Saturday, January 31, 2015

Circling the Spot

When the Taliaferro family first came to America, they settled in Virginia. The land they arrived at was, at the time, merely a British colony. By the point in the family’s history that brings us to the generation in question for my current brick wall research quandary, some of the family had removed to Georgia.

As I try to determine who my target person—Mary Taliaferro, about to be wife of Thomas Firth Rainey in 1818—might have descended from, one possible clue could come from examining who else was married in the same Georgia county as she. Could the cluster of Taliaferro weddings pinpoint the specific father of this bride?

According to the records accessible online now—and, granted, these are only gleaned from indices on, though some digitized records are accessible at—there were four Taliaferro family members who married in Oglethorpe County between the years 1809 and 1830. Who were they? Who were their parents?

The earliest of the marriage records was for a “Lewis B. Talefaria” who wed Elizabeth Johnson on August 10, 1809. This was likely Louis Bourbon, son of Martha Merriwether and Benjamin Taliaferro.

Louis’ father Benjamin was born in colonial Virginia, and came of age during the years of the American Revolution, for which cause he served as a lieutenant, and during which service he was promoted to captain. After the war—and possibly owing to a falling out with his brother Zachariah (of my direct line) over the hand of a particular young lady—Benjamin left Virginia for Georgia.

Benjamin’s arrival in Georgia, as it turned out, was timely as well. He played an active part in the formative years of Georgia state government. For his service during the thirty five years he lived in Georgia, Benjamin was posthumously honored by the naming of a county in his memory—Taliaferro County. Though he was noted to have died in Wilkes County, his oldest son’s marriage in Oglethorpe County—that of Louis to Betsy Johnson—may well have taken place in the same basic area, since Oglethorpe County was formed from part of Wilkes County.

So we find, from this earliest Taliaferro marriage record in the Oglethorpe vicinity, that it was a record referring to the eldest son of Benjamin. What of the others?

Besides the 1818 marriage of Mary “Talafero”—whoever she was—the next Taliaferro marriage in Oglethorpe County was that of Polly or Sarah “Taliferro.” She, as Sarah, was recorded as becoming the wife of one Hay T. Landrum, according to the 1829 marriage entry. One of the old genealogical publications I’ve referred to, compiled by Willie Catherine Ivey, noted her as “Polly” and indicated that she “married a Mr. Landrum.” She—whether Polly or Sarah—was daughter of Benjamin’s younger brother, Warren Taliaferro (sometimes referred to in genealogies as Warner Taliaferro).

The final remaining Taliaferro wedding in Oglethorpe during this time period was that of Charles, also a child of Warren Taliaferro. While the marriage index shows his bride’s name as Milanda Meriwether, her name was apparently Mildred Merriwether. This wedding followed close on the heels of Charles’ sister’s wedding—on November 16, 1830.

So, there you have it: four weddings. The earliest was for the eldest son of the eldest Taliaferro brother to move from Virginia to Georgia. The last two, in 1829 and 1830, were for two of the children of the younger Taliaferro brother. Could the remaining Taliaferro marriage in 1818 have been for a child of either of those Taliaferro brothers?

According to Ivey’s Taliaferro genealogy, older brother Benjamin’s youngest daughter was named Mary. However, younger brother Warren—though not having any child named Mary that I can find—was married to a woman named Mary Gilmer. Could it be possible that Warren and Mary named one of their children Mary—but owing to the confusion of having two Marys in the same household, resorted to the use of a nickname? Which of Warren and Mary’s daughters would it be? The only one credited with marrying a Rainey in the Ivey genealogy was listed as Nancy, not Mary. Is Nancy a nickname?

One other detail to consider: this Mary and her husband, Thomas Firth Rainey, eventually had a son, whom they named Warren Taliaferro Rainey. While that seems like a flashing neon light pointing me in the right direction, I’d like just a little more paper-based justification before I accept what seems to be the obvious.

Above: "Signing the Register" by English painter Edmund Blair Leighton; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.    

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Genealogical End Run

While my adopted mystery cousin is enjoying success in his pursuit of the truth regarding his roots, DNA testing has been providing me some helpful assistance in another quest.

Remember my brick wall ancestor, my second great grandmother, Mary Rainey of Columbus, Georgia? The best I had figured on her was that, along with a brother named Thomas, she might have been living in the household of her uncle in the census taken just before her 1871 marriage to Thomas Broyles.

Tracing back in time, I may have discovered her in the home of her widowed mother in 1860. And possibly, I identified her father with the assistance of an 1850 census record.

All that, if you remember, was smashed to pieces when I pulled out those time-honored genealogy publications which insisted that those “parents”—Thomas Firth and Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro Rainey—could not possibly have been the people I had assumed they were. Why? Thomas Firth Rainey supposedly married another woman, identified as Nancy Taliaferro, daughter of Warren and Mary Gilmer Taliaferro. This, despite the fact that there is an Oglethorpe County, Georgia, record of the wedding of Thomas F. Rainey and Mary E. Talafero on June 9, 1818.

Oh, how I wished that “Nancy” was merely the nickname for “Mary.”

We all know how wishes do not a sound genealogy make. But you can’t blame me for hoping.

Just a couple days ago, it turns out, I discovered I might not be left to fruitless hopes or wishes. Among the now over seven hundred matches I’ve received on my autosomal DNA test results, I found one that showed a Rainey among his forebears.

With the Family Tree DNA testing service, every time I receive a match, I am given whatever surname data might have been provided in the other customer's profile. Sometimes, that information is extensive—like an up-to-date, thoroughly-researched GEDCOM. Sometimes, the profile includes only a smattering of surnames—or, worse, nothing at all. Thankfully, for those customers in agreement—and really, why test if you aren’t interested in pursuing such matches?—their matches are supplied with an email address for further contact.

Rest assured: I contacted my potential Rainey match.

As it turned out, his mother was the person serving as administrator for these test results. And she is diligently doing her family history research. It’s nice to make contact with a kindred spirit, keen on pursuing family roots; it’s even more encouraging when that kindred spirit comes with a mutual family relationship.

In this case, the relationship turns out to be fourth cousin. Yes, I know: that is a distant relative. I wouldn’t know the man if I passed him on the street—a highly unlikely scenario in any case, as he is apparently in Texas and I in California. However, the virtue of the discovery is this: if I can use this test result as key to lead me to others related through this particular line, I may be able to demonstrate, via DNA alone, that those time-honored genealogical publications have reported my direct line in error. And that, my friend, would let me run right past that frustrating research brick wall.

All this is thanks to the line of the very brother who was found living with my orphaned second great grandmother back in Columbus, Georgia, in the 1870 census. Thomas Firth Rainey, junior, was by then a Civil War veteran who eventually left his war-torn home state of Georgia to begin life anew in Texas. This DNA match is his direct descendant.

Knowing this gives me only the first step in piecing together an argument to support the notion that my second great grandmother was daughter of Thomas and Mary Taliaferro Rainey. Of course, the next task will be to connect the senior Mary with her Taliaferro parents—the point at which I believe those published genealogies are in error. That, I will only be able to do as I find more matches to either confirm or rule out the connection. But I’m now one step closer to verifying that hypothesis than I was before.

Of course, finding key resources to bolster the paper trail would be primo. Lacking that, I still have recourse through this alternate means of research. And that is the value of this new tool of genealogical research. It’s just a different way to do an end run around that old proverbial brick wall.

Above: Excerpt from 1870 United States Census for Muscogee County, Georgia, courtesy

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Score Another One For
Genetic Genealogy

Sometimes, participating in DNA testing leads to the overwhelming sense of being lost in a strange world of numbers, big terms, and incomprehensible concepts. Muddling through the middle of it all can seem mind-numbing.

On the other hand, there’s nothing like success to shake one loose of that DNA malaise.

I mentioned to you, back in November, that I was contacted by a person whose mitochondrial DNA test results came back as an exact match to mine. For me, this is an unusual result. Out of the three tests I administer for my family—both my husband’s and my brother’s Y-DNA test and my own mtDNA test—this was the only instance of finding anyone who came as close as that.

The drawback was: the person claiming this exact match is an adoptee.

Put in a tailspin, trying to figure out just who among my mother’s maternal line ancestors—unbeknownst to anyone else in the family—could have put up a child for adoption, I did what I could to help my new mystery cousin with this quest.

The only help I could offer, it turns out, was a feeble attempt at comparing data. You see, if I trace my mother’s maternal line back through the generations, I don’t get very far. As you’ve already realized, if you follow A Family Tapestry with any regularity, is that I am stuck at the level of my second great grandmother.

That's the puzzle I've been trying to unravel, following that email from my mystery cousin back in November. I did write about the search, tangentially, in a couple more posts on DNA in December and earlier this month. Behind the scenes, the two of us were emailing back and forth, comparing notes, discussing possibilities—in my family (despite its limiting, brief documentation) and in his own research.

To his credit, my mystery cousin has been very focused on the pursuit. For someone with a background in genealogical research, this quest might have seemed easier, but there were multiple steep learning curves to mount in his case: the aspects of finding birth parents, overcoming legal obstacles of various states’ “sealed” adoption policies, learning about the world of DNA testing and the skills of genealogical research.

It was the aspect of DNA testing that helped lead this cousin to possible matches. While the mtDNA test provided a bit of direction, the main test that proved useful was the autosomal DNA test. This test identifies matches of a much closer familial range than the mtDNA or Y-DNA test can provide, making it the practical choice for such a pursuit. Not that it makes things easier. The test, in itself, is not a turnkey operation; the researcher does need to know what he is doing—and be prepared to put in lots of work following through with the search. DNA tests are a tool, not “The Answer.”

What I’m so excited to share, today, is that almost exactly two weeks ago, my mystery cousin emailed me the simple announcement:
            I have found my birth mother.

Overjoyed on his behalf, of course I wanted to know the details. This was, after all, somehow a person related to me. While we are still plotting out the nexus between his birth mother’s line and my mother’s line—hint: this may go back a long way beyond my brick wall second great grandmother—I am enjoying the latest reunion news from my cousin. He and his mom have spent hours chatting online, then by telephone and in a face to face meeting.

The conversation didn’t stop with their reunion. Both of them are intensely keen on sharing their story—the pain of the separation, the years of the search, the methods of the search and how they reconnected. Besides, after mounting that steep learning curve, now this cousin has a lot to share, as a resource in helping others with their search for their birth parents as well.

Their story is not over, of course. There is much to catch up on, after a lifetime of separation. Once they move beyond the exhilaration of this reunion, though, I, for one, hope they put their story in a form that can be passed on to others in the same dilemma. Telling their story at conferences would be nice. A book would be great. No matter how they share the saga, though, just the fact that they can share it is the most important part.

Sometimes, it is easy to see how DNA testing can work for others—but hard to actually put it to work for ourselves. In my cousin’s case, as an adoptee totally new to the field of genealogy, he had the motivation to learn—and then, to do what he had learned.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

“Citizen Science” and Genetic Genealogy

Of what purpose is it to determine familial relationships that reach beyond face-to-face familiarity?

It may seem strange to consider family relationships as distant as the eighth cousin scenario I mentioned yesterday. Yet, when we engage in the kind of DNA testing available to us today—and combine that with the paper chase for our family’s roots—we find ourselves delving into those kinds of distant relationships.

Why bother? It’s not like we’re in a rush to assemble the world’s biggest family reunion—although, admittedly, somebody is. However, given the technology and the passion, we are handily equipped to engage in what is being called genetic genealogy. Every time we spring for that hefty DNA test fee, whether we are conscious of this or not, we are participating in assembling a body of knowledge about the joint past of all humanity.

If you haven’t considered this aspect, stop for a moment and consider Spencer Wells’ presentation last fall at the Genetic Genealogy Ireland event, part of Dublin’s Back To Our Past conference. Dr. Wells spearheads the National Genographic Project for National Geographic. His brief video, which you can see at the bottom of GGI2014’s announcement of his keynote presentation, nicely dovetails the Genographic quest with our genealogical pursuits.

You have got to know that there are numerous scientists eager to tap into such an assembled database of DNA results. Researchers are hoping to augment their understanding of pre-historic migratory patterns—as well as find resources to resolve other human challenges: anthropological, genetic, medical.

Along with the amazing arenas open to these researchers, with the rapid expansion of technology comes a mind-boggling enormity of databases. This puts me in mind of a term I was introduced to several years ago, in a book by Jeff Howe. The book’s title—and the word I’d like to dwell on for a few moments here—is Crowdsourcing. While his subtitle reveals the author’s focus—“Why the power of the crowd is driving the future of business”—it is equally applicable to science as well as business.

In fact, another term I had been introduced to at the same time—which fits in handily here—was that of the Citizen Scientist. Before the era of grant-driven scientific research, an acceptable paradigm of research was to include the viable observations of amateurs who were well versed in their field of study. Even at A Family Tapestry, we had met up with one amateur scientist of the early 1900s, in the person of Judge R. C. Flannigan’s wife, Anna Mary Haessly Flannigan, the persevering bird watcher in Michigan.

That grand tradition had all but disappeared in the mid 1900s, but has thankfully been making a comeback. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology organizes projects among its bird-watching adherents through the auspices of its “Citizen Science Program.” In astronomy, some of the latest discoveries have been through the efforts of citizen scientists, a fact not lost upon NASA—which devotes a page on its website, “For Citizen Scientists.” The American Association for the Advancement of Science is launching the first conference of the Citizen Science Association this coming February 11 in San Jose, California. Citizen science has come of age.

Clay Shirky, an author and instructor at New York University, has written about the dynamics behind the resurgence of citizen scientist movement. In his 2008 book, Here Comes Everybody, he examined the impact of the Internet on organizations and group dynamics, observing that technology’s tools boost collaboration in a way that lets it supersede the restrictions that once made many accomplishments the monopoly of institutional prerogative. Key in the shifting dynamic are the online tools that allow groups to get together and achieve tasks that once were considered too costly for their potential value.

In a Wikipedia article on citizen science, that very dynamic was noted:
Large volunteer networks often allow scientists to accomplish tasks that would be too expensive or time consuming to accomplish through other means.

Now, what does all that have to do with DNA testing? Think again about what you are achieving when you spring for that autosomal DNA test. You are not just out on a dilettante’s lark to locate distant relatives.  You are joining the many who are citizen scientists confirming—or correcting—the state-of-the-art conclusions of geneticists about how the human genome should be read. Every time you persevere in confirming a relationship among one of your DNA “matches,” you are sending your informed vote to those who watch the database at large: Yes, this is my sixth cousin, or No, this is not the correct relationship. We are not only using the technology for our own benefit. We are concurrently sending feedback, based on our own genealogical expertise—in a task that surely would be too expensive or time consuming for any research organization to fund on its own. Even an organization as respected and well-funded as National Geographic.

We, too, are citizen scientists.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Enormity of It All

In this era of “us four, no more,” it is hard to conceive of the multiplied numbers of large families begetting large families. Even during the era of immigrant families—those whose families started out large, but due to disease and hardship, saw their numbers dwindle in the end—genealogical records were no more complicated than the effort it took to keep track of all those premature deaths.

In the case of well-to-do colonial American families, however, in many cases, those numbers of hale and hearty descendants were often maintained over multiple generations. Such was the case with the tale of our Taliaferro line.

Even at the point at which I pick up the line in colonial America—not until several generations in, with Zachariah Taliaferro’s birth in Virginia in 1730—there were multiple cousins to be had. Tracing this all had to have been a challenge. Granted, there were several who were up to the challenge, for we have their legacy in the form of books like the Ivey and the Pilcher volumes I mentioned yesterday. But following those lines from that end point through their current-day descendants is a task still needing to be done.

Why do something like that? Because now that we have the technology—and the digitized, searchable resources—we also have the compulsion to do so, thanks to the popularization of DNA tests for genealogical use.

As I've mentioned before, there is no use taking that DNA test without the corresponding assistance of one’s own genealogical paper trail. When you get the results back from your DNA tests, you will meet up with cousins removed by upwards of five generations. How would you confirm the connection, if not armed with the documentation to reveal it?

Now that I have taken those DNA tests—both the full mitochondrial DNA test and the autosomal DNA test—I am grappling with the matchmaking phase of the adventure. As it turns out, quite a few of my matches line up along these long-established colonial family lines—one of them being the Taliaferro family. Yes, the line of large families begetting large families, through multiplied generations. Anyone have a scorecard?

You think I’m jesting? The other day, I grunted through the calculations to arrive at the conclusion that one DNA match and I were eighth cousins, twice removed. Think that’s extreme? Yesterday, I was going through some notes from a three year old email, and realized that a friend of mine had sent me an explanation for how she was a Taliaferro descendant, as well. While I’ve yet to sit down and map it all out, my thumbnail sketch indicates our mutual ancestor is twelve generations removed from us. Yay. We’re cousins. I can’t wait to tell her.

There is one caveat—and yes, that would be yet another reason this pursuit is fraught with difficulties. The caveat is that several of these Taliaferros had the propensity to have their children marry cousins. We saw it when my second great grandfather’s older brother William Broyles married Rebecca Taliaferro, his first cousin once removed. We may also have seen it when my second great grandfather married Mary Rainey, daughter of a Taliaferro—although that is still speculation on my part.

Do these multiple family intermarriages result in elevated centiMorgan counts, when it comes time to review autosomal DNA results? Just ask my eighth cousin, twice removed. He seems to think there is something hidden in the data that makes our relationship closer than what it appears on paper. He is likely right. I suspect the culprit is these multiple Taliaferro marriages.

But how would you know, if you didn’t have the paper trail to check? Sometimes, the numbers get so big, you can’t keep track in your head. That’s the kind of math you have to do on paper.

Given the discovery that a friend of mine, living in the same town as I, turns out to be my cousin—albeit very distant cousin—I wonder how many of us, walking around in our home towns, run into distant relatives every day, but never know it. If you’ve been around in this country long enough—and come from families large enough—those chances may be bigger than you thought.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Just Grunt Through It

Sometimes, the only way to face up to the tedium of genealogical research is to sit down, roll up your sleeves and do it. Just do it.

I took a deep breath and did just that, yesterday.

Well, let me amend that: I took a very deep breath and began this process of genealogical grunt work. This will be a long slog. There are kazillions of Taliaferros. And I am setting out on a task to document them all.

I had thought it might be brilliant to isolate all the Taliaferros who had been married—along with my (possible) third great grandmother, Mary—in the Georgia county of her marriage to Thomas Firth Rainey. At least, then I’d have some strands to trace backwards through time to their Taliaferro parents. It would give me a snapshot in time of which of the family members were living there in Oglethorpe County at the same time.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Using several digitized copies of old genealogies, I tried re-assembling the family line. I started out with three books: Pilcher’s Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher and Kindred Families, Ivey’s Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. JohnTaliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro, and Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia, by George R. Gilmer. For good measure, I threw in Genealogies of Virginia Families from the William and Mary College Quarterly, volume II, to double check those auxiliary lines.

Let’s go back to the marriage records. The Georgia marriage collection included nine entries—although several duplicates were included—that fit my search parameters. The trouble was, once I moved beyond the Oglethorpe County records I was seeking for Taliaferro weddings, comparing the details with those in the published genealogies brought more frustration than resolution.

Perhaps I just need to remind myself that, from our computerized vantage point, we have instantaneous access to more records than the average researcher in the early 1900s could ever hope to have.

Perhaps I can set the record straight on some of these lines.

Perhaps, though, I need to tread carefully and not assume I’m just setting things straight. Even government documents have been known to contain errors—not to mention their transcriptions.

And so I went, carefully treading through the text of four different publications, toggling back and forth between the open tabs on my computer, seeing which author said Person A married Person B when another author insisted it was really Person C. For now, I’m banking on the government documents being the voice of authority—but I’ll sure be open to the possibility that it was otherwise. I’ll take time after going through this mind-numbing process to run the names through newspaper archives and other resources to see if I can find any further mention confirming correct names and identities.

I have to remind myself of my underlying purpose for all this. Sometimes, when we get mired in the overwhelming details of the search, we need to cling to that all-important purpose. It’s the anchor that lets us hold firm to our resolve, no matter how much we might want to give it all up.

In the case of this Taliaferro chase, I’m seeking the identity of my third great grandmother and her kin for two reasons:
·       First, to break through the brick wall ancestor that may help me connect with my mystery cousin—and adoptee—with whom I share exact mtDNA results
·       Second, to fill in as many blanks as possible to give me the genealogical road map to navigate through all my autosomal DNA matches I’ve received since testing last December.

In the meantime, I’ll continue the search under cover. No need to dread countless posts recounting endless details. You know how I’ve compared watching genealogical research unfold with witnessing sausage-making. Neither does genealogy lend itself well to becoming a spectator sport. But if I stumble upon something interesting or exciting, you can be sure I’ll bring it up.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Perhaps it was with a certain smug satisfaction that I concluded yesterday’s post—a little too prematurely. Yes, I discovered a record showing Thomas F. Rainey marrying someone named Mary E. Talafero in Oglethorpe County, Georgia. And yes, I’ve seen indications that that same Mary Taliaferro might have been sister to Charles Boutwell Taliaferro—the man who took in two of her unmarried children after her passing. But to find a Mary and Charles who are children of the same Georgia Taliaferro family? Well, that’s the catch.

There is more work to be done. Apparently, that is what the old reports are telling me.

Or, perhaps genealogies published by brick and mortar establishments of bygone years are no more infallible than are e-genealogies shared online today.

Let’s take a look at what can be found on those hallowed pages of another century's researchers.

The first task, logically, would be to seek the parents' names of siblings Mary E. and Charles Boutwell Taliaferro. A number of researchers have assumed a specific Taliaferro parent, but now that I’m trying to plug these two descendants into the larger Taliaferro picture, I’m not so sure.

We can assume, given Charles’ middle name of Boutwell, that he descends from a woman whose maiden name was that same Boutwell—and that we have in the person of the wife of Zachariah Taliaferro (1730 – 1811), named Mary. Given that date range, though, it is more likely that Mary Boutwell Taliaferro would be Charles’ grandmother, not mother. A number of researchers hold the father to be one of Zachariah’s and Mary’s sons, who went by either the name Warren or Warner. I’ve seen both versions—and frankly, looking at the handwriting in some census records, I can see how there could be confusion.

Just to surmount the current distress, let’s assume Charles’ father was Warren/Warner, son of Zachariah and Mary. That would not be too far fetched an assumption. Remember, the cemetery where Charles’ sister Mary was buried was a family burial grounds. If you took a peek at the link I shared yesterday, listing the names of all who were buried at that Johnson Cemetery in Coweta County, Georgia, you’d recognize a resonance in the name of Charles' sister Mary's son, also buried in their plot: Warren Taliaferro Rainey. Who do you suppose that child of Thomas F. and Mary Taliaferro Rainey might have been named after?

In addition, Warren/Warner’s siblings included another sister by the name of Frances, who married someone named Penn. We find her buried, along with Mary Taliaferro Rainey, in that same family cemetery.

All looks reasonably good—until, that is, we head for those time-honored genealogy books.

Before we start entangling ourselves within the annals of family history, let me provide you with a handy online scorecard for the Taliaferro family. No guarantees that this one is totally correct, either, but I like how it provides footnotes for key assertions. From Barbara Breedlove Rollins’ Family Files, you can find the specific section I’m referring to by clicking here.

So, what can we find in the old genealogical reports? Let’s look first at Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher and Kindred Families, compiled by Margaret Campbell Pilcher in 1911. If you are on, you can find a copy of the text in question provided here. For those not willing to spring for Ancestry’s subscription fees, you can fortunately also access the public domain text through Internet Archive here.

In dense text at the end of the book, the author reviews the descendants of the Virginia colony’s Taliaferro family. At page 400, she begins a recital of all the children of Zachariah and Mary Boutwell Taliaferro. By page 402, the text covers the children of their son Zachariah—most pertinent to the daughter who married into the Broyles line I’ve been discussing for the past month. Two thirds of the way down page 403, the narrative arrives at that son of Zachariah and Mary we've been discussing today, given here as Warner.

According to Ms. Pilcher, Warner married a woman named Mary M. Gilmer, and together they had four children. Ms. Pilcher identifies those children as Nancy, Charles (Boutwell), Sophia and Polly.

If you arrived at the name of that fourth child, Polly, and breathed a sigh of relief, take it back. According to Ms. Pilcher, Polly married a man by the name of Landrum, not Rainey.

But wait! Another one of those four siblings did marry someone by the name of Thomas Rainey. If you are astute enough to notice that none of the remaining candidates, among those four siblings, was named Mary, you get extra points for your keen sense of the obvious.

Yes. We are in trouble.

Okay, so let’s not be too hasty with our judgments. Let’s cross check the Pilcher tome with another equally long-winded title, The Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. John Taliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro. This one, compiled by Willie Catherine Ivey, was the volume I first discovered at the Sutro library in San Francisco during one of my early forays into the treasures hidden in genealogical repositories, years ago. This text, as well, is available through, but unfortunately, the 1926 volume is not accessible in digitized form online (at least that I can find).

According to the Ivey text, the page 105 outline of Zachariah and Mary’s children lists the son in question as Warren, not Warner. Yet his four children are listed with the same names, and are paired with the same spouses as were listed in the Pilcher book.

What are we to make of that? I suppose we can assume that these old volumes were indeed correct, and take our search elsewhere. After all, there are hundreds of pages of genealogical reports of descendants of the Taliaferro line to be had in these volumes alone. Noting these records would, if nothing else, help me navigate the nearly seven hundred DNA matches I’ve been notified about since taking my own autosomal DNA test. At best, they might help me identify exactly which Mary Taliaferro it was who married someone named Rainey in time to give birth to my second great grandmother.

On the other hand, I’ve spotted mistakes even in revered publications such as these. After all—though not in the two titles cited above—I’ve run across reports insisting that my third great grandfather died young in battle, when that was not the case at all. Besides, one thing we have in our favor that these authors from the early 1900s did not have is digitized copies of all the census records. Where they would have had to take hours—no, more likely, days—of grunt work to slog through bound copies of original documents (if those were even accessible to them at all), we can now, with the tap of our finger, call up the documents in question in rapid succession. It is more likely to find all the verification we need now than it was then, closer in time to the occurrences in question.

So, the question at hand now—given this confusing array of conflicting details—is: where to, next?

And the answer is: actually, I really don’t know.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Whatever Became of Mary’s Parents?

Seeking information on Mary Rainey—my second great grandmother, and soon-to-be wife of Thomas Taliaferro Broyles—has been challenging. Granted, tracing her whereabouts via digitized documents has been a boon unlike any experience I’d had in my pre-computer, dusty-archives-crawling days before the 1990s. But still: this ancestor has got what it takes to be a brick wall candidate. Even though I’ve progressed to finding possibilities online, I need to remind myself: these are possible proofs of her existence. I may be totally wrong.

On the other hand, I take my assurances, thinking about that bit of family lore passed down by my mother, years ago. I can just imagine the scenario: my mother, as a young child temporarily being raised by her grandmother, found herself in the same sort of conversation I, a generation later, found myself—asking about her parents. The answer, from my great-grandmother in response to her granddaughter’s question, would of course be about this very same Mary Rainey.

The answer: her grandmother’s mother had been adopted. So, what was there to say?

When I first heard this story, I had assumed the same scenario we now picture when someone tells us that he or she is adopted: the standard closed adoption process where courts seal the agency records and slam the door shut on any possibility of finding one’s true roots. That might very well be the case, if we were talking about someone born in the twentieth century.

I had to remind myself, though, that this person’s mother—my mother’s grandmother’s mother—was not born in the twentieth century. And things before that century were vastly different. Including adoptions.

Sometimes, in previous centuries, parents died young, leaving destitute families behind. Gone were the social services we’ve come to expect now as all-pervasive in our communities. In their place might have been compassionate human services agencies administered by churches or alliances of concerned citizens. But mostly, the “agency” of last resort was extended family: the aunts and uncles and grandparents who would “do their duty” by taking in an extra child, providing a bed and warm meals, likely in return for an extra set of hands helping out around the house or on the farm. If you’ve ever read the oft-mocked children’s story, Pollyanna, you realize that was the premise sending the young heroine on her adventures at the home of her own maiden aunts.

In an era like the 1860s, couple that parental-death scenario with the great disrupter of that decade—the American Civil War—and you likely have a reason why many children became orphans in need of help from compassionate (or at least dutiful) relatives.

In a case like Mary Rainey’s, who would be those likely relatives? Well, they likely would be either Raineys or Taliaferros—especially considering Mary’s mother was supposed to be a Taliaferro, herself. So, finding the young Mary in the household of another Georgia family by the name of Taliaferro would be a good sign. That’s what was so encouraging about finding Mary living with Charles and Mildred Taliaferro in the 1870 census—even though the enumerator represented Mary as merely domestic help in their household.

That discovery also meant Mary’s own parents had to have been gone by that point. So, were they?

If the 1860 census record we had found was the right one for our Mary’s family, it already showed Mary’s mother as head of household. Mary’s father had to have been deceased by that point. Whether owing to a tragic occurrence on account of the war, or for other reasons—I have yet to locate any record of the cause of his death—it turns out that Thomas Rainey, senior, passed away on October 16, 1858. This I know, only thanks to the work of a Find A Grave volunteer, Dianne Wood, who originally set up the memorial on that website for Thomas Firth Rainey, a sixty two year old man buried in Coweta County, Georgia.

Not long after the 1860 census was taken, Thomas’ wife took her place next to her husband at the Johnson Cemetery in Palmetto. She died on March 5, 1863—providing us the explanation for her absence in the 1870 census, and the reason why her younger children Mary and Thomas would be in another family’s household.

Would that be the household of a relative? Only if that mother Mary was a former Taliaferro, herself.

Headstone for Mrs M E Rainey at Johnson Cemetery in Palmetto Georgia
Judging from the list of burials at that small Johnson Cemetery in Coweta County, it may well have been a family burial ground—much like the burials we had seen back in South Carolina for the younger Mary’s future Broyles in-laws—for it is peppered with reoccurring uses of that distinctive “Taliaferro.”

In fact, Mary Rainey’s mother was listed as a Taliaferro, herself. Her memorial on Find A Grave lists her under the entry, “Mary Elizabeth ‘Polly’ Taliaferro Rainey.” Though the memorial doesn’t indicate how that maiden name was verified, one look at the only accessible online index providing marriage records for the era reveals a Thomas F. Rainey marrying a Mary E. “Talafero” on June 9, 1818, in Oglethorpe County, Georgia.

For a name traditionally spelled “Taliaferro” but properly pronounced “Toliver,” I’d say that rendition was close enough.

Photograph, above: Rainey family burial plot at Johnson Cemetery in Palmetto, Coweta County, Georgia, from the Find A Grave memorial for Mary Elizabeth "Polly" Taliaferro Rainey; with thanks for permission granted to use photograph courtesy of photographer and Find A Grave volunteer, Dianne Wood.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Keep Looking

I’ll cut to the chase: the moral of yesterday’s story is to never stop looking. Who knows whether the very next search could bring the answer to your question?

Perturbed by my smashing non-success at locating a simple ancestor by the name of Mary—alright, I admit: it was a challenge—I couldn’t quite lay down the quest, even though frustrated. Granted, when a surname has so many spelling variations as to leave me searching for a string that includes more wildcards than alphabetic characters, it does feel like time to give up.

But I couldn’t. I kept staring at that 1850 census result for Coweta County, Georgia. It had all the makings of a promising hit: last name phonetically in agreement with what I was told was my second great grandmother’s maiden name, mother named Mary, and brother named Thomas. It’s just that the ages were all jumbled up.

Rather than trash everything and start again from scratch, I decided to play “What If.” In other words, “What If” I could find the family—or even a portion of them—in the subsequent census? I was game to check.

Searching through the 1860 census possibilities, the only one I could find that remotely matched was a household in Campbell County, Georgia. Not being familiar with the geo-political subdivisions of the state of Georgia, all I could tell was that it wasn’t the Coweta County location where I had previously found a potential match. Nor was it the Muscogee County location of my second great grandparents’ wedding in 1871.

I had no clue even where Campbell County was located. So I looked it up. And no wonder: as of 1931, there is no such thing as Campbell County, Georgia. The county was absorbed, as a cost-saving measure, into Fulton County. For those of you who do know your Georgia geography, you now realize approximately where it was located: near Atlanta.

Actually, though the 1860 census showed residence in a different county than the 1850 census, the distance between the two homes was not that great—only a matter of about ten miles.

There were other differences to note, though. Most significant was the absence of Thomas’ and Mary’s father. Also named Thomas, the elder Rainey had reported his age as fifty three in the 1850 census. For whatever reason, he was totally missing from the subsequent census.

Also missing in this 1860 census—if the families were one and the same—were older son Charles (now about age thirty two) and daughters Sarah (who would now be twenty four) and Mildred (now approaching twenty three). Perhaps these older Rainey children had married and set up households of their own—requiring another search to double check my hunches about these possible relatives.

More significant than that, though, was the absence of daughter Mary. While in the 1850 census, she had shown as a fifteen year old child—and could likely have also been married and removed from the household by now—I had my doubts about any wedding bells in her future. For one reason: there was now a different Mary in the Rainey household.

For whatever reason, the Rainey household—if, indeed, it was one and the same as the one I had located from the 1850 census—now sported a younger Mary. This girl, listed by the name, “Mary W. E.,” showed in the 1860 census at the age of nine.

Voilà! The possibility revives itself! We now have a family constellation which included a son Thomas who was well on his way to becoming the twenty seven year old “clerk” in the Columbus, Georgia, household of Charles and Mildred Taliaferro—and a nine year old Mary who likely was the nineteen year old “domestic” entry in the Taliaferro household, ten years later.

I believe we may have a match.

Above: 1895 Rand McNally map of the former Campbell County, Georgia; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Problem With Possibilities

Sometimes, I wonder if there is an inverse proportion between the amount of genealogical information applied in a search and the number of results that may be gleaned by such a search. Sometimes, I also wonder if there is some sort of perverse genealogical hobgoblin, always ready to stir up the pot and cook up some trouble.

Case in point: try an search. Any search. Enter a few details in the top fields—oh, anything like name and year of birth. Then start piling on the variables: place of birth, middle name, names of family members—you name it: if it is a detail for the family you seek, be sure to add it into your search engine wish list.

Oh, and if you haven’t done so already, check one of those little boxes that require the details to produce an exact match.

Then hit “Search” and see what happens.

Likely, it will be nothing. At least, that is what happens to me.

In my current pursuit of the elusive Mary Rainey, future bride of my second great grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, I had hopes that discovering a possible brother—also named Thomas—might help add enough of a variable to isolate this Mary from the many who were out there. After all, the fluctuating spelling of her surname was adding its own weight in confusing variables as it was.

I can tell you already: trying to find a household with a Thomas, born about 1843 in South Carolina, plus a younger sister Mary, born in Georgia by 1851, is no picnic when the surname can be spelled upwards of four different—and not necessarily phonetically compatible—ways.

But I tried. I found, for instance, one Rainey household in the 1850 census that looked promising at first glance. It included a son Thomas, a daughter Mary, and a mother Mary—another requirement for my target household. The bonus was that it was a household situated in Coweta County, Georgia—the same place where Rebecca Taliaferro Broyles’ family had lived at the time.

The drawback: the son Thomas was only five years of age—a bit young for the Thomas we found in the Charles Taliaferro household in 1870, although within the range of possibilities. However, the daughter Mary was already fifteen years of age in that 1850 census—too old for the woman who was to move to Tennessee as the young bride of Thomas Broyles in 1871.

The beauty of this Rainey household would have been that the mother was, herself, a Taliaferro—just as I had been told our Mary’s mother was. This particular Mary, wife of Thomas Rainey the senior, was a sister to Charles Boutwell Taliaferro, in whose household we had just found the Mary “Reiney” we are currently puzzling over. That means she—the elder Mary—was also daughter of Warren Taliaferro, who in turn was son of the same Zachariah and Mary Boutwell Taliaferro who were grandparents of our Thomas Broyles’ mother, Sarah. We are talking cousins, here. Distant, but cousins.

Another possibility I had found was an 1850 census entry in South Carolina—going on the hunch that the family might still have been in the state in which the young Thomas was born around 1843. While this household might have been in South Carolina—a good start—and contain a son Thomas who was then seven years of age, it did not include a mother named Mary, nor an infant daughter by the same name. Yes, there was a daughter Mary, but once again, she was born much before our Mary’s arrival around 1850. This was not adding up, either.

And so it went, adding restrictions to the search—adding more and more, and finding less and less, until I found absolutely nothing that could be of any help at all.

Then what? I started poking desperately at all the databases I could find, such as scouring marriage indices for both South Carolina and Georgia (searching by the term Taliaferro, as the multiple options for Rainey bordered on useless).

But no results. How those old genealogy books, published decades ago—and in some cases, nearly one hundred years ago—could come up with the statement that our Mary Rainey’s mother was once a Taliaferro is beyond me.

It did point out one thing, though: the importance of following my intention to review those old Taliaferro genealogies once found in the research repositories I’ve visited. Granted, some are now online. Others, though, still call for a trip to a genealogical library. I simply need to go back to the time when those old books were published—closer to the dates of these family occurrences—and review the resources and recollections of the authors who gathered that time-worn information closer to the era in which these events occurred.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Census Records and Civil Wars

There’s a troublesome thing about civil wars: they tend to displace families.

Take the William and Rebecca Broyles family, for instance. It hasn’t been difficult to trace the whereabouts of that particular Broyles family over the decades—except for the one immediately following the war. Try as I might to locate anyone from that family, I couldn’t. Not William. Not Rebecca. Not any of their children born before the 1870 census.

Except Minnie. Maybe.

Minnie, born in 1858 in Tennessee, aligned nicely with the scenario we had just uncovered for the Broyles family’s whereabouts for the decade preceding the war. That, as we had already noticed, was when newlyweds William and Rebecca Broyles had moved to Washington County, Tennessee. Granted, for that 1860 census entry, their one child was listed as a son whose name was only given as three initials: M. N. B.

Let’s fast forward to 1870. Here we find, at the home of Rebecca’s parents in Georgia, a twelve year old child, entered as Minnie “Broyes.” She is listed as “going to school,” and she is shown to have been born in Tennessee. Unfortunately, though, that particular census did not include any requirement for indicating the relationship between any of the people in a particular household. There is no way to know why a girl surnamed Broyes would be in the household of a man named “Talliafero.”

Of course, it’s a simple guess that that “Talliafero” would be our Charles’ Taliaferro surname, only slightly mangled in the spelling rendition. There, along with him, is the woman we know as his wife, Mildred B. Taliaferro. These were Rebecca’s parents. But where was Rebecca? Could something have happened to her during the war years? Where was her husband? And what became of all the other children in their family?

The Civil War was the big disrupter of Southern life between the years of 1861 and 1865. While I cannot as yet determine whether William Broyles served in the Confederate Army—there were, after all, many others with that same name having Confederate military records—I do know that he and Rebecca came out, safe, on the other side. It is the 1880 census record for them in their new home in Girard, Alabama, that reveals the names of all their other children—and Minnie.

By then, Minnie was a young woman of the age of twenty two—just the right age to have made her the mystery two year old from the 1860 census, going by the initials M. N. B. A later discovery that her middle name was Nola helps round out the report.

Minnie wasn’t the only one in that Columbus Taliaferro household in 1870, though. There were two other people I’d like to zoom in on for a closer look. One was a twenty seven year old man by the name of Thomas T. Reiney. The other was a young woman named Mary W. Reiney.

Husband and wife? It hardly seems likely, given Mary’s age at the time was nineteen. Perhaps it was more plausible to think of them as brother and sister. At any rate, Thomas’ occupation in the 1870 census was listed as “clerk in store”—a reasonable listing, considering the head of the household was identified as a dry goods merchant. Mary, too, had an occupation listed: “domestic.” It hardly seems likely that a young wife—even one lodging in the home of another—would be listed as having an occupation, rather than the more proper and demure term of the era, “keeping house.”

Yet, if they were siblings in the household of another after the war, what had become of their own parents?

Another interesting tidbit gleaned from this census was the birthplace of each respondent. Charles Taliaferro, as head of household at age sixty one, gave as his place of birth South Carolina—and, as we’ll soon see, that would indicate a strong possibility that he was not only the head of this household, but also possibly a close relative of William, Rebecca’s husband, as well. Remember, William's own mother was a Taliaferro, too—still living in South Carolina.

South Carolina turned out to be the birthplace of Thomas T. Reiney, as well. However, when it comes to reviewing the place of birth of Mary—the other Reiney in this Taliaferro household—there is a little slip of the pen. The enumerator begins to enter “Tenn” for Tennessee—just as he would for grandchild Minnie at the end of the list—but then, something stops him and he crosses it out to replace it with “Geo” for Georgia. While this may be an excruciatingly small point to notice, I’m keeping that one in reserve. I now know I’m looking for a Reiney family which once lived in South Carolina—at least as far back as 1843—but which moved to Georgia by 1851. Could they, too, have gone by way of Tennessee?

Reiney? Remey? Rainey? Who knows. But now, I have one more clue to work with. I’m now trying to piece together a family whose mother’s maiden name might have been Taliaferro, but whose children now rose from a count of one to two. That can be a big assist in moving me beyond the near-hopeless task of searching for someone with a doubtful surname and an all-too-common given name like Mary.

Above: Excerpt from 1870 United States Census for Muscogee County, Georgia, courtesy

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Rebecca’s Side

We need to explore the convoluted paths the various Broyles and Taliaferro families took, as they crossed each other on their way from Virginia to South Carolina to Georgia and beyond.

Granted, our first task is to determine how my second great grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, met up with his Georgia bride, the Mary Rainey of Columbus, Georgia, whose mother was also supposed to be a Taliaferro.

As we trace down the ranks of the Broyles siblings, though, we find that Thomas’ older brother William also married a Taliaferro from Georgia. It may be worth our while to trace up the Taliaferro tree from the vantage point of William’s wife, Rebecca, and see if we can find any connections that way.

Rebecca was born in February, 1836, to Charles Boutwell Taliaferro and his wife, the former Mildred Barnett Merriweather.

Right away, if you knew the Broyles boys’ mother’s heritage, you would realize the resonance in that Boutwell name. Let me take you through the Reader’s Digest version of their mother Sarah Taliaferro Broyles’ heritage. Sarah was daughter of a Virginia man named Zachariah Taliaferro. He, in turn, was son of another Zachariah Taliaferro. That Zachariah married a woman named Mary Boutwell.

Whether she was the one sporting the maiden name that was carried through the next seventy years to be affixed to the given name of Rebecca’s father, we have yet to see. Remember, I, as the genealogical guinea pig, am taking you on a tour of my family lineage, often unfolding it for you as I go. Let’s just say I haven’t even ironed out the wrinkles from this fold, yet.

By the time of the 1850 census, the Charles B. Taliaferro household was located in Coweta County, Georgia. Along with her six siblings, Rebecca grew up in a large family, not unusual for those days. She found herself third in the household, after her brother Valentine and her sister Eliza.

Not long after that census, Rebecca herself was married. For an as yet undiscovered reason, her husband-to-be came down to Georgia to claim his bride from South Carolina, just as my second great grandfather would do, years later.

By the time Rebecca and her husband, William Broyles, were married in 1857, they likely moved right away to Tennessee, as we saw yesterday. Likewise, Rebecca’s parents and siblings moved, as well—only in a different direction. The Taliaferro family resurfaced for the 1860 census in Russell County, Alabama—though the challenge to find them was owing to an enumerator’s phonetic rendition of their surname as Toliver.

With the 1870 census, we can see the Taliaferro couple had returned to Georgia—as those of you astute enough to prefer your own independent research have already seen. While it might seem as if the family had been frenetically moving all over the place, from Georgia to Alabama and back again, that was not exactly so. Having a map close at hand helps us to realize that they merely crossed the county—and, coincidentally, the state—line to return to Georgia.

Minus all of their children—who had either married or died by this point—Charles and Mildred now had others in their household.

It is at this point that I had originally found them: in the 1870 census. Remember, I had told you I stumbled across this entry, coming in through the back door. It was through my desperation in not finding Charles’ and Mildred’s married daughter Rebecca and her husband William Broyles in 1870—not to mention my overarching concern about whatever had happened to the parents of Thomas Broyles’ bride-to-be, Mary Rainey—that had pushed me to perform one of those “what if” searches. I had entered Taliaferro for mother’s name, along with Rainey and all its spelling permutations, into FamilySearch and until a viable result came up.

That result led me to the very Taliaferro household in Columbus, Georgia, that we've been discussing: the home of Charles and Mildred Taliaferro, Rebecca Taliaferro Broyles' parents. It just so happened that this same home was the one which housed a “domestic servant” named Mary Reiney.

Could that be the Mary Rainey who married Thomas Taliaferro Broyles in Columbus in 1871? We’ll take a closer look at that possibility, beginning tomorrow.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Can’t Read Too Much Into That Census

It’s 1860. Do you know where your second great grandfather is?

I do: Thomas Taliaferro Broyles was a seventeen year old son living in the South Carolina home of his father, Ozey Robert Broyles. Soon to head off to college, he would someday follow a path similar to his older brother, William Henry Broyles, who had just married his Georgia bride, Rebecca Taliaferro, and moved to Tennessee.

Fortunately, though he was no longer in the Broyles household in South Carolina, Thomas’ brother William was still in the 1860 census, too. In Tennessee, he was landholder of some real estate valued at that time at eighteen thousand dollars. Not bad for a newlywed couple, just starting life together. I suspect William’s good fortune could be attributed to the largess of his father, who had purchased land near Jonesborough in Washington County, where the young couple had just found themselves.

Apparently, William and Rebecca had been in Tennessee for a while. How do I know this? Their little household was no longer a twosome, but a family of three. Their two year old child was listed in the 1860 census as having been born in Tennessee. So if William and Rebecca had settled in her hometown in Georgia for any amount of time after their 1857 wedding, it wasn’t for long.

While the 1860 census gives me hints as to the circumstances of the William Broyles family, it does have its problems. It’s census records like this that make me wish the enumerations were slated to happen more than once every ten years. In this case, it’s not due to horrendous handwriting—although I’ve encountered enumerators whose hand has pushed me to nearly tear my hair out, this gentleman’s work is pristine. Nor is it from data in disagreement with previous census records—everything matches up just fine with previous documentation for both William and Rebecca.

It’s the two year old who is giving me tantrums. Listed in this 1860 record only by three initials, this entry gives me no way to know the name by which I can trace this child in future records. And that, as we’ll find out, will become crucial as we flounder to locate any sign of the child’s parents in the 1870 census.

Called simply by the initials, “M. N. B.,” the child is said to be a two year old male, born in Tennessee.

What you’ll see in a couple days, though, is the difficulty of locating that M. N. B. Broyles boy in future enumerations.

Of course, the next ten years between this census and the subsequent one in 1870 will turn out to be filled with turmoil. Who knows what will happen to this family—I have yet to locate them in that post-war census. But I may have located their child—well, only if the child was incorrectly entered as a son in the 1860 census.

At any rate, there is a possibility in the 1870 census that could lead us back to Georgia. And the initials match. Somewhat.

Before we explore that possibility, though, we need to return to the home of William’s wife Rebecca, before the time of her marriage, and learn a bit about the Georgia household in which she was raised.

Above: Image from the 1860 United States census for Jonesborough in Washington County, Tennessee, courtesy

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Where William Was

A South Carolina gentleman by the name of William Henry Broyles made his way down to Coweta County, Georgia, to marry his bride, Rebecca Taliaferro, in 1857. How he met her is as undisclosed as is the manner of introduction of William’s younger brother Thomas to his bride, almost fifteen years later. Come to think of it, the connection seems almost as unexplained as their older brother Charles’ move to Georgia—in his case, with South Carolina bride, Lucy Ann Johnson, in tow—nine years prior to William’s journey.

Why these three Broyles brothers moved to Georgia is a mystery that has eluded me. Perhaps, in delving more deeply into history, I might be able to find clues in land sales, or migration patterns, or business rushes. In that realm of study, I might be held captive for untold hours, gleaning old books for hints as to the reason.

I’ll set that assignment aside for another day.

Meanwhile, it isn’t lost on me that the three brothers shared some similar paths in their three separate journeys. All three grew up in South Carolina. All three spent some time farming in Tennessee on property owned by their father, Ozey Robert Broyles. All three have some sort of connection to Georgia: older brother Charles moving there with his wife and firstborn, middle brother William marrying a resident of the state, and younger brother Thomas finding his bride there, as well.

Where each of the three Broyles sons ended up, though, turned out to be different. Charles, as we’ve seen, settled in Dalton, Georgia—long enough to raise one family but then, on the heels of trouble, to leave it all for the prospector’s dream of striking it rich in Colorado. Thomas came to Georgia to claim his bride, but his home was in Tennessee, and there he returned to raise his family. William, like Charles and Thomas, headed for a while to Tennessee. But not for long.

William’s wedding occurred in Coweta County, Georgia, home of his wife, Rebecca Taliaferro. Sometime between that 1857 occasion and the time of the 1860 census, the couple—plus their firstborn child—made the journey from Georgia to Tennessee, much the reverse of the journey older brother Charles had made with his family in tow.

The reason I think it is likely that William headed to Tennessee specifically to tend to his father’s property is that he settled in the same county as had Charles, ten years earlier. Though Charles documented in his journal his reason for arriving in Washington County, Tennessee—at his father’s insistence—I have no such explanation passed on to our generation from William.

The Broyles surname has not been unknown to Washington County, Tennessee. The extended Broyles family was a large one, and their original settling places in Virginia and South Carolina were not far from this northeast region of Tennessee. I sometimes have to be careful with hints from sources like, owing to the need to tread carefully among all these Broyles distant cousins.

In the case of this 1860 enumeration, though, I can be fairly certain I have the right family. The names and ages seem to match up. The state of birth is accurately reflected. The fact that William is listed as a farmer matches the intent already displayed by his father towards his older brother in the past decade.

There is one detail about the census record, though, to which we need to pay close attention. That is the information on William and Rebecca’s firstborn child. Showing in the 1860 census simply by the initials “M. N. B.,” this child may turn out to be the one to lead us back to the family connection with William’s brother Thomas’ bride in Georgia.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


As you move back in time, working through the generations of your family tree, have you ever gotten yourself so tangled up in the ever-increasing strands of your family lines that it left you utterly unable to explain how you got from Person A to Person B?

If I tell you what I need to explain for this next step in my search for the family of my second great grandmother, Mary Rainey, I may leave you in exactly that position. Stunned. Speechless.

Well, ditching all the hyperbole, at least it would leave you lost.

Casting about for the best way to explain what I need to say for this next episode, I’ve decided I simply can’t tell it to you the same way I first encountered it. You see, I snuck in from the back door. But I’ll take you through the main entrance. Perhaps that will make things easier to explain.

Our task right now, in finding Mary Rainey’s roots, is to go through the list of the siblings of her husband-to-be, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles—a South Carolina man whom she married in her home town of Columbus, Georgia, in 1871. The reason we’re checking this list of siblings is to see if we can determine who it might have been that introduced the two. After all, it’s rather a long commute from Thomas’ home in Anderson County, South Carolina, to Muscogee County in Georgia. It’s not like they just met, passing on the sidewalk one afternoon. Something had to have been arranged for them to meet.

After discarding as possible matchmakers Thomas’ four oldest brothers, we now arrive at Possibility Number Five: William Henry Broyles. William may well be our nexus for three reasons.

First, he was ten years older than Thomas. The beauty of researching large families is that, at any given time in a family unit’s history, there will be some sons going off to college—or to war, or to seek their fortune—while there are other sons still exploring the world at large on all fours in their diapers. Combining all these stages and ages into one family unit can foster those positive aspects of brotherhood that we all admire: older brothers helping younger brothers.

Given the ten year time span between William and his younger brother Thomas, a lot could occur in William’s life while Thomas was still in his mid-teens. That, for instance, would give William enough time to get married, get settled in his own home, and get established in his own network of friends and associates.

The second reason William may be our prime candidate is that, once married in 1857, William and his bride may have settled for a while in Georgia. Georgia is likely a favorable place for an older brother to be situated, if said kid brother eventually hoped to widen his horizons, as far as marriageable young ladies were concerned. Remember, from our vantage point on the other side of history, we already know Thomas fell for a Georgia belle. What we don’t know is how they met.

Third, well, that clanging bell and shrieking whistle you hear are the clues that lurk in William’s wife’s maiden name. She was a Taliaferro. As you may have guessed from William’s brother’s middle name—Thomas Taliaferro Broyles—there seems to be some type of family affinity to that name. Thomas came by the Taliaferro name honestly: his mother was a Taliaferro. William’s wife, likewise, was once a Taliaferro. What is interesting to note is that, in all the published genealogies I’ve been able to find so far, Thomas’ bride-to-be, Mary Rainey, was also said to descend from a mother who was a Taliaferro. But to find any nexus there is turning out to be as tangled a rabbit trail as is the search for Thomas’ and Mary’s matchmaker.

As you may have surmised, I’m actually talking myself through this routine, in hopes that explaining the tangle to myself will somehow loosen these strands so I can see the disparate lines clearly. Some people call this “thinking things through” but I don’t exactly think I’m arriving at the “through” part, yet.

So, to ease my muddled brain, let’s go through this process step by step. First, we’ll see where older brother William was after his marriage to Rebecca Taliaferro in Coweta County, Georgia, on July 28, 1857. Then, we’ll look at the place where they settled next, according to the 1860 census. And finally, we’ll round up that Taliaferro maiden name for William’s wife, Rebecca, and see who her parents were, where they lived, and who they were related to. The hope, of course, is to isolate and finger that one strand—now, hopefully clear of the web of the rest of those tangled lines—and follow it straight back to either the common Taliaferro relative, or to the family that Mary Rainey claimed. Or, if we’re doubly fortunate, to both.

 Above: Jean-Simon Berthélemy, "Alexander Cuts the Gordian Knot," oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. While I don't intend to follow suit, sometimes this option becomes tempting... 
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