Thursday, February 26, 2015

Same Place, Same Day, Two Marys

Sometimes, genealogical research conundrums drive me to distraction. Prepare yourself for another rabbit trail from said distraction.

As I plow through the ages and generations of Taliaferros and their related lines, it begins to dawn on me just how many of those kin could claim the name Mary Taliaferro.

It all started when I located the actual paperwork—digitized online, of course—for the marriage of my third great grandparents.

I was first alerted to this documentation, thanks to the much-maligned shaky-leaf hints at One hint linked me to a typewritten statement transcribed from some Oglethorpe County, Georgia, official’s records in the early 1800s.

Underneath entry number 1537 dated May 30th, the record added the following:
FACT OF CEREMONY. (Recorded Page 61, Original Book “A”.)
I hereby certify that on the 9th day of June 1818 I joined in holy wedlock Thos. F. Rainey and Mary E. Taliferro.                       Nicholas Powers, M. G.

“M. G.,” of course, referring to the designation “Minister of the Gospel,” informed me—presumably—of the name of the couple’s pastor, from which I might be able to infer the church they attended. I began to think of how I could determine which church might have kept corresponding records of the family’s early years, and how I could possibly locate more information on this nagging roadblock to my research progress. You see, this is the couple for whom I have no other confirmation of the wife’s name. According to other records, Thomas was to be happily married to someone named Nancy, not Mary.

I also began to grouse about not being able to access the original record books, themselves, where I could ascertain for myself whether the transcription was handled properly. After all, people can make mistakes—and, given the abysmal state of some officials’ handwriting, such mistakes were often come by quite honestly.

What was “Original Book ‘A’” and how could I get a look at it?

No sooner said than digitally served up, for the shaky leaves at Ancestry turn out to be prescient, as well. There, in all its abysmal glory, was the near-illegible entry confirming that Nicholas Powers “joined in holy wedlock” Thomas F. Rainey and Mary E. “Talafero.”

Looking back at the original transcript, I’d say that unnamed transcriber got this one right—well, close enough, considering the misspelling of that deceptive Taliaferro surname.

Somehow, in double checking the entry, my eye, caught once again at the name of the minister, happened to slip below to the very next line on the transcription, where, on the exact same day, an entry was made for the marriage of one Nicholas Powers.

Same man? Could the Rev. Nicholas Powers have been in to the Oglethorpe County offices to file the proper paperwork on two of his parishioners, and then slip in the requisite forms for his own marriage at the same time?

But there was more. On this same date—May 30, 1818—this same Nicholas Powers (at least, we presume it was the same man) was not only declaring that he was marrying Mary Taliaferro to Thomas Rainey, he was declaring that he was marrying Mary Taliaferro…to himself.


How could this be? There must have been some confusion in the transcription.

I looked back to the original, handwritten record, to see if I could find the second entry in its original form. Now that I was taking a close look at the original record, I discovered how disjointed it was. Nothing was in date order. This was the record from the Oglethorpe “Ordinary Office,” and apparently, when someone showed up to hand-enter a record, it got the next empty line on the page—whether in date order or not.

It turned out that Thomas Rainey’s wedding was recorded on May 30, but apparently transpired on June 9. Though I checked the page preceding and following the duly noted page 61, I could not find any marriage of a second Mary Taliaferro. Did two Mary Taliaferros get married like the May 30 entries declared? Or was one merely a clerical error? And if not, who was the second Mary? Or was one of the grooms’ names a mistake?

I was beginning to see my recently-acquired confidence over finding Mary Taliaferro’s husband fading into the ether.

Sitting down to think through this puzzle about the consecutively numbered entries, I realized that entry number 1537—Thomas Rainey’s entry—had the follow-up “Fact of Ceremony” entered below it, while entry number 1538—that for the minister, himself—did not. Did the second couple file their intention, yet get cold feet before that fateful day in which they were to meet at the altar?

History, thankfully, was on my side in supplying ample additional evidence that Nicholas Powers did get married to a Mary Taliaferro. But I had yet to figure that out.

I did, eventually, find another digitized, handwritten record book of marriage records—yes, again thanks to’s shaky leaf hints—showing the two consecutive entries. Both dated May 30, 1818, and following one after another on the same page, were the entries I sought.

In the end, it all came down to one specific detail that allowed me to tell the Marys apart: their middle initial. Thomas Rainey, you see, married Mary E. Taliaferro, while his pastor was wed to Mary M. Taliaferro.

While I still cannot find what I need to confirm my suspicions on this case, I believe the Mary who married Thomas Rainey was herself the daughter of the Mary who married the minister. The elder Mary, you see, was the widow of Warren Taliaferro, who apparently died before 1818. This widow was the former Mary Meriwether Gilmer, daughter of Thomas Meriwether Gilmer and Elizabeth Lewis Gilmer. Her 1818 marriage to Nicholas Powers would have been her second.

The only rub is that, if this elder Mary was indeed mother of the Mary who married Thomas Rainey in 1818, both she and her daughter, at their respective first marriages, would have had to have been quite young. You see, the elder Mary—if her headstone can be believed—was born in 1786. The younger Mary was born in 1804.

I’ll let you do the math and decide whether there’s enough margin for this possibility.

All images above courtesy, with specific document locations indicated by in-line hyperlinks.


  1. Absolutely that's possible, even probable. 18 - heck, she probably married at age 14. Hurrah for the shaky leaf.

    1. This extended family seemed particularly careful about not marrying off their daughters before their eighteenth birthday. However, I suppose in this case, with extenuating circumstances of a deceased father and a soon-to-be-remarried mother, there would have been added incentives to see that this daughter married as soon as possible.

      Of course, dates of birth in that era were always suspect, in my book.

  2. It is definitely possible. My second great grandmother was 15 when she married my second great grandfather, who was 24. I have found the form her mother filled out to consent to the marriage.

    1. Georgeann, thanks for mentioning that. I have heard stories like that before, so I know it's possible. It's just that it wasn't often the custom in this particular extended family--making me question whether I am on the right track to presume the elder Mary was actually mother to the younger one. I still don't have any solid documentation to demonstrate that, so want to examine anything that might rule this out as a possibility.

  3. Replies
    1. With a green light like that, I'm off to test my hypothesis...

  4. Mary E and Mary M... goodness.. I'd be bald(er) from pulling my hair out by now in frustration!

    1. Isn't it always the littlest details that make the biggest messes?!


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