Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Back Home to Tennessee?
Or Never Left?

It may seem quite skittish of me to constantly doubt the family connection in documents bearing the "right" name. Of course, you've got to cut me some slack on this instance, though, for we're talking about a surname as common as Riley. Still, hear me out on this one example which is giving me second thoughts on what I've found.

After tracing what seems to be our William F. Riley, Tennessee-bred son of North Carolina parents William and Cassandra Fincher Riley, we last left him—or at least what I presume is the right William Riley—in a small town in Putnam County, Indiana. By then, he was married—either to Eliza or Elizabeth, depending on the census report—and the proud papa of three children, all from Tennessee.

The next thing I know, I've found William and Eliza again, but they're not in Indiana any more. They are back where they started—in Washington County, Tennessee. Their entry in the 1900 census seems all in order. Right place of birth—North Carolina for William, Tennessee for Eliza. Their ages are almost correct; after almost every census declaring William was born in 1830, suddenly he shows as having been born in November of 1827. Close?

Their number of years married is a reassuring forty eight, recalling that 1852 marriage license we had already located in Washington County records. And we glean a hint to look for a child's death record when we observe Eliza's report that she was mother of three children, but only two remain as of that 1900 census. Still, three was the number we had noticed in the household's entries for the 1860 and 1870 census enumerations.

Looking at the page in which they appear in the 1900 census, suddenly back from Indiana, I take a glance at the other households' surnames listed to see if perhaps any of William and Eliza's children moved back with them. I don't see any likely entries.

Because William, by then, was at least seventy years of age, I took a look at Find A Grave. Sure enough, there was an entry for someone by that name—including the same middle initial—buried at the Mountain Home National Cemetery in Johnson City. Johnson City being the very place where William and Eliza had last been listed in the 1900 census, it seemed possible that this would be a match. The Find A Grave entry, however, didn't include a date of birth. The date of death was given as February 16, 1906. A volunteer on the website had noted that the headstone included an inscription that Private William F. Riley had served in Company D, Eighth Tennessee Infantry for the Mexican War.

Fortunately, includes digitized copies of the registers for the U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Sure enough, there was a page providing details on a William F. Riley who died on that same day, February 16, 1906. Would this be our William F. Riley?

Taking a closer look at the fine print—and it was, indeed, some small writing on that page—I noticed a few details. For one thing, this William Riley was born in the right place: North Carolina. Dying on February 16, 1906, his given age of seventy six would indeed put his year of birth at 1830, just as we had seen in so many other records.

We learned that William was a light-complected, blue eyed man of above average height—five feet, eight inches at that gray-headed point in his life. While that was nice to know in that age pre-dating widespread use of photography, it was also the point where similarities faded away. While the Find A Grave entry indicated Company D., Eighth Infantry, this record noted his service—from February 10, 1846, through July 20, 1848—was with Company K, and the Fifth Tennessee Regiment. Clerical error, perhaps. But there was more to follow.

Subsequent to his discharge, the record continued, the residence he settled in was in "Jonesboro." Not a huge problem for us, yet, since Jonesborough is in Washington County as well. However, we had already noted our William was in the 1850 census in another county—Sullivan County. Nearby; but not exactly Washington County.

The farther along I read, the harder it was to explain away the discrepancies. The form from the Veterans Home noted he was married. Then, after the discharge? Or at the point of his passing?

For "name and address of nearest relative," the entry declared the name to be Bettie Taylor in "Jonesboro." In general remarks at the bottom of the page, the details included his "general effects" and how they were disposed: "Sent to Mary M. Riley, Jonesboro, Tenn." Why Mary, if Bettie was the closest relative? Another note, under "remarks," stated, "Widow and daughter present. Bettie Taylor, Jonesboro, Tenn., notified by letter."

So who was William's wife? Bettie Taylor? Mary M. Riley? Or were these other relatives? What happened to Eliza?

Fortunately, the entry referenced a pension certificate number. Perhaps tracking down that record will provide more information. And I'm inclined to do so, only because these other names are so puzzling as to make me doubt everything I've found on the wandering William Riley and his wife and three—albeit now only two—children in Indiana. Or wherever they were, come that 1900 census.

Above: Excerpt from William F. Riley's record at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Johnson City, Tennessee, showing his service in the Mexican War.


  1. Replies
    1. I keep hoping for a nifty explanation like that...

    2. Occham's razor says the simpler an explanation the better!

    3. Well, that simplified answer is likely going to be: not my man!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...