Monday, April 18, 2016

Those Drat Initials Again

So many times, I've been stopped in my tracks while hot in pursuit of the name of the man who married a female ancestor—or worse, the true identity of a Mrs. who, besides the married surname, sported only her husband's initials. What I didn't count on benefiting me, in a future genealogical search, was recalling that I could use that initial intelligence in the reverse direction.

In trying to determine which uncle might have been the one in whose household Peachy Taliaferro Wilson's eldest son had been placed, I was getting nowhere, searching for each of the Wilson brothers. Wilson is a name common enough to cause a researcher frustration. Spread the search out over several states, and it only compounds the problem. Add to that the quest for son William, and the dead ends leap to geometric proportions.

I had already seen William's older sister placed, after their mother's death in 1874, with non-relatives in Illinois. There was no sign that his sister Mary was living with any of the other Wilson siblings. I had already presumed that second-born William would have faced the same fate—making the search quite difficult—until I ran across that heart-rending story of the missing William in a Helena, Montana, newspaper from 1894. That was what clued me in to the possibility that William was actually living with a relative.

"An uncle" was the only detail the newspaper provided. Of Peachy's own six brothers, I had already managed to rule out only one, leaving a long search ahead of me, for I had already tried my hand at building out the Wilson family tree on general principles. I was beginning to feel as if they were not out there to be found.

That's when I remembered that men from that era sometimes preferred to go by their initials. Why not try my hand at locating a Mr. Initial-Initial Wilson?

Perhaps this is me being snarky, but it occurred to me that the increased likelihood of initial usage correlated with the escalating self-assessment that one's given name was unbearable. Hence, it wasn't surprising to find the Reverend Peachy Taliaferro Wilson using that very tactic, himself. After all, wasn't it in this very form that we were first introduced to the man?

The chase was on to discover which of P. T. Wilson's brothers would be most likely to disguise his own given names. It was quite easy to rule out four brothers immediately, for the names William, Henry, Daniel and John were certainly common names causing no personal embarrassment. That left me with two weak possibilities for initials to hide behind: Thornton G. Wilson and Alexander C. Wilson.

While neither of these names seemed unusual to me, I ran both searches through their paces, and my best candidate—keeping in mind I had to look specifically to the 1880 census, William's only window of time in which he would be found in a federal enumeration—turned out to be the household of one A. C. Wilson.

This household, however, presented its own problems. For one thing, it was not in Illinois, the state I would have expected, given the Wilson family's old homestead there and daughter Mary's residence there in that same census year. Mr. A. C. Wilson lived in the Whitewater Township of Winona County, Minnesota, along with his wife Mary Ann and a thirteen year old nephew born in "Indiana" by name of William H. Wilson.

Having seen several census entries for people born in Indiana whose listing actually was written as "India," I wasn't too concerned by the reverse instance appearing for the William H. Wilson in this 1880 census record. Besides, my Alexander C. Wilson—having been born in Illinois in 1835, according to the 1850 census—certainly aligned with this A. C. Wilson, who also arrived in Illinois at about that same time.

Furthermore, this A. C. Wilson had a father from Kentucky and a mother born in Georgia—exactly as had Alexander and his brother Peachy.

I'd say we've found the exact same William H. Wilson, Peachy T.'s boy.

Above: From the 1880 U.S. Census for Whitewater Township, Winona County, Minnesota, for the household of one A. C. Wilson; courtesy


  1. Whitewater isn't all that far from Illinois. I suspect it wasn't far from the rail line that led to Montana.

  2. Now if you could find a school record...that would be good! I wonder if they are on line for Minnesota? :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...