Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sometimes, You Just Know

Why is it that, in the midst of the most frustrating defeats, something seems to work itself loose and open up a possibility that—though it hasn't yet been fully proven—you just know will lead to the right answer?

I cannot begin to tell the countless hours I've spent, sifting through data, trying to unearth patterns that will lead me backwards on my path through time to the woman who correspondingly, taken forward in time again, would yield a female descendant who would become the mother of the adoptee whose DNA test tells him he and I are exactly linked.

Sensing my lack of progress, I've redoubled my effort this summer. But the more I add to my database of ancestors and their related lines, the less I feel I am succeeding.

I had hoped that switching tracks would jump start a stalled project: rather than pursue my line back in time, look for the nexus in my mystery cousin's line. But as you have probably already noticed, I am mired in the disappointing research snares of burned courthouses and missing records on that account, as well.

Last weekend, I told myself I needed to strategize this search better. In fleshing out my skeletal family tree—typically, in genealogical research, we seek out the direct line, not the collateral lines as much—I had now been adding siblings in each line, then bringing those lines forward to the present generation. That would work well in finding ways to match with those other eight-hundred-plus matches on my autosomal DNA test, but it wasn't doing much for this matrilineal pursuit. I needed to focus on one goal at a time, and if I wanted to find the answer to how I was related to this mystery cousin, that meant looking solely at the women's lines descending from my direct matrilineal line.

In other words, keep the route straight on the narrow path of mother's-mother's-mother. And then, only the women born to those mothers—and, in turn, their daughters—until I reach the terminal descendant, in my mystery cousin's case, a son.

So those were my marching orders: evaluate every female descendant descending from that specific matrilineal line.

I don't do well with taking orders.

Well, when I started out, I meant well. I looked at my maternal grandmother—she being the mother of only one daughter who had children of her own. That wouldn't work. I took one baby step backward through the generations to her mother, Sarah Broyles McClellan, who again had only one daughter who bore children.

Repeat one more generation: the next contestant was her mother, Mary Rainey, the woman who reportedly was adopted—in my opinion, taken in by family as an orphan—and then, on the other end of her life, had died young, before the age of customary documentation for deaths. Though I know little about her before her marriage to Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, I do know she had not one, but two daughters who then had children of their own.

However—and you know there would be a caveat, even here—Mary's other daughter was the proud mother of sons. End of that matrilineal line.

Moving up yet another generation proved to be a problem. How was I to know for certain who Mary's mother was? I did find someone whom I believe is my Mary in the household of her relatives in Georgia, just before her marriage to Thomas Broyles, pointing to the possibility of extended family relationships. And I did locate a possible Mary in a Rainey household in Georgia—though after the death of the father, leaving me with a mother also named Mary, an unfortunately too-common name on which to hang one's confidence.

Let's just say that the elder Mary Rainey was the right mother. She certainly had many daughters from which to choose possible routes for another iteration of her matrilineal line.

But that was the 1860s, and not only was war the mode of the tension-filled decade, but the invisibility of daughters given in marriage, duly noted in records filed at soon-to-be-burned courthouses, made the search wearying.

That's where I got bogged down. And that's where, last weekend on a lark, I decided to swim upstream and try my hand at another generation. Not only was my plan stalled at Mary Taliaferro Rainey's generation, but I needed a branch of the extended family with a migratory pattern much different than the one typical for this part of the family—instead of heading from Virginia to Georgia to the deep South, a trail that went westerly, from Virginia to Kentucky and then onward to Missouri.

No one was showing me the way to the Show Me State. But that's where I needed to go.

The next stop, in my tour of generations, was also puzzling me. I really had no indication of Mary Taliaferro Rainey's parents. I had a good guess, based on who took in her orphaned children after her passing. So making that assumption would mean also hoping the mtDNA test would bear out the hypothesis—yet maybe lead me farther away from my original goal of locating the nexus with my mystery cousin.

You can see how mired in the details I became, pondering these women and their changeable names and identities. Coupled with that was one unfortunate anomaly: a family of intermarriages. Moving backward into those decades before the Civil War, I entered the arena of old colonial families for whom arranged marriages among families familiar with each other seemed customary. Thus, I saw surnames echoed through the generations, when taking the sweeping view forward in time from their colonial Virginian origin. I saw Taliaferros intertwined with Gilmers and Meriwethers, Harvies and Lewises, their names waltzing in and out of the generations in grand procession.

I became quite at home with seeing these repeating surnames. Perhaps that was what caught my eye while stymied with considerations about just what to do with this "adopted" Mary Rainey Broyles and her maybe-mother, Mary Taliaferro Rainey. If I followed my best hunch about her mother—incidentally, in direct opposition to respected genealogies of bygone centuries—I would then be looking at the daughters and sisters of one Mary Meriwether Gilmer, wife of Warren Taliaferro. Her mother, in turn, would be Elizabeth Lewis, wife of Thomas Meriwether Gilmer.

You see how those surnames echo through the generations.

Though I'm not sure how this next step happened, it was in that late Sunday night ennui when sleep might have been a better choice. I was still poking through records, trying to find marriage connections and female descendants for these women. I ran across one name, recognized that redundant surname echo, and wondered what else could be found on that person. I jumped from to to Find A Grave, looking.

Perhaps it was from sheer exhaustion with the whole process that I forgot to note my path as I wandered online. Somehow I came to my senses while looking up a Sarah on Find A Grave. Among the possibilities offered for my search was someone named Sarah Harvie Gilmer, daughter of Frederick George Gilmer. Though the Find A Grave memorial stated she had no children of her own, I couldn't help but be arrested by her entry.

I took a look at the list of parents and siblings linked to her name. Not only were those same old surnames creating a siren call in my head, but here was a man (Sarah's father) who was born in Georgia, stopped long enough in Kentucky to have children there, and then moved on to Lincoln County, Missouri.

Now, Lincoln County may not be a locale that rings a bell for you—even if you've been here over the long haul to put up with my internal agony over lack of research progress—but it was one of those along-the-way details that I spared in the narrative. However, before our Sarah Kinslow and her husband, William Stinebaugh, settled in Dallas County, Missouri, William had evidently grown up in none other than Lincoln County.

Of course, it is a long way from the Stinebaugh and Kinslow genealogy to any connection with the Gilmer and Harvie clans—with, incidentally, some Taliaferros thrown in for good measure—but somehow, it was enough to elicit that awestruck gut response in me.

You know this is one lead I'll need to follow.

Above: "The Cottage in the Lane," 1827 drawing in pen and ink with gray wash by English artist, John Constable; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Sometimes you just need to try a different tack.

    1. I'm afraid sometimes the best thing to do is just set the whole project aside and wait until more material becomes available.

  2. Deju Vu.

    Seems like your family and mine were neighbors - from Georgia, NC, Virgina to KY and on to Texas. I'd love to find a common relative!

    1. That would be a blast! I'd love to, too, Iggy.

      I've read some statistics done by people who wonder about this sort of thing...conjecturing what percentage chance any two people might have of being distantly related.

  3. perhaps it is a Glimmer/Gilmer of hope:)


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