Thursday, March 12, 2015


When faced with multiple ancestors sporting the same given name, it’s sometimes challenging to determine which one is which. Perhaps the best defense is to identify each identically-named ancestor in more than one way. Just as a hand slips easily into a well-fit glove, determining multiple qualifiers for each individual helps finger the right one.

That, at least, seemed like a sound idea when I thought to apply it to my William Tilson family in Washington County, Virginia. After having followed his sons to—and this detail does not help the differentiation effort—Washington County, Tennessee, William had returned to his old farm in Virginia, where his daughter Janet now lived with her husband, Joseph Cole.

Sounds easy, right? I have two additional identifying relationships to connect with this William to assure I have the right people.

All would have gone swimmingly, if only there were but one Joseph Cole. Apparently, there wasn’t.

Now the task begins to find multiple identifiers to finger the right Joseph Cole. I turned back to the Mercer Tilson genealogy book to pick up some clues. According to The Tilson Genealogy, Janet Tilson—likely born in 1776—had married Joseph Cole and continued to live in the area on what was noted to be “the original William Tilson farm.”

According to that genealogy, the couple had three children. In addition to unnamed twin daughters, for whom no date of birth was supplied, the couple had a son, whom they named Sampson.

An additional note by the author stated his date of birth was “perhaps 1810.”

When trying to gather multiple identifiers for an individual, “perhaps” doesn’t cut it.

“Oh,” you say, “Sampson isn’t that common a given name; this will be sufficient.”

Ya think?

Let’s check Find A Grave to see what trouble is headed our way. Fortunately, the Mercer Tilson narrative includes a separate entry for the son of Joseph and Janet, indicating that Sampson died “about” 1894, and that he was buried in Lutheran Church Cemetery in Saint Clair, Virginia. The book also mentions that he was married to Eliza Cole, and includes the names of several children, so we should have several means of identifying the right man.

Right away, we find an entry for a Sampson Cole who was born “perhaps” in 1810 and died “about” 1894—actually, 1811 and 1893. I’d call that close.

While he might have been listed as having a wife named Eliza Cole (check) and several children, some of whose names from the Tilson genealogy matched the Find A Grave listing (check), unfortunately, the helpful Find A Grave volunteer who created Sampson Cole’s memorial noted that Sampson was son of David Mason Cole and Remember Woolsey.


So much for finding the qualifier to help us identify the right Joseph Cole who married William Tilson’s daughter, Janet. The more we struggle with these details, the tighter the snare seems to shut.

Perhaps there was a different Sampson Cole who was son of Joseph and Janet. After all, not being sure whether the “Lutheran Church Cemetery” in the old village designation, “Saint Clair,” would be the same as the Saint James Lutheran Church Cemetery where this Sampson Cole was buried, perhaps I should be looking for a different Sampson.

Using the search engine at Find A Grave, I entered my parameters for any Sampson Cole who died before 1899—just to give a little leeway—and was buried in Virginia. The results handed me a list of four gentlemen by that same name, none of whom had dates of birth or death remotely close to my possibilities—other than the Sampson we’d already located, of course.

Though I had been hoping that a Sampson, married to an Eliza, who was son of Joseph, who was husband of Janet, might provide enough variables to point me in the right direction, that is not how this search is turning out. Apparently—and yes, even with a name like Sampson—it takes more details than these to ascertain that we are talking about the right individual.


  1. It's interesting that the name Remember keeps popping up. Is it possible the Findagrave volunteer had wrong information? It seems that somebody's assumptions in the past have become facts, "facts" which are throwing you off.

    1. It would be nice if Find A Grave volunteers could also note the source of their assertions on the website. I'm not sure how that name, Remember, keeps showing up, Wendy, but that is a good point. And it is throwing me off. Using others' work as trailblazers is handy, but this points out, once again, why the ultimate "buck stops here" has to be that of documentation. Period.

  2. Either the book or Find A Grave appears to be wrong - the Find A Grave record shows some possible supporting evidence.

    Or perhaps Sampson was from a 2nd or 3d wife?

    1. Thanks for seconding my thoughts on this, Iggy! My guess, at this point, is that the book may not be correct.

      I'm not sure how writers of early 1900s genealogies went about gathering all their information--a formidable task, if you think of it, considering they had no access to the tools of technology that we have now--but if it was through questionnaires sent out to various family members, perhaps some well-meaning relatives sought to "help out" by filling in the blanks for other family members who neglected to reply at all. Not everyone remembers every detail of their relatives' children and their dates of birth. There were bound to be mistakes replicated through a method like that.

  3. Remember keeps popping up...gosh I like that name. Eventually you will sort it out.

    1. As we push into that old Puritan era and region, the names sure do change, don't they?

      Thanks for the encouragement, Far Side. I'm sure something else will show up to give a hint.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...