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


  1. Sounds like another rabbit trail...Mary..oh my that makes it tougher:(

    1. Yes...I'm hunkering down for the long haul on this one. It's going to be a long and winding trail...

  2. Some consistent spelling would have been a huge help!

    1. Well...I'm taking lessons in creative spelling ;)


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