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


  1. You will be responsible for an "errata" fix!

    :) If anyone gets it right, it will be you. I admire your accuracy.

    1. Thank you, Iggy. I would love to see this clarified.


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