Friday, December 9, 2016

Starting With What we Know

The essential approach, when beginning a genealogical research project, is to start with what we know. If I'm ever to learn more about my end-of-the-line Riley ancestor, I need to start with the descendant for whom I know a bit more: William Riley's daughter, Rachel.

Rachel was my second great grandmother, the maternal grandmother of my maternal grandfather. What I do know about her—in other words, what I have documented—is that she married widower William Alexander Boothe in Washington County, Tennessee, on 12 September, 1854. However, not even that is neatly documented; he was listed as Alexander Booth, and she was showing looks like "Racebel."

The product of that union—from 1854 until Rachel's husband's passing in 1895—included eleven children, among whom was my grandfather's mother, second-born Martha Cassandra Boothe. Those eleven, of course, were in addition to the two sons by her husband's previous marriage, for whom she served as step-mother.

The rest of what I "know" about Rachel isn't that certain. I know that she had a middle name. This being the hills of Tennessee, though, records kept on such details didn't include the finesse of fine spelling. Sometimes her middle initial was transcribed as a "J." Sometimes as a "T." The name itself showed up in various documents as Teresia, even Tursia. It took going through her children's death certificates to gain consensus on just what that middle name actually was. At this point, I think it's safe to say she was called Teresa.

For many years, I worked on this research project with a distant cousin from the Boothe line. He divulged, presumably from the Boothe family Bible, that Rachel Riley was born on June 30, 1835. But where is the question. I've found Rachel listed in each census record from 1850 onward until her passing in 1915. For the 1850 and 1860 enumerations, North Carolina was given as the location of her birth. The jury is out on the 1870 census, though. It could have been "N.C." It could have been "S. C." One transcriber (at Ancestry) weighed in with the opinion that it was Nebraska—a possibility so far out of line as not to be worth considering. From that point on, it was entered as South Carolina.

The one shining fact in that limited survey of everything there was to know about Rachel? That 1850 census showed us a young Rachel, still living in the home of her parents—hopefully just enough to propel us further back another generation in our quest to learn more about this missing branch of my family tree.

Above: Entry at the bottom of page 107 in the Marriage Record for Washington County, Tennessee, for marriage license 988 for Alexander Booth and Rachel T. Riley in 1854; image courtesy


  1. Kentucky and Tennessee records seem to get ... lost, or un-findable anyway since the folk's spelling is so bad!

    1. I know you've had more than your share of frustrations with that, Iggy!


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