Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Assurance—Or Interference—
From Another Household Record

Granted, researching a surname like Riley isn't as impossible as grappling with the history of a line named Smith. But it has its challenges. At the least, it's when a researcher fervently hopes the surname is matched up with an uncommon given name.

That, as we've already seen, was not to be the case for my second great grandmother's siblings. Her sister, named Mary Riley, remains as yet hidden from view. Her brother—thankfully having received the slightly-less-common first name William, may be coming into focus. And yet, even he is causing problems by a move from his birthplace in North Carolina to his childhood home in Tennessee, to yet another home in Tennessee to raise his family, and then to yet another location—Indiana—by the time his children were teenagers.

At first, the only indications I could find of William F. Riley were his presence as a young man in his father William's home in the 1850 census, and his marriage record from a nearby county, two years later. Then, jumping a twenty year gap, showing up in the 1870 census in Putnam County, Indiana, he and his wife were proud parents of three teenagers.

Thankfully, now having the names and ages of his three possible children, I was able to backtrack and locate what I hope was the same family in the preceding census enumeration. Could our William and Eliza J. Riley be the ones living in Greene County, Tennessee? There were the children: Mary E., Rachel E., and John W., each exactly ten years younger than their documented ages in the 1870 census.

An added bonus—if you remember my mentioning the senior William's occupation, listed in the 1850 census—in this 1860 census, young William reported his occupation to be shoemaker. Like father, like son? And, to calm those nagging researcher's doubts, everyone's birth state was listed in the right place. Confirmation paradise.

So why would I doubt this paper trail? Well, for one thing, what makes a family decide to leave kin and move so far away? Yes, I know countless other families did the same thing. But perhaps this William and Eliza in 1860 was the same as the couple in 1870...but not necessarily the same as the couple who got married in Washington County in 1852. Or even the same as the William Riley in 1850. After all, we are talking about a name as common as William Riley.

My other difficulty with tracing this couple was the fact that I could find no trace of them—yet again—for the subsequent census. Again, a skip to the next record in 1900, where I found William and Eliza, once again in Tennessee.

What? Back in Tennessee again? Or were there actually two Riley couples—the one in Washington County, and the other one roaming the midwest while raising a family? To complicate matters, there was a burial record in Tennessee that didn't quite line up to the details I'd already found on our William. Perhaps this William Riley had never left Tennessee in the first place.

Above: Figure, House and Sleigh in Snow, undated oil on canvas by Dutch-Canadian painter, Cornelius Krieghoff; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Here I was hoping you found the right one! :(

    1. The more I look, the less I think I have the right one. But he certainly keeps me looking...

  2. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-newnation/4389 might 'splain things?

    1. That's a helpful link, Iggy, and I think a lot of us researchers from that area need to keep that immigration pattern in mind.

      There is one additional key to this far northeastern corner of Tennessee: at the right time in their history, a person could remain in the same place and at one point have been born in North Carolina, and at a later point have been a resident in Tennessee. North Carolina's once land-grabbing ways sure contributed to some wild border morphing throughout the same years in which my family members once lived in that corner of those hills.


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