Monday, October 15, 2012

Tale of Two Thomases

While trying to locate the burial place for my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, I’ve run into helpful hints, kindly souls volunteering suggestions, but no headstone. Well, at least no correct headstone. Thanks to a number of people, I have been referred to a Find A Grave photograph of a headstone in a neighboring Tennessee county. But, as you can see here, the dates are slightly off—not to mention the name of the wife. The Thomas Broyles I’m searching for was born in 1842 and died in 1922; though he married twice, neither bride sported the name Sarah.

As I mentioned yesterday, with a name like Broyles in a locale like eastern Tennessee, the concept of two men having (almost) the same name is not far-fetched. I tread lightly through this tangled family web, though. I need to pay attention and be sure to get it right. I want to take in the broader picture, for at some point, I may need to sketch out the whole family tree.

Someone, it turns out, has already done that. Actually, several someones. Over the years, some of the data has been preserved online. My first such discovery was one I stumbled upon in my earliest computer-aided researching years—also the early years of Rootsweb—courtesy of the advice of online forum members. That discovery was the Germanna site on Rootsweb, which, among other surnames from the Germanna colonies, included a wealth of information on the Broyles line.

With those early affiliations, I also had the privilege of emailing some other serious Broyles researchers and benefitting from their work. Of course, after all those years, now that I’ve turned my hand back to working on that line, new questions are popping up. Basic stuff like: where’s Thomas buried, anyhow?!?!

Lest you assume it would be a simple matter of looking up the information on his death certificate, I need to say here that, for whatever reason, that specific field in the document was left incomplete. (Why? I want to know; the answer to that question alone may be worth the asking.) The absence of both cemetery and undertaker make me wonder whether the good doctor had decided to give his body up to medical science, perhaps at his alma mater. Or that there might have been a private family burial ground on his property—something not unheard of in those earlier years and older regions of our country.

Wondering about the private cemetery situation prompted me to visit the genealogy forums for Washington County, Tennessee, where the Broyles family lived. Surely someone local on that forum would know…I thought.

While genealogy forums can provide some helpful guidance, I’ve learned to be careful in my consideration of all answers and advice offered. My query to one of the forums on behalf of my Thomas, while yielding one of the longest discussion threads I’ve ever been party to, ended up not providing any leads to solve my mystery.

Suggestions included looking at his parents’ family plot in Anderson County, South Carolina (which didn’t yield any results), or where his second wife was buried in South Carolina (again, nothing discovered yet). Someone recommended a link to a cemetery index, which, while I’m happy to see such resources online, would have been quite cumbersome to sift through for my one name.

Finally, I decided to go back to the only obituary I have for Thomas Broyles and read slowly and carefully for any hints. There was a flowery mention of where he was buried. Once again, I attempted the local route, and someone on the forum offered the Find A Grave entry.

Initially elated, then hopes dashed, I went back to the forum to set the record straight—in case any other Broyles researchers follow my path in future searches and pick up some misinformation.

It was there I had the privilege of meeting—or “re-meeting”—the one who maintained the original Germanna Rootsweb site I had benefitted from so long ago. Of course, now there are other websites with that same information—updated and expanded—and I’m following the digital trail with this wealth of Broyles information to its newer digs on sites such as FamilyTreeMaker and

It was this Germanna connection who provided me the relationship between the two Thomases. According to “Sarge,” the Thomases are actually third cousins. The other Thomas—officially Thomas A. Broyles—was son of Jacob and Elizabeth Ann Good Broyles. My Thomas—the one with the middle name from his mother’s family—was son of Ozey Robert and Sarah Ann Taliaferro Broyles.

While I now know why the two Thomases will never be one and the same—even in the mind of a hasty researcher—I still don’t know any more than I did before about my Thomas’ final resting place. While that is a moot point in regard to the pursuit of membership in my lineage society of choice, the longer I can’t have that little bit of data, the more I want it.


  1. I know all too well the desire for information that SHOULD be out there but you just can't get it. It's hard to accept that there are facts that I'm just not going to get and that's that.

    1. Wendy, you certainly are speaking from experience--especially the challenge you wrote about in your own blog today! In some cases, though, I've found if I set aside the puzzle for another day--or year--somehow more online resources show up that give me the clues I need to "close the case." I still have some other avenues to check out on this one.

  2. No cemetery but a burial date. Three days after. Just a thought..I would look the papers from that area and see if the death was mentioned..many times there is an announcement of the death..before an obit is published. It is a mystery:)

    1. I've been thinking that a stop to examine the local newspapers is in order. Hopefully, there will be some avenue to explain what happened to the man.

  3. Given what you know, "his body rests under the cedars of Lebanon churchyard, while below the near-by cliffs the waters of the Nolachucky"...

    Davy Crockett was born on the banks of the Nolichucky (modern spelling) in the same area. I looked for a map -- and found this site: which didn't help me except to show that the Nolichunky doesn't flow through directly through Jonesborough. It is south of town towards the mountains.

    I then found this... which is "near by" the banks of the river. There are some Broyles' buried there - but the records are incomplete (Find-a-grave shows 33 interments) and Google satellite view shows room for at least 100 stones...

    I supect Agent Mulder would say, "The Truth is out there." (somewhere...)

    1. That's the likely cemetery name, given Thomas' obituary. Thanks for providing the link, Iggy. I was hoping the Find A Grave entry would provide contact information, but I think I know a way around that. As you mentioned, there are some Broyles family members buried there, but none in the immediate family. That's definitely a place to follow up on, and is going on my to-do list!

  4. Oh you make me smile Jacqui---"the longer I can’t have that little bit of data, the more I want it." That so perfectly describes my feelings in so many aspects of my quest to know more. Sometimes the answer is to put it aside and come back to the problem with new, fresh eyes, but certainly you have done that in this case. Looks like you've gotten some good tips from followers---good luck and keep us posted.


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