll consider it a possibility, if only because I've run across it in more places than one.

The main strike against this story is owing to its source: one of those biographical history books so much in vogue in small-town America at the turn of the century—the nineteenth to twentieth century, that is. I just re-discovered it, courtesy of a suggestion sent by a reader last week—thank you, Kathy, for pointing it out!

While those History of tomes may have their weak points, like any family legend, we should pay some heed to them, in case the story leads us further toward the truth of the matter. But you'll see how, in its very wording, the one particular entry on our Anthony Carroll causes me some doubt—even though I've run across this same story in other reports.

Here's how A History of Preston County, West Virginia began their description of that man who may have been the father of Mary Carroll Gordon, my mother-in-law's third great grandmother.

Anthony Carroll was a remarkable man. When ninety six years old, he walked from Morgantown to Kingwood one day, and walked back a few days later.

Let's pause this spin machine for a moment to realize exactly what a feat that might have been. The best driving route, today, from Morgantown in Monongalia County to Preston County's county seat, Kingwood, covers twenty one miles through hilly West Virginia terrain.

I suppose it is not impossible to cover twenty one miles in a day's walk. After all, there are many joggers who can run that distance. But at ninety six years of age? Perhaps that was remarkable. 

It was, however, the line immediately following that tale which has me concerned about overall veracity. In one way, it sounds about as believable as this initial report about the man. On the other hand, if the first can be a true report, and the second followed suit, then we may have found some usable information to assist us in determining the source of that fourth person listed in Anthony Carroll's will as "my children."

According to A History of Preston County, Anthony Carroll was married four times. Granted, any man living beyond ninety six years of age could have outlived more than one wife, especially during that era and nestled into those frontier hills.

The book provides a vague catalog of those four wives of Anthony Carroll. The first had her name given only as "a Miss Donaway, whom he married in England." From this union, the two descendants named were James and Mary—a fortunate discovery for me, indeed, if it was true and if I can locate any record documenting such a connection.

The one promising clue is that the book includes a comment that from this Mary descended an "Hon. William Gorden Worley." Since I've been a researcher of the Gordon line now for decades, I can vouch for that statement. However, the book continues with the assertion that Mary married William Gordon and "moved to Ohio." Marrying William Gordon, yes. But though William Gordon did indeed move to Ohio, Mary unfortunately never made it that far. But what would the editors of this 1914 history book know about that?

From that point, the book mentions a second wife of Anthony Carroll who "died not long after marriage." Though there were no children from that wife, Anthony apparently married again, to a "Miss Rose Hall" who was attributed as the mother of Margaret, the future wife of Godfrey Guseman.

It is the fourth wife, though, who will prove most interesting to us—provided the reports in A History of Preston County turn out to be supported by documentation. Although all the writer states is that there was "no issue from this marriage," it is easy to see why the name given for this fourth wife could be helpful to us: she was mentioned only as "a Mrs. Walls."

Pinning dates on any of these nuptial events has been challenging, simply because I don't yet have a timeline of when Anthony arrived in Monongalia County—not to mention, marriage records in Monongalia County before 1796 were lost in a fire. It would be far better for me if all of Anthony's four marriages occurred elsewhere.

The key now is to discover whether the "Mrs. Walls" of the Preston County book happened to be one and the same as the "Temperance Carrell" of Anthony's will. If so, then it must have been her son who became the fourth "child" named in Anthony's will as James Walls.

However, thanks to those crazy rabbit trails which wind in and out of the Carroll extended family lines—and considering the liberties taken in the spelling of those children's names—there may well be another candidate for the "James Walls" in Anthony Carroll's will. That, however, is a research adventure to save for another day.

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