Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Becoming Hint-Worthy

If you have been out there, actively pursuing your own genealogy, you have likely encountered those little leaf-shaped icons dubbed by many Ancestry.com customers the Shaky Leaves. A researcher using Ancestry.com’s services plugs in an ancestor’s name and, if lucky enough to have that name match any others in the vast holdings of the company, be rewarded by the appearance of a “hint” in the form of that shaky leaf.

The idea is that the hint is figuratively tapping you on the shoulder and whispering, “Pssst! Over here!” Clicking on the leaf would thus lead you to a digitized image of a document which included your very own ancestor’s name.

That’s the idea, anyway. When it works, it’s quite slick. When it doesn’t work, the subscriber gets rewarded with hints nudging him in the direction of adding a John Smith from Australia to his Smith family which never left Texas. Thus, the irate responses to shaky leaves gone astray.

Today, however, I don’t want to grouse about stuff like that. What I want to explore is the possibility that a shaky leaf can lead you to a viable match which, when clicked, brings you through the routine of matching the hint’s data with yours. When you’ve gone through that process, have you ever had the dialog box give you more information than what subsequently showed up on your ancestor’s “Source Information” listing, the next time you click on it?

I’m wondering if that is what’s happening to me. Here’s why.

In puzzling over the Edward Broyles that was supposedly my maternal grandmother’s “great uncle,” I wasn’t able to re-locate him in any of the Broyles family’s material on my own tree. He certainly wasn’t among the names on the 1850 census for the patriarch of my grandmother’s own grandfather’s childhood home. There were no census enumerations before that point that named each member of a household. So where did I find the information showing me that Edward was son of Ozey Robert Broyles, and thus brother to my second great-grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles?

Since I had just been working on this line only a few days ago, it was easy to pull up the material I had recently added to the household of Ozey Robert Broyles, Thomas’ father. It seemed to me I had found a report of another son’s marriage—a son I had yet to find documentation on—through the inclusion of the groom’s parents’ names. Yet, when I looked back on the two collections garnered in that search, on second click, neither of them mentioned anything other than the names of the bride and groom. In one instance, the entries didn’t even provide first names—only initials.

One collection was gleaned from “marriage records from the Pendleton Messenger” and was actually an index of entries spanning a date range from 1641 through 1965. When I pulled up the link once again to double check it, the only items provided were the names, C. E. Broyles and L. A. Johnson. (For the hopelessly romantic among us, the marriage date was provided as 28 June, 1848—though knowing it still doesn’t help me explain how I came upon that fact.)

The other collection was called U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900, an online database “extracted from a variety of sources including family group sheets and electronic databases” including, incidentally, such thoroughly-vetted sources as “pedigree charts, family history articles, querie.” That, at least, is what the source information says for this index on Ancestry.com.

Could I find the details on how the shaky leaf hint led me from Ozey Robert Broyles and his wife, Sarah Ann Taliaferro, to this apparent son, C. E. Broyles? Clicking on the link again in my file, I found the answer was, sadly, no. At least, the file offered me the consolation prize of providing the full name for Mr. C. E.: Charles Edward Broyles. And for Miss L. A. Johnson? Lucy Ann.

Setting aside any qualms regarding reliability of the information included in such a catch-all “index,” my question is: how did those hints find their way to me, by sheer connection of parents’ names? And if that is indeed how they came to pop up on my Ancestry.com page, why don’t those details show up when I try to click through for a review, later?

Okay, maybe I’m getting a little too cranky about this trifling matter. Admittedly, I could wander to the other end of this particular lifespan and see if there might be any parent information on a death certificate. Or maybe a great entry on Find A Grave, at the very least.

Indeed, there is an entry on Find A Grave for a Charles Edward Broyles. But he isn’t married to any Lucy Ann Johnson. And he certainly wasn’t buried anywhere close to their 1850 Murray County, Georgia home.

Does that mean there are two Charles Edward Broyleses? Which one, then, would be son of Ozey Robert Broyles—and, more to the point, brother to my second great-grandfather, Thomas Broyles? Worse, what if neither of these Charleses is the “Edward” referred to in that letter to my grandmother?

As it turns out, there is plenty of material online regarding a Charles Edward Broyles from this time period. Though it takes a while to sort through all the available records, it eventually unfolds to tell what, for me, became an unexpected family story.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin retracing these steps by starting with the 1850 census record, back in Georgia, for Charles Edward Broyles and his bride, Lucy Ann Johnson. Remembering the need to pinpoint residences in Georgia, we’ll work our way through the decades and track the family’s whereabouts in the state.

We can’t just stop there, though. We’ll have to work our way through the schism that caused a Charles Edward Broyles to disappear in Georgia before the 1880 census was enumerated, and a Charles Edward Broyles to materialize nearly on the other side of the country with an entry in the 1880 census record for Colorado. Though only a detour on our quest to locate the Georgia connection that allowed Charles’ brother Thomas to find his own Georgia-born bride, Charles Edward Broyles’ story provides enough adventure of its own.


  1. Hold onto your hat! Sounds like an adventure to me:)

  2. I like the hints - but have learned to be very, very careful with them!

    1. Oh, definitely! There's no wholesale acceptance with that bunch!


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