Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Bound For Alabama

What? How did this New Yorker find herself researching family roots in the post-Civil War state of Alabama?

Migratory patterns have always been fascinating. Over the centuries, people groups have wandered from Point A to Point B, thanks to ingenious contraptions of transportation. After all, that’s how my Irish-American husband turned out to have come from a Viking heritage (as we recently discovered, thanks to Y-DNA testing).

That, too, is apparently how my colonial Virginia Taliaferro settlers ended up being great-great grandparents of people who lived in not only South Carolina and Georgia, but even further south and west in Alabama, and eventually Texas.

Once again, I’m following the trail of descendants—descendants, that is, not only of my direct line, but of all their siblings as well. The reason: I’m still looking for collateral lines on behalf of my seven-hundred-plus DNA matches. (Thanks, Amy Johnson Crow, for re-sensitizing the genealogical research community to that term!)

More importantly, I’m still seeking the nexus that links me with my mystery cousin, Joel—who shares an exact match with my maternal line as pinpointed by mitochondrial DNA testing.

It’s a good thing I’ve been focusing on this disparate collection of surnames, garnered by Taliaferro daughters by virtue of their marriages. Yes, that knowledge will help me see where I match those many others whose GEDCOMs don’t reveal our connection, simply because they don’t reach back far enough to the generation in question.

There is another reason this is a productive exercise. Remember my quandary with my mother’s mother’s mother’s line? (Yes, that is exactly what mitochondrial DNA testing pursues.) The reason I’ve been stuck is that my grandmother’s grandmother was said to have been adopted. You’ve seen the contortions I’ve twisted myself into, trying to find documentation to clearly indicate which Taliaferro daughter was Mary Rainey’s mother. The Mary Taliaferro who was documented as marrying Thomas Firth Rainey—in my estimation, at least—was likely daughter of Warren Taliaferro, another brother of Benjamin and Zachariah. But that’s not what some published genealogies of the prior century assert.

The good point of this search for all descendants of all lines is that I’m now discovering other useful publications—admittedly focusing on these other lines, but quite frequently including that handy subtitle, “and related lines.” Sometimes, in those “related lines” come independently-researched conclusions about the same families I’ve called into question. It’s nice to compare notes with some serious researchers.

At the same time, I’m being exposed to titles of which I’d otherwise have been oblivious. After all, what’s a native New Yorker doing, researching the depths of the deep South? This is virgin territory to me.

Thankfully, I’ve been provided a whirlwind tour of available titles on account of the many public domain texts scanned into the collection of places like For instance, as I examined the line of descent from Benjamin Taliaferro—older brother and arch-rival-in-romance of my fourth great grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro—I ended up following his son David Merriwether Taliaferro to Alabama. The family’s genealogy was recounted in the Early Settlers of Alabama volume II, originally published by Mrs. Elizabeth Saunders Blair Stubbs in New Orleans in 1899.

As was often the case in these early American families, David apparently married a cousin, for his wife Mary Barnett was kin to the same Meriwether family as David’s mother—something I discovered only thanks to a lead from pointing out the details from a 1938 book by Sarah Travers Lewis Scott Anderson, Lewises, Meriwethers and Their Kin.

Once settled in Alabama, the family stayed in the Montgomery area, for one of their descendants was also mentioned in a book in the collection. In Notable Men of Alabama, the entry for Montgomery attorney William M. Blakey details his descent from his grandparents, David Meriwether and Mary Barnett Taliaferro, through their daughter Mary Elizabeth. The one-page biographical sketch includes enough details on his four grandparents, his parents and his siblings, to construct a family tree on this one branch of the extended family.

As I work my way down each line’s descendants, I’m grateful for the references to these books. Granted, if I had known those surnames at the start, I could have visited a nearby genealogical reference library and located copies of books with these associated surnames—if I had known about them at the start. With the handy online link to reference material, thanks to the Ancestry hints, it calls to my attention digitized publications I can now access from home. Reading through the rest of these books has allowed me to glean much background material on not only a branch of the family I never knew before, but also the context of the places where they settled.

Including Alabama—a place I never dreamed I’d be researching.


  1. Some of my ancestors did the same migration. VA (and PA) to NC to SC to GA to AL/TN and on to Texas (after the Civil War).

    I think the "Great Wagon Road" was used by my ancestors. The colonist were not supposed to settle west of the Appalachian Mountains - so in order to find more farm lands, they moved southward from PA, MD, and VA. After the Revolutionary War - they simply went west - so older families like ours do the south to west trek over 6-7 generations (or more).

    1. It's interesting to discover these patterns of migration. The only ones I've been familiar with, so far, have been that of the westward movement through upstate New York, then around to western Pennsylvania and eventually Ohio and points west, and, of course, that of the trans-Atlantic arrival in Ontario and then west through Canada to Detroit or Chicago. The southern route is a new research area for me.

      Of course, I'm sure the time frames make a big difference as well.

      So much yet to learn...

  2. The brick wall may come down some day and you never can tell what info will lead you there:)

    1. It is amazing what can be found nowadays, thanks to all these digitized online resources--a researcher's paradise!


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