Saturday, September 30, 2017
Everyone talks about spring cleaning, but it isn't often I hear any mention of fall cleaning—at least not around here in "sunny" California. This season, however, I think I'm ready to do some fall cleaning, despite the blue skies and lingering balmy temperatures.
Back east, where I grew up, there was a definite list of fall cleaning tasks to do before the winter set in. That included everything from washing the windows after taking down the screens to make way for that second set of storm windows, to getting everything spruced up before the beginning of winter holidays. Some tasks were fun, of course, simply owing to the anticipation of good times ahead. Others were jobs that simply needed to be done to get ready for the howling winds, rainstorms and snow that could arrive as early as mid-October.
With sunshine and a high of eighty five predicted here for today, it's not likely I'll be spending this Saturday on such grunt work, though. However, for the coming month, I want to set up a plan for a different kind of fall cleaning: cleaning out my decades worth of genealogical records. We're already in a decluttering mood here at Chez Stevens, so why not add that massive obligation to the cleaning list?
I realize that is a rhetorical question, but there are actually some reasons why I haven't already done a genealogical cleanup. Foremost among them is the fact that the thrill of the hunt is much more alluring than the tedium of the aftermath. With the number of ancestors to research doubling with each successive generation, there is always an elusive relative taunting me from behind the firewall of yet another online research repository.
Second is the situation of the constantly changing database storage scenario. When I first started researching, I could house the records I found in notebooks. Then folders in file cabinet drawers. Then boxes in storage. Then, with the dawn of the magic of digital record keeping, on a desktop-resident program (like, in my case, FamilyTreeMaker). Then, even easier, online via programs at Ancestry or FindMyPast or MyHeritage. Each new option had its pluses—and also its downside. Each new option also demanded its own time sync in the form of a steep learning curve and requirements for upkeep. I kept tap dancing to keep up—while scattering the litter of bygone records management tools in my wake.
As I stall out on my latest ancestral quest—that of seeking my migrating Broyles, Davis and Tilson lines heading through colonial Virginia—I think I'll put all new research projects on hold and see if I can take a month to sort out some very old documents and decide which ones to keep, which ones to toss, and which ones to follow up on. I'll revisit that trio of mysterious migrants later, but for the month of October, I'll be in search of some ideas for organizing what I've already gleaned from several decades of genealogical fun.
Above: "Hook Mountain on the Hudson River," 1867 landscape by American artist Sanford Robinson Gifford; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Friday, September 29, 2017
Tromping backwards in time in the footsteps of my third great grandfather Ozey Broyles' father Aaron takes us from the family's home in South Carolina. Here is where we can finally see any tokens of just where they stopped, on their way from Virginia, in the northeastern corner of Tennessee.
Aaron Broyles, himself, had been born in Culpeper County at the close of the colonial period in Virginia. Of course, that is at the beginning of the story, and we are working our way backwards from the end of his timeline. Still, it was clear from several documents that Aaron Broyles was not always a member of the first settlers' community at the old Pendleton District in South Carolina.
According to the John K. Broyles annotation of the Arthur Leslie Keith manuscript (on page 59), Aaron Broyles probably arrived in South Carolina sometime before the middle of November, 1791. The reason that date was targeted is because Aaron was named as party to land transactions in Washington County, Tennessee. Aaron was, at the time, listed as a resident of South Carolina.
This was not just a hop across the border into the next town. A distance of one hundred fifty miles, it was a trip through neighboring state North Carolina and a winding path over a mountain range. It is unclear just why a family originating in Virginia and settling in South Carolina would make a stop in Tennessee—especially a stop long enough to select and purchase, then turn around and sell, two different plots of more than one hundred acres apiece.
Stepping back yet one more generation provides part of the answer: the part that explains just how Aaron came to own any land at all in Washington County, Tennessee. Apparently, it was on account of his father, Adam Broyles.
Adam, in turn, was also a man born in Virginia. Born in 1729, the place of his birth has been listed as either Spotsylvania County or what is now Madison County (later created in 1792 from Culpeper County). Adam was one of several sons of German immigrants Jacob Broyles and Mary Catharine Fleishman.
According to the Broyles manuscript (on page 29), Adam Broyles was eventually a landholder of several plots of land in Culpeper County, for his name appeared in a number of transactions in the county's records. The last of the transactions in Virginia was dated in 1780, and Arthur Keith takes that to be a reasonable estimate for Adam Broyles' departure from Virginia.
It is only through mention of property in his will that we discover where Adam Broyles settled next: Washington County, Tennessee. His will, drawn up on April 19, 1782, was filed in Washington County and, according to Keith, probated that following May.
Among other arrangements, Adam gave a portion of that land to his son Aaron—the one who eventually moved to the Pendleton District of South Carolina. A stipulation in Adam's will was that his children should live on his Tennessee property until the point at which the executors would divide the estate in 1790, perhaps the explanation providing us with the reason why we found Aaron returning to Washington County, Tennessee, as a resident of South Carolina in that November 1791 sale of the land mentioned earlier. Perhaps Aaron had received his portion of his father's Tennessee land in 1790, used it to finance his move to South Carolina, then turned around and disposed of it in that 1791 sale.
Still, that only explains why Aaron had to return to Tennessee from his new home in South Carolina. It doesn't explain how his father, a former Virginia resident, decided to obtain land in Tennessee in the first place. For every research answer, there is always another question.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Tracing the line of my third great grandfather, Ozey Robert Broyles, backwards to the point at which I can find any connection between his South Carolina family and land in the northeastern corner of the brand new state of Tennessee takes a story spanning two additional generations. Bottom line: my second great grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, didn't just happen to decide to skip town and settle in an unrelated place when he moved to Washington County, Tennessee; he knew where he was going when he headed there in the early 1870s.
Before we can track that path through time, we need a bit more detail about Thomas' father Ozey and the generations which preceded him. I've already mentioned that Ozey was born in South Carolina in 1798. He was the son of Aaron Broyles and his wife, Frances Reid or Reed.
There are a number of resources reprinted and posted online about Aaron Broyles' arrival in the Pendleton District of what eventually became part of Anderson County, South Carolina. Some of these, of course, include errors which subsequent research has rectified. Still, they provide useful tools from the point of view of following a genealogical trailblazer, so I'll share what I discovered here.
One article was a reprint in a Broyles family website, originally written in 1928 by Louise Ayer Vandiver and excerpted from the book, Traditions and History of Anderson County. According to that author, Ozey's father Aaron was considered one of the "builder families" of Anderson County, who started out life with his bride in a "log cabin with a dirt floor."
This seems to be the stuff that family legends are made of, so I'll reserve any comment as to authenticity of these circumstances until I can sniff out any hint of a romance factor.
Despite that promising start, the article didn't provide much more to explain just where Ozey's father came from to become one of the first settlers in the area, other than acknowledging he was "of German descent." Still, there are more resources to glean what others have written on the family elsewhere.
The main resource for this Broyles line, of course, is the Arthur Keith manuscript. Admittedly, this, too, is rife with errors, but taking that volume (and its updated, annotated revision by John K. Broyles) and running the author's assertions through their paces on online sites available to us today, we can eventually determine what, if anything, is corroborated by documentation from that era.
That latter version of the manuscript offers the following for Ozey's father Aaron Broyles: that he was born on June 7, 1767, and died October 5, 1845. What is curious is that the annotated manuscript, on page 59, states that Aaron arrived in South Carolina before the end of 1791, having arrived there from Washington County, Tennessee.
Washington County, Tennessee? What was he doing there? According to commonly held tradition, Aaron Broyles was born in Culpeper, Virginia. Like my Tilson ancestors, moving through Virginia on their extended migration pathway from the colony of Massachusetts to the new state of Tennessee, Aaron must have had some reason for this detour through Tennessee. And I expected it, just like I had for the Tilsons' journey, to somehow be supported by land records.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
While I am reluctant to switch from my pursuit of fifth great grandfather William Tilson in colonial Virginia, finding no documentation of his 1763 arrival in the southwest wilderness means the necessity of setting aside that pursuit for now.
That, however, doesn't mean the forsaking of the entire project. There were two other family surnames which came through other colonies to settle, eventually, in the new state of Tennessee: the Broyles family and the Davis family.
Because the commonness of a surname like Davis sometimes makes the search even harder, I'll opt to tackle my Broyles surname next. Even so, that Broyles surname can be a tricky one to follow. For one thing, its origin was someplace in Germany, though I'm not yet sure exactly where—or when the family arrived in the New World. But for another, the surname had its collection of misspelling griefs, with the name sometimes spelled phonetically, and sometimes rendered thus with the touch of a German phonetic system. I have to keep my eyes open for Broils as well as Breuls—as well as many more fanciful renderings of either variation.
The last person in the Broyles family I had researched was my third great grandfather, Ozey R. Broyles, back when I was applying for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. Ozey Broyles was husband to Sarah Ann Taliaferro, whose father's line led straight to a previously-documented patriot. Ozey Broyles was, to put it bluntly, an afterthought to that application process, though I did turn around and document as much as I could of each of his children's lines.
What I did know about Ozey Broyles was that he was a "planter" in what was then called the Pendleton District in South Carolina. He was born in that state in 1798 and died there in Anderson County in 1875. What had puzzled me about his family was that one of his sons—my second great grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles—left home as a young bachelor to care for one of the family's properties in Washington County, Tennessee, not exactly a next-door proposition.
My theory about the Broyles family—since I discovered their roots were actually from Culpeper, Virginia—was that perhaps the Broyles family had passed through the Virginia colony to northeast Tennessee much as had my Tilson forebears. However, as we saw through the series on trying to trace William Tilson's family this past month, there wasn't any sign of neighbors named Broyles—or Davis—anywhere near the Tilsons at Saint Clair's Bottom. So where did this Tennessee property connection come from for the Broyles family?
It took some digging to discover the link, something which will take a couple days—and just as many old, nearly illegible documents—to review.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Tenacity may be my strong suit to an extreme. Having struggled to learn what I can about my Tilson ancestors in the southwest wilderness of colonial Virginia—and not faring too well at the attempt—I found myself stumbling over root-knotted rabbit trails, reading material better suited to "enrichment" than the documentation I was seeking.
One of those articles turned out to be a long report on "The Land Grant System in Early Virginia" posted almost exactly a decade ago on the free pages at Rootsweb. When I realized that selection brought me back to explanations of how things were, oh, starting in England in 1606, I hesitated. I didn't want to know what went into my ancestors' 1763 claim for property that much.
After coming up empty-handed with any other explanations of just how my William Tilson got his land in Virginia, I relented and sat down and read the thing. Marvelous background information, I do admit, but just how desperate am I to learn the ins and outs of life for my fifth great grandfather?
True, if this were an ancestor living closer to my research stomping grounds—which, incidentally, would be most anywhere besides Virginia—I might not have complained so loudly. On the other hand, thankfully, the research discomfort did manage to get me to wake up to one thought. It reminded me of my reason for writing this blog in the first place: I want to tell the stories.
Sharing the stories of our grandparents—whom we are fortunate to know in our own lifetimes—or even, for some, sharing the stories of great-grandparents, is one thing. These are people we knew. Or people whom the people we know knew. We have photos of them. We may even have letters or diaries they wrote, or can drive down a street in our hometown and point to the house where they once lived. Some of us are fortunate to own heirlooms once belonging to these ancestors. All of those details are what make those people come alive to us.
When the relationship stretches so thin as to reach back a couple centuries and multiple "great-greats" in distance, the going gets harder. In some cases—especially for those of our ancestors who were simply folks of a common sort—the stories may not be there to be had, at all. How do you paint a word picture of relatives this far removed from our everyday reality?
Part of the way I've attempted to recreate these ancestors has been to bring myself up to speed on the milieu in which they lived. This, as you've witnessed while I stumbled around seeking applicable information on the culture of their times, is a time-consuming process.
While genealogy doesn't require such diligence, per se, I can't be satisfied not knowing. And so, I'm faced with a dilemma: tell their stories? Or be satisfied to just know their name and dates of birth, marriage, and death?
Frankly, I'd almost rather know why the William Tilson family moved from their home in colonial Massachusetts to the risky wilderness life of southwest Virginia than to discover his mother's maiden name. When things in a life like that don't seem to add up, my spidey sense tells me it might be covering up a story. And when it comes to stories, I want to know.
Monday, September 25, 2017
When observing the progress of genealogical research begins to take on the same aspect as watching the making of sausage, it may be time to move on to a more appetizing topic—at least one with the promise of a more interesting story line. Before that point, however, I will add one more post to outline some markers so I can find my way through this research maze again, once I can travel to a repository with useful material.
An idea occurred to me, while puzzling over my William Tilson, the young man who took a wife in colonial Massachusetts and thought it was a good idea to immediately forsake family and friends and move to the wilderness of southwest Virginia. That idea was that it might be useful to go about building an inventory of what could be found online, concerning colonial land grants subsequent to the French and Indian War but preceding the American war of independence.
A technique I've always found useful, at least for online searches on the usual genealogical websites, is to skip the front-door entryway where the dialog box asks for input of the name you're seeking. Instead, look for the map representing the countries of the holdings in that organization's repositories, and click through to the location in question.
In this case, since I'm researching land grants in colonial Virginia, I checked first to see whether these records would show under the entry for what is now the state of Virginia, or whether they'd be under the former governmental entity (which in that case would be Great Britain). For both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, the two organizations where I looked, records were available for Virginia, the state, predating the American Revolution.
Looking at the online holdings at Ancestry.com for Virginia, I did see land and probate records predating 1776. The collections on their list, however, were small, and nothing showed up for my Tilson question.
Same for the Virginia records at FamilySearch, though the number of collections with any records predating 1776 was less than that at Ancestry.
Not to be deterred with this disappointing start to my survey, I moved on to the Wiki tab at FamilySearch, where I asked for any records involving land grants linked to the French and Indian War and the colony of Virginia. The wikis at FamilySearch can be a useful resource for those just learning how to research a specific genealogical topic—as I am here, wandering around the colonial wilderness in southwest Virginia, far from those research topics of warm-fuzzy familiarity—but some entries may be more thorough than others.
I checked the wiki on Virginia Land and Property, which provided some background information and several links to resources at Ancestry, plus a list of Family History Library microfilms. Since I'll be in Salt Lake City for the Institute of Genealogy next January, this will become part of my to-do list for research at the library then.
In a very substantial listing at the wiki for Virginia Military Records, I found a brief section on the specific time period involving my William Tilson. It mostly contains a bibliography, but even the few references listed there may come in handy, so I'll note them, as well.
Since I also need to get up to speed on what repositories there are for Virginia records, I also checked out the wikis on the Library of Virginia and the various other archives in Virginia. May as well know more about who the main players are in this research game.
Though I thought this should be my last post on the Tilsons in Virginia—at least, until I find something more substantial to report—it turns out I have one more observation to make. With that—which I'll save for tomorrow—we'll proceed to another aspect about my Virginia ancestors who moved on to brighter futures in 1800s Tennessee.
Above: Example of the FamilySearch.org search page after having highlighted the region on the map identified for further research. Inset labeled "Virginia" pops up, once the country (or region) has been clicked and the specific location selected. Then, clicking on "Start researching in Virginia" leads to first a list of the top few collections for that jurisdiction, then can expand to show all the holdings for that location.
Sunday, September 24, 2017
Research goals are an admirable dream—and sometimes even become reality. Other times, they don't. These past two weeks made one of those times when they didn't.
It's time for my biweekly recap of research progress. I had hoped, recently, to focus on my two paternal trees—that of my father's mystery ancestry, and that of my father-in-law's Irish roots—but other research goals sucked all the time out of these past two weeks.
Let's face it: wandering around the wilderness in the pursuit of adventurers like Daniel Boone can take up a lot of time. Those land surveyors in the wilderness of 1700s southwest Virginia may have been trailblazers, but they didn't include paper-trail-blazing in that endeavor. It's been all I can do, just to climb that steep learning curve at the beginning of this ancestral exploration.
In the meantime, my biweekly reports for both fathers' families yield a big fat zero for progress. My father's tree stands at the same 450 head count it did two weeks ago, and my father-in-law's tree remains at 1,321 people. No excitement there. Maybe next time.
Even the other two trees I'm tracking didn't progress much. My mother's tree increased sixty nine names to total 11,405 this week. My mother-in-law's tree saw forty nine additional names push the total there to 12,628. I suspect the only reason my mother's line advanced was because that Tilson family I've been chasing through colonial Virginia belonged to her family. And my mother-in-law's increase was likely due to working through some correspondence with a DNA match so that I could plug her into the right branch on that tree.
Meanwhile, I'm not the only one experiencing slowdowns. The few new DNA matches that trickled in these past two weeks remind me that a great many people in this country have had their mind on things other than DNA in the last few weeks.
Still, I gained twenty two matches at FamilyTreeDNA and nineteen at AncestryDNA, leaving me a total of 2,384 and 728, respectively. Of course, the ever-shrinking total at 23andMe—perhaps this company should be renamed 23minusMe?—went down seventeen to wrap up the fortnight at 1,153.
Those same trends were represented in my husband's DNA results as well. He saw a gain of nine at FTDNA and seven at AncestryDNA, making me wish for that likely holiday sale time to hurry up and get here. I should be happy for those 1,534 and 346 total matches, respectively—especially compared to the shrinking sixteen yielding 1,207 at 23andMe—but I'm always greedy for yet one more solid DNA cousin match.
No matter what the numbers say, I need a reality check. The long-term biweekly measurement shows me overall progress, week over week, but within that bigger picture, I'll encounter smaller episodes that simply need to be inspected further. This colonial Virginia wilderness goal—while a huge learning curve in its own right, taking much of my research energy at the moment—is still a goal within a goal. No sense allowing any disappointment over "lack of progress." Things like this just take time—and some smaller goals may take longer to achieve in the short run than others take in the big picture. It's all a matter of perspective.
And a little pep talk like that doesn't hurt, from time to time, either.
Saturday, September 23, 2017
Thursday night was our local genealogical society's monthly meeting. Of course, there isn't a meeting—at least for our group—that goes by without it prompting thoughts. Many thoughts.
It's a season of change at our local genealogical society. Not only because genealogy everywhere is changing, the result of a new universe of research possibilities bestowed upon us by technology, but because of changing commitments, we, too, must adjust.
I sometimes think ours is a society different from all others. Perhaps it's because we're in California, where everything seems to run differently. Somehow, we're less stuffy—and more engaging. Less "professional"—and more eager to learn.
Whatever it is, we are the type of group that visitors—sometimes our guest speakers, as well—find welcoming, informal, comfortable. That mode has become a hallmark of the community which has evolved among those of us in our county who are fascinated with genealogical research.
Granted, there are some longstanding members who have been dedicated society volunteers for decades, but there are new faces, as well. Each new person brings a unique perspective along with the specific purposes which caused him or her to decide to become part of our society. Thus, with each new member, our group becomes increasingly enriched—no matter how infinitesimally small that change may be—by the qualities that person brings to our circle.
We morph from what we were to what we are to become ever so gradually with the inclusion of yet one additional member. But the pace of change seems to have become supercharged with the blending of community and computers. Some of our members have joined us from long distances—the value to them in associating with us can only be met by our willingness to expand to offer digitally-accessible services. While we appreciate their financial support in the form of the dues which enable our organization to provide the varied services we offer, we need to remember to expand those services to include meaningful access to those who can't just hop in the car for a short drive to our meeting location.
We can look to others who have already accepted the challenge of opening their organization's "doors" to, virtually, the world. Societies which have set up a Facebook presence make themselves instantly accessible to anyone, anywhere, who speaks the same language and searches for the same details. Yet while serving these new additions to their community, the process itself of providing that service instigates a change to the organization, as well.
Genealogical groups have learned to publish blogs, produce podcasts, archive webinars. We are getting our word out—and reaping a following from those who are receiving that word. Every new act we add to our society's repertoire changes us as a society.
We learn from genealogy trailblazers. Our society's current president, Sheri Fenley, has been participating as a panelist in a sharing-while-learning experiment conducted by DearMYRTLE and associates, the GenDoc Study Group "hangout." While we observe DearMYRTLE—a.k.a. Pat Richley-Erickson—conduct on-air programs, we gain inspiration for what we, too, can replicate in our own circles.
But every time we catch a glimpse of what we, too, can do, we interject a trajectory of change into our group's status quo. Granted, each change—whether of method, or ideas, or new people and their own unique contributions—may be so slight as to not be immediately noticed. But eventually, the change will be felt. And then the question becomes: how do we handle that change? How do we counterbalance the ravages of change to respect the integrity of the community?
There are some people who may feel that, if the group changes, it will no longer be the same group. True, with change, that sense of community will not remain the same. It doesn't, however, mean the community is no longer meaningful or useful. The one size which used to fit all will not always work, yes. But if we see our organizations as the living, dynamic entities that they actually are, we will plan to adapt to honor that sense of community cohesiveness while also stretching to become the inclusive organization we need to grow into if we hope to meet the needs of those whom our services inspire.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Choosing a time like 1763 to arrive in the wilderness of southwestern Virginia was probably not the most advantageous arrangement. Whatever the mechanism was that granted William Tilson property on the south fork of the Holston River—even if it was on account of his service to the Crown during the French and Indian War—the British government promptly followed up by declaring all colonists' claims to land west of the Appalachians null and void.
But the Tilsons apparently stood their ground. Whether this Proclamation of 1763 suddenly converted all those Virginia settlers into outright criminals or simply scofflaws is hard to tell. Regardless of what others did—or what they were supposed to do—those Tilson ancestors, new to the area in 1763, apparently stayed in the neighborhood long enough to raise their seven children.
If what can be gleaned from Lewis Preston Summers' History of Southwest Virginia, 1746 - 1786 is accurate, land agents for the Patton grants and the Loyal Company grants "immediately proceeded to survey and sell lands upon the waters of the Holston...as if they had never been restrained from doing so by the proclamation of 1763."
That others eventually affiliated with the Tilson family were also in the area during this disputed time is evident, for the family we mentioned yesterday—that of the Joseph Cole who married William Tilson's youngest daughter—were said to have arrived in the area from Massachusetts by 1774.
The various historic reports of settlers having to vacate their lands seem to either pre-date or post-date the Tilsons' stay in the area. There is no doubt that the unrest caused by the land disputes made a stay in the area risky, but the two eras in which it was mainly reported that settlers actually fled to other colonies were either well before the Tilsons arrived, or during the time when the Tilsons also migrated to Tennessee.
By 1766, in fact, the Loyal Company, one of the very land companies which should have ceased their activities, actually placed ads requesting that "all persons who had contracted for any of the company's land and were driven off their settlements in the former war, to return and claim the same or it would be sold to others."
Perhaps, with those conditions, it was no surprise that the Tilsons held tight to their land.
Still, the question is: if the very governmental entity which authorized the granting of that land to William Tilson for his military service now changed its policy and retracted that grant, exactly who would it be that held the document verifying that land grant that now wasn't?
Despite such questions, it was only a few more years until a subsequent war changed the legal standing of that policy yet another time.
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Following after those bright-shiny research objects spotted during the malaise of project goals gone awry is not all lost time or effort. In the long run, research detours can be quite productive, especially if we remember that the principle of the FAN Club—the friends, associates and neighbors of our ancestors—can often help uncover clues which otherwise would have remained invisible to us in our most challenging searches.
This week, I've been poking around in any material I could find online concerning the land where my Tilson ancestors settled in the southwest wilderness of 1763 Virginia. Yesterday, we discussed the process of obtaining some of the colony's original land grants which much pre-dated my Tilsons' arrival from Massachusetts.
Finding the names of surveyors James Patton and Thomas Walker turned out to provide surname landmarks on which to peg my progress as I followed along. As it turned out, a subsequent discovery of an interesting paper—who knows how accurate that material itself is—caught my eye solely because of those Patton and Walker names, and then led me to a useful discovery.
The paper was from a presentation given at the Blockhouse Visitor's Center at Natural Tunnel State Park nearly three years ago. The speaker was Lawrence J. Fleenor, whose subject was "The First People from the Old World to Come Into the Greater Holston Valley in Virginia."
While the article deserves a good read by anyone researching the same geographic area I'm currently studying, it led to yet another rabbit trail emerging from this presentation that helped me further on my research way. If you recall the cemetery in the region in which some of my Tilson ancestors were buried—a place curiously called Saint Clair Bottom Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery—you may remember my difficulty trying to find out more about both the cemetery and the place where it was located.
I hadn't made much headway finding more information on Saint Clair Bottom—even using the variant "St. Clair" and the possessive form of the name.
In the Fleenor article, however, I found not only a curious history of migration into the area which my Tilsons eventually called home, but some hints on alternate names for that Saint Clair Bottom designation.
Being that it was located at or near the south fork of the Holston River in Virginia, naturally I assumed the "Bottom" referred to low-lying land close in to the river, itself. But the designation "Saint Clair" had me stumped.
As it turned out, that Saint Clair referred to an actual person by the name of Charles Saint Clair. That very Saint Clair, as it turned out, was somehow involved in the explorations of the surveyor we met yesterday, James Patton.
The Fleenor paper referenced another version of Saint Clair's surname; it turns out he was also called Charles Sinclair, and his property referenced as Sinclair's Bottom (and various possessive forms of that name).
Once I found that detail, I tried my hand at googling everything I could find on that new name. There was a great deal to be found, including a website and a blog on a DNA research project focusing on that specific family from colonial southwest Virginia.
In addition, my search turned up yet another version of that name: Charles Sinkler (or Sincler), which was evidently how the Virginians of that time pronounced Saint Clair. (Not surprising, as I've already learned the Virginians had an entirely unexpected take on how to pronounce the surname of another of my ancestral lines, the Taliaferros.)
Thus, now armed with the knowledge that Saint Clair Bottom—as at least the historic church was originally called—might also be referred to as Sinclair's Bottom or Sinkler's Bottom, I started afresh with research vigor.
It was a long rabbit trail to wade through all the material I could find. In the end, I discovered Charles Sinclair led an adventurer's life that may actually have been stranger than fiction. Tucked within that insane narrative, I learned, for one thing, that he and his family had to retreat for safety to North Carolina during the period between the end of the French and Indian Wars and the time of the colonies' war of independence, and that, upon his death back at his regained property in Virginia, portions of the land inherited by his children eventually were bought by a man with the name Joseph Cole in 1785.
While I cannot yet ascertain the exact relationship, what is interesting to me is that that specific name, Joseph Cole, happened to be the same name of the man who married my William Tilson's youngest daughter, Jennet. That Joseph Cole also happened to grant property for use of the local congregation to build their church and establish their cemetery—the cemetery, in fact, where William Tilson himself was eventually buried, the Saint Clair Bottom Primitive Baptist Cemetery.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Exploring the history of land grants in the British North American colony of Virginia has been an interesting side trip on my route to discover what prompted my Massachusetts ancestors to move to the wilderness surrounding the Holston River. I knew that my William Tilson had served in the French and Indian War before marrying his bride in 1762 and moving to southwestern Virginia. But it has taken a lot of digging to determine just how the land in the area might have gotten doled out to willing settlers.
One of the first land grants I found information on was issued in 1745. That year, of course, predates my Tilsons' arrival in the Virginia colony by a considerable amount. Still, to explore the mechanisms of how colonists obtained land in that era, I decided to follow the paper trail.
The 1745 grant was made by the Virginia governor and Council of State to a gentleman by the name of James Patton. His was not a modest receipt of property: the grant entailed a swath of land totaling one hundred thousand acres. The only stipulations, apparently, were that he could not select lands within the boundaries of claims of three other grantees: Lord Fairfax, Benjamin Borden and William Beverley.
In the ensuing years, there has been much interest in the land grants of that same James Patton. Records of a subsequent—1749—land grant he received are housed at the Library of Virginia. An interesting assessment of the longstanding—and possibly suspect—business dealings of James Patton and William Beverley has been offered in the bulletin of a local historical society.
James Patton was not the only one surveying large grants of land received from the Virginia government. Just a few years later, another explorer, Thomas Walker, joined with several others to form a company which received land grants, as well. That company was known as the Loyal Company, and among its founders were men with surnames which make up part of my own heritage: Gilmer, Harvie, Lewis and Meriwether.
Those land grants—of 1745 and 1748—were too early to include my Tilsons' arrival in southwestern Virginia, of course. But in looking at a meandering report I've mentioned previously, an online reprint from a 1937 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly, I noticed author Ralph M. Brown observed,
From the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1764, until 1768, nothing of importance occurred in Southwest Virginia beyond the visits of the Long Hunters and the surveyors for the land companies, few settlements being made.And,
The great influx of settlers into Southwestern Virginia and Kentucky did not begin until after 1794.
While 1745 was too early a process to include my Tilson settlers in the area, that date of 1794 for a "great influx" of settlers was definitely too late. I needed to find something in the middle to help me understand just what it was that inspired a newlywed William Tilson to opt to leave home and extended family to set up housekeeping with his bride in the wilderness of southwest Virginia.
Fortunately, other "current events" of the time period pointed me to some possibilities. Part of the business woes of the Loyal Company involved fallout from the politics of the era. Once source mentioned "the crown rejected further extension of the grant" held by the Loyal Company as part of a ban on western settlement in 1763.
For those astute history buffs among us, that date of 1763 may have rung a bell—but not for me, unfortunately, as I had to slog through pages and pages before I even realized that date sounded familiar.
And it should have sounded familiar to me, if for nothing else than that William Tilson—who had served with the British in the French and Indian War—was by that year free to marry, to travel, and to relocate his residence, simply on account of the end of his military duties during war time. In other words, with the war now over, the obligatory treaty had to be drawn up. To the victors went the land of the defeated, so Britain now held claim to lands once under French control.
In addition to that, other agreements fell into place. Among them was the provision in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 forbidding all settlement west of a line drawn along the Appalachians. Bottom line: that suddenly rendered void any land grants which had been given by the British government to those American colonists who had fought in the war.
This opens up two additional points to pursue. One: that there were land grants issued by the Crown to colonists for military service before 1763. Second, if that were so, and if that was what instigated the Tilsons' move to Virginia, how was it that he remained there on that now-not-legally-granted property? For William and Mary Tilson remained in southwest Virginia at least through the dates of birth of the seven children I've been able to locate—a stretch of time from 1763 through 1776, and possibly much longer.
Every time I've pried open the answer to one question, all that pops out is yet another question.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Oftentimes, I've run into beginning genealogical researchers who get jazzed at the thought their ancestors might be related to someone famous. Kings come to mind here, but also generals or explorers. Once the possibility enters their mind of a connection to greatness, it unfortunately seems to nudge the research work in the wrong direction.
Perhaps as a counter-move in the hope of avoiding such weakness, I've automatically been dismissing any notion of a connection to well-known names of American history. You might have noticed that I glossed over some references, in links last week, to folk hero Daniel Boone.
The more I delve into the history of the Wilderness Road and the land in southwestern Virginia where my Tilson ancestors decided to settle, I can't help but acknowledge that that very place was one in which Daniel Boone used to roam.
In the region around the three forks of the Holston River in Virginia—the place where William and Mary Marcie Tilson settled and where all of their children were born—the way was made possible by adventurers, explorers and land surveyors who passed that way before the Tilsons arrived in 1762 or 1763.
Since this is such a new area of research for me, I've been absorbing an immense amount of material to get up to speed on the necessary background details. Swamped with information overload, perhaps that's why I gravitated to a website with the kind of simple terms best suited for younger students. Sometimes, it's just easier to learn new material by reverting to the simple, concise explanations presented in books intended for grade school students.
In reading one entry at a website called Tennessee4Me, after getting the lay of the land, information-wise, I scanned the article for names of people and geographic locations to help provide keywords for further searching.
That's where I saw the mention of Daniel Boone. Only one year after William and Mary Marcie Tilson's oldest child was born in 1763, Daniel Boone was somewhere in the same area, exploring the Holston valley for a land speculator.
Of course, by the time Daniel Boone was covering the area, the Tilsons had already settled there. Though the name introduces that bright-shiny aspect to the research, what I really needed was a clue as to how land was being distributed before Daniel Boone got there to check it all out.
The same article gave me a few more leads from earlier years. The one name which caught my eye was that of Virginia "adventurer" Thomas Walker, who arrived in the region in 1748 and returned again in 1750. He was key in an entity known as the Loyal Company—a detail I thought might be worth following up on.
Monday, September 18, 2017
Can you understand your ancestors without understanding the times in which they were living?
In trying to determine not only why but how my Tilson ancestors left their home in Massachusetts colony after their marriage in 1762 to end up in southwest Virginia, I'm having to absorb a lot of Virginia history. And, not being a speed reader, I'm learning a lot of detail I hadn't anticipated including in my pursuit of family history.
Virginia, like the Florida of my McClellan ancestors, is one of those locations in which I have family roots, but have never traveled through, myself. Thus, it makes the research that much harder, for the place names don't evoke any memories of spatial relationships. I have no idea which two town names might constitute a short trip of a few hours, and which represent distant journeys. Geographic identifiers, such as the Blue Ridge mountains or the Piedmont, the James River or the Shenandoah Valley, mean nothing to me. I have to slog through corollary material like maps and documents to guide me through the explanatory texts I hope will answer the question initiating this search.
What, indeed, made these crazy ancestors travel all that way? And what made them think this was the way to get there?
And so, as I try to retrace my ancestors' steps, I'm wandering down detours of my own, reading summaries of a history so intricate yet seemingly so disconnected from the roots I thought I had.
Take this website found on colonial Virginian expansion, courtesy of Google, explaining the several treaties drawn up in the 1700s which opened the way for westward expansion of the colonies. (Did you know Virginia claimed land rights all the way across the continent to the Pacific Ocean?)
Even as the article meanders through details I once hoped would easily provide me with an answer, I feel as if I'm coming up short when the immigrant pathways outlined in the text mention Scots-Irish traveling on foot to the destinations I thought were the communities formed by my Mayflower English settlers. Somehow, these details don't seem to mix.
And yet, I read on, somehow hoping these recitations of history will lead me to some slight clue producing the answer I'm seeking.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
It may seem premature to even mention it, but according to the Christmas Countdown Clock, there are only ninety eight more shopping days until the year-end's big gift-giving extravaganza.
Not that I'm into shopping or anything. Our family has graduated from the big fling holiday style; we keep things to a moderate level. What I am looking at are all the possibilities inherent in the holiday season to remind our fellow family members that their family is rich with heritage—and that we are just the ones to share it.
Face it: we've spent days on end, collecting details about ancestors none of our family ever met—let alone heard of. Granted, some of our discoveries may have been less than dramatic, but there are others for whom a story line may have piqued our interest—and can for those with whom we share it.
How to share, though, is the trick. If your family is filled with people whose eyes glaze over, the minute the slightest mention of the dear departed is made, you may have a challenge on your hands to rouse anyone's fascination. But there are ways to share your discoveries, and this season may be the best time in which to prepare.
During a genealogy class I taught this weekend, someone asked about how to scan documents, and I mentioned the Flip-Pal scanner. As an example, I described one of the most novel uses I had heard about using the device: inspired by the Flip-Pal's ability to "stitch" scans of small segments of large documents together, one researcher took this idea literally and scanned an heirloom quilt.
Another project I had heard of was when a woman was puzzling over how to preserve the ties she had inherited from her departed father. I've heard of people taking such ties and crafting them into a quilt, or arranging some in a shadow box, or any other way to transform this token of heritage into a form in which it could be visually shared and enjoyed.
There are any number of creative ways to share our family history with family, one sliver at a time. These brilliant ideas, however, never occur to us in a timely manner. They might pop into our head the night before the family descends on us for Thanksgiving, for instance, or at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. Not, at any rate, at any moment leaving us adequate time to prepare.
I've thought of making up calendar wall hangings, complete with photos marking significant dates of our ancestors: the day our great-grandparents got married, or the birthday of a grandparent. Sometimes these ideas are rather routine and simple, but when blended with stuff we all use everyday, they provide a practical mechanism for us to take a snippet of our research progress and get it out there for everyone to see and enjoy.
You have probably had a few ideas of your own—and if you are the crafty type, please share them with those of us who are creativity-challenged!—but the time to do something about such notions is not right before the holiday rush descends upon us. The time for those creative outbursts is now, when we can brainstorm on how to turn that genealogical-sharing dream into a reality in time for others to enjoy during the upcoming holiday season.
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Just as the last of the conference-goers were returning home from the Federation of Genealogical Societies event at the beginning of September, I was revving up for presenting another series of classes for the fall semester. A new-to-me library system had requested I teach a workshop series on family history for their patrons. Along with a repeat performance at another library system, I had also been invited back to instruct a ten week series for a program hosted at a nearby community college.
Perhaps thanks to the big pockets and production capabilities of powerhouse genealogical corporations spreading the word, an ever-expanding number of people want to learn this stuff. They're turning out for local, in-person events where they can learn what they've always wondered about: how to trace their family's history.
With all this activity, lately, I've been somewhat preoccupied—enough, at least, to not dwell on the fact that I wish I could have been at that FGS conference, too.
Apparently, what I also missed, at the beginning of that same week, was the deconstruction of the FGS event by the number of social media participants who harangued each other on a topic which could be roughly described as "Why Conferences Are Now Pronounced Dead."
This topic, you may note, is a variation on a similar theme, "Why Genealogical Societies Are Now Pronounced Dead."
I've been oblivious of both of these facts, myself. Two respected analysts in the field, however, took on the issue and provided their assessment of the situation in blog posts of their own.
The first of the two to post was Christine Woodcock of Scottish Genealogy Tips and Tidbits, who mentioned the online chatter revealing a sense that the FGS conference attendance was down. This observation led her to "wonder if large conferences are going the way of microfiche." Citing the prohibitive cost of registration, travel and hotel stays, she compared conferences to the "more convenient and less costly" options for learning, such as webinars.
Almost as if to underscore her point, just a week later, Legacy Family Tree Webinars decided to celebrate their business' seventh anniversary with a week of free access to their most popular webinars. Why, indeed, go through all the trouble and expense of travel when you can curl up at home and learn from the likes of Tom Jones, Lisa Louise Cooke or Diahan Southard?
Just one day after Christine Woodcock published her analysis, another genealogist weighed in with her take on the subject. Amy Johnson Crow reached back into her blog's archives, picked up an old post and spruced it up for a second appearance to address the subject once again. In a cordial rebuttal of her colleague's post, Amy focused on the attendance track records at a number of successful genealogical events to conclude, "Genealogy conferences and seminars are not dead."
Amy Johnson Crow laid the blame for this cyclical discussion at the feet of what she classified as two myths: first, that webinars and other online events are "killing conferences," and secondly, that in-person learning is an outmoded approach. She reminded her readers, "different people learn in different ways" and "there is room for all types of learning models in the genealogy world."
Thankfully, both writers proposed ways to follow up on this issue. I particularly appreciate Christine Woodcock's conclusion that we need to "adjust our thinking," based on an observation she made over interactions on a genealogical society's Facebook page:
Just as we have gone from thinking that the only way to do genealogy research was by writing letters, scouring microfiche and transcribing directories to being comfortable with researching online databases, we need to readjust our understanding of what constitutes membership. Those people [part of the society's Facebook page] do feel that they belong. That they are members. Even if they haven’t paid a fee or attended a meeting. This group is their tribe. We can’t overlook that.
More than that, though, I feel Amy Johnson Crow hit the core of the issue with her comment, "Let's stop the handwringing and do something about it." The angst that seems to be part of these incessant conversations reveals a certain circling-the-drain sense of doom. No, our society's events aren't going to grow up to become RootsTech. But that doesn't signal the demise of in-person events nor of the groups that host them.
There is something about the focus a group nurtures in its outlook. If societies begin harboring these opinions of shrinking return on their efforts, they may well reap what they sow in their mental outlook. On the other hand, for organization which realize that to grow, they need to expand their offerings to meet the needs of their potential as well as current constituents, they likely will set themselves on a path to success that will include the type of in-person events people vote with their feet and their pocketbook to attend.
Above all, to just bemoan a perceived changing tide of event hosting becomes a nonproductive stance. To adopt a proactive approach in developing and providing events that people will want to attend would by far be a more effective way to address the issue.
Friday, September 15, 2017
It took a long detour through the colonial history of Virginia in the 1700s just to figure out the way my Tilson ancestors may have taken to move from their settlement in southwestern Virginia to their new home in northeastern Tennessee.
Actually, the way wasn't very far—at least, that is, if I correctly identified the modern locations for those three hundred year old geographic identifiers.
The place where the Tilson family had settled, after leaving their parental homes in Massachusetts some time after William took Mary Marcie Ransom as his bride in 1762, was somewhere near a spot called Saint Clair. That, in turn, eventually became part of Washington County—which, as you can guess, has been carved up countless times since that 1763 arrival date.
At any rate, wherever the place was, it was on the south fork of what I've finally figured out must have been the Holston River. Finding all this out has taken several painstakingly tiny steps, of course, but still doesn't answer my question of how the family got from there—wherever "there" actually was—to the family's ultimate settlement in Washington County, Tennessee.
However, wandering around the Internet for the past few days, I've run across some details of the history of colonial migration. I became fairly certain my hunch to zero in on what was called the Wilderness Road might lead to some answers to my research questions.
Even trying to find out more about the Wilderness Road has been challenging. For one thing, the route went by more than one name. According to one resource, the route was also known as the Great Road or the Great Philadelphia Road.
Can you imagine telling people how to find your home—naming the street bearing your address—and then giving the name of two or three other streets, as well? If that sounds confusing, that about explains how I feel, trying to discern exactly where this ancient route once led.
There might be a reason for this confusion. For one thing, one researcher theorized that, depending on the destination of a traveler, the route might be called one thing, while those heading in the opposite direction would call it something else. Kind of like saying, "I'm on the road to Philadelphia" when heading north, yet, "I'm headed west" when traveling to those new settlements in the wilderness.
Or just go ahead and call it the Wilderness Road. After all, that was the point of the route: a way to access the new lands opening up for colonial settlement.
There was another problem about trying to figure out where this route once was: even academic researchers dispute this road's location. If the experts can't be certain where the route led, how can I determine whether this was the winding road that led my ancestors away from their Virginia door?
According to at least one report, the Wilderness Road leading west began at what is now Kingsport, Tennessee—close to the Washington County area of the state where my Tilsons settled, but certainly not what would convince them to leave their home in southwestern Virginia.
However, there may have been an entirely different route—or possibly just a different name for the same path—forming the basis for the road enticing my ancestors to leave their hard-won settlement in the Virginia wilderness. The foundation for this route, as it turns out, may have been a system of ancient pathways worn by generations of native people, now called by some The Great Indian Warpath.
In an annotated reprint of a 1937 article published in the William and Mary Quarterly containing satellite images on which are superimposed locations from the old trails, an explanation on page 506 of the original text delves into the geographic points on one branch of the Great Indian Warpath which likely led close to the Holston River settlement where the Tilsons had lived.
While this may help me understand just how my Tilson ancestors arrived in Washington County, Tennessee, the rest of this lengthy reprint also helped describe what else might have been happening at the time which might have encouraged people to move to these wilderness locations.
Even in colonial times, the government was offering land grants in the hopes of enticing immigrants to move farther west to form a buffer zone around the more established towns to the east. It would be well worth the research detour to examine just what else was going on in the colonies during the time when William Tilson married in Massachusetts in 1762 and moved to Virginia by 1763.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
As I'm struggling with the brick wall in my family history research, I've wanted to learn just why it was that the descendants of my Mayflower ancestors would have left their by-then-established settlement in Massachusetts to move to the backwoods of Virginia in 1763—and then pick up once again and relocate in northeastern Tennessee.
Just because I want to know the answer doesn't necessarily mean I will find the answer. After the journey I've been on to seek out that answer, the corresponding trip through local history of that era has convinced me that perhaps a more helpful question might be how those ancestors moved beyond their Virginia settlement to their stopping place in Washington County, Tennessee.
Googling and then following my nose has unearthed several helpful sites in this information gathering stage. I already knew that the area in question was once part of a place in the state of North Carolina dubbed the Washington District. After Tennessee statehood, that same location became the "mother county"—the oldest county—of the new state.
I've located lists that serve as finding aids to guide me to further resources as I try to sift through the details and determine just why—and how—my ancestors from Massachusetts eventually ended up in Washington County, Tennessee. Of course, the FamilySearch wiki for Washington County genealogical resources provides many links. Interestingly, so does the Tennessee Secretary of State's website, with two pages providing a list of resources and a more detailed bibliography.
Shifting my focus—rather than looking at what I could find about my ancestors' destination, checking what is available about the land they left—I found a website explaining the history of the old Washington County region of Virginia which contained the Holston River area where my Tilsons once lived.
Better yet, I located a page which explained why settlement in these far-west locations was urged: the government of colonial Virginia saw it as a great scheme for creating a "buffer zone" between more-established immigrant communities in the eastern portion of the colony and the ancient wilderness domain of native populations. To that end, by the 1740s, the government was authorizing land grants, such as the Patton Grant and the Loyal Company Grant.
Having located those resources, I began adding to my reading list. I've found a couple other online articles to read about the westward settlement, back in that era—one of which focuses on southwestern Virginia, the other on a more general review of settlement west of the Blue Ridge mountains.
But this was back in the 1740s. When I think of what must have been available to settlers back then, that's when my mind demands to know just how they managed to do what they did. How did they get to their destination? How did they even decide on that destination? For my Tilson, Davis, and Broyles ancestors, what brought them down the path they selected? In fact, what was the path?
Wondering about "how" led me to seek out articles on the way those ancestors got to their new home. That's when I started circling the details on one particular route, known by various names, but generally called the Wilderness Road. I decided it might be worth my while to see if that Wilderness Road was the route that might have led my wandering ancestors to the promise of better land that they might have been seeking.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Even in genealogy, when a person gets lost, it seems the default is to wander around in circles. Here I am, trying to trace a pathway from the Virginia home of three of my ancestral families—the Davis line, the Tilson line, and the Broyles line—to the first county in Tennessee, Washington County. While I don't seem to make much progress, I am picking up clues as I keep ringing the area.
I had traced my way to direct line ancestor Ozey Robert Broyles during my pursuit of D.A.R. membership, but hadn't followed the line much farther, since the D.A.R. connection then jumped to Ozey's wife's line. Now, it's time to work on his father and grandfather.
I've been perusing some books written on the line many years ago—for one, a manuscript drawn up by Arthur Leslie Keith, and a subsequent typewritten volume annotating the Keith work by John Kenneth Broyles. My goal in evaluating the findings in these manuscripts is to see what can be verified by current online resources—as well as, of course, building my tree on the Broyles line.
What arrested my attention, while reading these notes, is that while Ozey and his father, Aaron Broyles, lived in Pendleton District, South Carolina, Aaron had been born in Virginia, as had his father, Adam Broyles.
The interesting little detail hidden in the midst of that timeline connecting the Broyles' Virginia home and their new residence in South Carolina was that it wasn't a direct route that brought them from Virginia to South Carolina. There was an intermediate stop along the way.
That stop just happened to be in Washington County, Tennessee.
If what the Keith and Broyles manuscript asserts about Adam Broyles is correct, I would love to get my hands on some old, old land records in Washington County. While I await the chance to do that, though, one other helpful document will be Adam's will, which can be located among the records in Washington County.
Apparently, though the rest of the family ended up in South Carolina, Ozey's grandfather Adam had been a landholder in Washington County. The years he was there actually predate Tennessee statehood, for his date of death there was likely in 1782.
Of course, I'm hoping to discover just why Adam Broyles left his home in Culpeper, Virginia—and why his family's ultimate route to South Carolina took this detour to northeastern Tennessee. But I also find it interesting to have stumbled upon this detail of the land holdings in Washington County, for years later, his young grandson left his home in South Carolina to take charge of his father's property in Washington County, Tennessee.
I never could understand why the family had land so far from their home in South Carolina. Perhaps now, I'm getting a glimpse at the reason why.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
When it comes to trying to align my three families who converged on that tiny spot in northeastern Tennessee, I've been at a lack for connecting the dots. There is no question, though, that my Davis, Tilson and Broyles ancestors all ended up in Washington County, Tennessee. It's just a question of when—and, preceding that, how.
Just exploring what I've been able to find online, tucked away in various genealogical nooks and crannies, just this past month, I discovered that my Broyles ancestors may have been in Tennessee even before they showed up in South Carolina. I never could quite understand why my second great grandfather Thomas Broyles left his childhood home in the Pendleton District of South Carolina to live in the comparatively remote other side of the mountains in Tennessee. Now, it appears it may have been because the family had property over there first.
These things may not be items that we can just discover by the brute force of researching everything there is to find about late 1700s Virginia and Tennessee. I'm convinced there has got to be a handier way to uncover clues.
I know that in DNA research, when there is a puzzling match between two distant cousins, one way to seek a solution to the question of how they relate is to gather all the data and look for connections. The theory is, for people to relate, someone from one side of the family had to be in the same place at the same time as someone from the other side of the family.
Yes, I know: this is not rocket science. But sometimes the obvious needs to smack us in the face before we put it to good use. If that technique has come in handy for determining possible scenarios for DNA matches, perhaps clustering data can serve to encourage clues to percolate up through the piles of names and dates swamping me now.
Not that I'm looking forward to building a database of where and when everyone lived in the same location—that's grunt work for sure. But if it yields any results, it will be worth the effort.
Though my eyes have been opened to possibilities on the Broyles side of the equation, for the Davis line, I haven't even been able to connect my line in Tennessee to their origins across the state line. My third great grandfather, James C. Davis, was born in 1795. Though I can find a given name for his mother, thanks to her having survived until at least the 1850 census—at least, I presume that ninety year old Davis woman in James' household is his mother—I don't know his father's name.
Nor can I determine for sure where those Davis ancestors were born. Why did the enumerator have to scrawl something that looks like it could simultaneously represent "VA" and "NC"? This is not helping.
These are some reasons why I just need to isolate specific fields for several people in the family, then check what subsequent census records say—then, go and do the same for everyone else in this family grouping.
For instance, in that same 1850 census, the household included someone with the name William Tilson. Tilson, of course, is the third surname I'm seeking in this northeastern Tennessee settlement. Since James' wife Rachel was a Tilson, and since she had a brother by that name and of that approximate age, it is likely he was the extra person in the Davis household. Why was he living there? Where was he born? And what brought him to this place?
The answers to some questions are not always supplied as one-liners. Some answers take a lot of sifting through extraneous material before they become visible. Clustering the data builds the mound that allows us to begin that sifting process. Perhaps that is a way to shortcut the need to research on site in Tennessee. At least, since I won't be traveling there any time soon, I can always hope.
Monday, September 11, 2017
It's September. That means the educational programs I'm involved with are now in full swing. Last Saturday, I taught my first in a series of genealogy classes at a new public library system. As usual, I ended up leaving the location later than I intended—I love to linger afterwards, answer questions and chat about research—but that put a time squeeze on travel to my next appointment.
To make matters worse, I decided to take a different route home—a more direct one that would bring me closer to an entrance to the freeway. Since this was not my home base, I didn't realize that the light I was stopped at was paired with unseen signals being received from the railroad tracks beyond. Sure enough, a train was coming. I was stuck.
Not to be deterred, I made a snap decision to take an alternate route. Though this was not my own city, I'm familiar enough with this place to know the back roads.
After driving for a little way, it occurred to me that, with a simple left turn, I could backtrack and resume my original route, which paralleled the detour I was now taking. I could see that road with every intersection I crossed.
What I didn't bargain for was the fact that, years ago, a feeder track—likely supplying a route to some industrial spurs north of the downtown area—ran alongside that road. Though the tracks were long gone, access to the main road beyond from the neighborhood where I was now driving was still limited. I could see the road I wanted to get on, but the route I chose to reconnect with it simply ran into what was once a railroad right-of-way—but was now a no-man's-land of dirt and weeds.
So close, yet so far away.
Of course, this frustrating scenario plays itself out in other walks of life, as well. It's easy to see this in genealogical research, and especially when working with DNA matches. I might see a match with the exact same surname as a main line in my family tree, but try though I might, I can't seem to locate a route to connect our families. It's as if there was a genetic plot of barren ground separating my route from my target.
These invisible barriers can be aggravating. Granted, when it comes to genealogical research, some matches may be with novices who may have no idea how to construct a pedigree chart or explain the reasons behind their conclusions. But even with savvy researchers who know the ins and outs of their family surnames and locales, we still run into roadblocks.
Even more so, when we move beyond autosomal matches to use those more powerful tools measuring our distant genetic heritage: the Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA tests. The men in my family who have agreed to allow me to serve as their account administrator have received test results which are also frustrating. For my husband's Y, which presumably should be producing some matches with the name Stevens, I have garnered a wide variety of surnames among his matches. Granted, there are some repeats among some results listing names like Price, Little, Withycombe—and associated spelling variations—but nothing even remotely connected to the surname he holds today.
The smattering of appellations concluding with "-son" may harken back to his Viking connections in Ireland, and remind me that this Y-DNA test is powerful enough to carry us back before the institution of surnames. But how do I get there from here? With the exception of royalty, there isn't likely to be any paper trail long enough to reach for that type of information.
I've heard some researchers talk about building shadow trees, starting with their match's data and checking the research conclusions. That, however, can become tedious for people having upwards of a thousand matches. And, as I've seen, that becomes a pipe dream in the face of a genetic test with results powerful enough to reach so far back in history, beyond the dawn of surnames.
With autosomal DNA tests yielding us fairly reliable results to match us with cousins who share ancestors as distant as fourth or fifth great grandparents, yet such a gap still outstanding between that limit and the possibilities inherent in Y- or mt-DNA tests, I wish there was a test which could provide answers in that no-man's-land in between.
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Now that I've zeroed in on some specific research projects—preparing an application for membership in the Mayflower Society as well as applying some elbow grease to my sadly-forsaken paternal family lines—let's see how much progress I've made in the last two weeks. I figure my bi-weekly count will come in handy in providing a snapshot of regular progress.
As can be expected since it's my maternal line which will grant me membership as a Mayflower descendant, work on my mother's tree moved along at a decent, though modest, pace. In the past two weeks, I managed to add information on 157 family members to bring the tree's total to 11,336.
The flip side, of course, is that I neglected my mother-in-law's line—though even that didn't stand stock still; I managed to add twenty two to the count, for a total of 12,579 in that database.
However, it's those two paternal lines I'm curious about. The going is rougher there, with a father-in-law who had three immigrants among his four grandparents, and my own father, whose father was a complete mystery—or at least a well-kept secret—to everyone who knew him. Even so, I managed to squeeze in enough research to garner thirteen additional names for each of those paternal lines. As it stands now, I have 450 in my father's tree and 1,321 in my father-in-law's database. This may seem like a painfully slow advance, but any forward movement here is welcome in my eyes.
Progress on connecting with DNA matches slowed in these past two weeks, partly because of the devastation hitting the hometown of one genetic genealogy company, but mostly because my focus was on other projects. Understandably, despite August sale results normally pumping up numbers this far into the subsequent month, Family Tree DNA's pace was less than otherwise expected: twenty two new matches for me (now totaling 2,362) and only eight new matches for my husband (bringing his match count to 1,525).
AncestryDNA and 23andMe—neither company impacted by the ravages of the recent hurricane—contributed six and seven new matches, respectively, to my husband's tally, with 23andMe interestingly reversing their trend of losing matches for the first time since the gain on July 2. On the other hand, my standing at 23andMe didn't enjoy such a blessing; I lost by a count of one match at 23andMe, yet gained six at AncestryDNA. That leaves my husband with a total of 339 matches at AncestryDNA and 1,223 matches at 23andMe. I'm currently at 709 and 1,170, respectively.
All told, tallying this past fortnight's accomplishments seems to correspond to the goals I've set for my current research projects, and that's a reassuring thought.
Saturday, September 9, 2017
Sometimes, the screeching warnings coming out of real life penetrate the genea-bubble surrounding even the most obtuse of us family history researchers. Just as it had, less than ten days ago, the severe weather warnings have once again shaken me out of my research reverie.
No sooner had Harvey blown out of Houston, than we began picking up the faintest warnings of another storm to come. This time, though, it wasn't Texas which was the target, but Florida.
I've already heard from a sister-in-law who decided to reroute her return trip home to Florida from her vacation; instead, she's headed for a daughter's home in inland Texas. A cousin, also living in the path of Irma but traveling up north at the moment, is also re-evaluating her travel plans. We've heard from others with family and friends in Florida, most of whom are trying their best to leave the state before Irma's arrival. So far, everyone we've heard from has accomplished that goal, but still, the tone is tense, as people are leaving everything behind.
If you've been following A Family Tapestry for any time, you likely realize Florida is one of those states where I have a longstanding ancestral heritage. Though I don't live there—I hadn't even set foot in the state for my first time until just last winter—my roots there grow deep. I have genealogical connections—as well as personal connections—with Tampa, central Florida and the panhandle. I've always wanted to go back and visit those family homes on a research trip.
Hurricanes in Florida are not a rare occurrence, as I'm sure you realize if you've kept an ear attuned to news over the years. In fact, during one year—I think it was Hurricane Andrew that year—one family member's home was completely destroyed, a catastrophic event, to say the least.
Multiply that experience over and over again, by the magnitude of the many years of hurricane history times the number of people living through the trauma, and perhaps that bird's-eye snapshot will get you thinking the very same thing I'm wondering: if Florida is a locale doomed to such repeated devastation, how on earth have people there managed to keep safe all the documentation of their history? Winds, rains, storms—and the ensuing mold and mildew—become bitter taskmasters for the archivists doomed to mop up the aftermath.
Yes, people will somehow get on with their lives—rebuild, placing the new over the rubble of the old—but what about those tokens of where we've been? I've often wondered why I can't find any photographs of my great-grandfather's family, or any other memorabilia of their existence in Florida. Perhaps it's because those are the details which succumb to the fury of those regularly-passing storms.
One wonders what becomes of a people whose yearly existence includes such threats of devastation. It becomes a very different way of life to have to anticipate fleeing in the path of destruction at the approach of the annual "hurricane season."
While I certainly sympathize with those who are facing the facts of Hurricane Irma right now—running the risk of losing their homes if they leave, or their life or safety if they stay—I had never thought about this sort of circumstance as a way of life. Turmoil such as this may enter anyone's life once or twice, perhaps, but having to endure it on a yearly basis seems to introduce a very different dynamic with that type of stress. A thought like that can lead a genealogical researcher to see in a very different light their ancestors who've regularly survived such conditions.
As for me, I am not made of such mettle. I'd take the risk of an occasional earthquake over the wake of such annual destruction, any day.
But for those whose life paths have led them to settle in this weather-worn region, my thoughts and prayers are with you, for personal safety and protection of your family over anything else.
Friday, September 8, 2017
Though they still have to be vetted for accuracy, one hundred year old genealogies can be a thrill for a researcher who just found a pertinent surname within its covers. That's how things are going for me now, as I compare the notes from two Broyles family researchers with the documentation accessible online today.
That sort of grunt work doesn't play out well in blog posts. So let's switch things up. Kind of like a three ring circle, I'm bouncing between work on the Broyles family of South Carolina and eastern Tennessee, the Davis family of North Carolina and that same spot in eastern Tennessee, and the Tilson family of Virginia (and then that same spot in eastern Tennessee) which promises to lead me back to Mayflower Society eligibility. Where the three collide, I'm hoping to find documentation to either confirm or deny my suspicions—well, for now, let's just call them my hypotheses.
Since I've already scoured applicable online resources for old genealogy publications, I need to search in the other direction, too. Every day brings additions to the various online resources we now use for genealogical research—but how to find them? Mainstays of digital genealogy like FamilySearch or Ancestry are such go-to websites that they become the first—and sometimes the only—resources of significance offered up for additional inspection.
I'm really not satisfied to rely only on those resources. I want more. So I head to Google, choose my keywords carefully, and start searching. There are literally hundreds of genealogical hidey-holes where yesterday's random-actors-for-genealogical-kindness parked their special tidbits. While inconvenient in and of themselves—some of these web resources may be old typewritten lists parked on the back lots of outdated sites like the old Rootsweb or somewhere in the GenWeb system—if the one which has your precious data is part of that byzantine maze, wouldn't you want to find it?
And so I go through my list of synonyms and surnames, typing them into the dialog box at Google and hoping something on page two or three of the results will contain just what I'm looking for.
I say page two or three, because I know how search engine optimization can skew results to serve up the most popular sites first. And those popular sites are precisely the ones I don't want to see. Why? Because I've already reviewed that material while I was working on those big sites like Ancestry or FamilySearch. Remember, I want something more.
This is a messy process, to be sure. Tedious. And void of any guarantees. But if something comes up, I'm ecstatic. Remember, I'm only doing this because I can't find the material I want anywhere else online. And I sure can't drop everything else this morning and catch the nearest flight to Tennessee.
One of my research questions right now is to figure out just how the Davis and Tilson families met up. Remember, I don't know the parents' names for Mayflower direct descendant Rachel Tilson's husband, James Davis. I'm not even super sure about the details I've received from others about this guy—that he was born in 1795 in "Washington County," North Carolina.
Remember, along the migratory pathways for all three families—Davis, Tilson, and Broyles—converging in Washington County, northeastern Tennessee shortly after this time, there was also a Washington County in Virginia and one in North Carolina. And that one in North Carolina wasn't even where the current Washington County is located today. Due to the geopolitical situation of the era, that James Davis who was born in Washington County, North Carolina, and who died in Washington County, Tennessee, could have been a man who was born and died in the very same place.
So, I went exploring on Google. My main question was to find any material on the history of that old Washington County in Virginia—the one where that Holston Valley region had a pre-Revolutionary church called the Saint Clair's Bottom Primitive Baptist Church. I wanted to find some contact information for a historian or someone knowledgeable about that location, prior to 1800.
In the nooks and crannies of the Internet, it is only Google which can ferret out these tucked away gems, and in my searching, I found one. It is now known as the Gordon Aronhime Papers, and they are housed in a collection called the Southwest Virginia Card File at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
Every now and then, you can run across the collections of people like Gordon Aronhime. They are dedicated researchers who set about to systematically document everything there is to know about a very tiny sliver of the universe of human knowledge. In Mr. Aronhime's case, that sliver was focused on the upper Holston-Clinch River area of southwest Virginia during the years from 1770 to 1795.
The entire body of knowledge preserved by Gordon Aronhime is kept on a set of over four thousand index cards, now scanned and available online at the Library of Virginia. The data include dates of birth and death, marriage information, lists of some children, abstracts of wills and some other biographical data. Because the information was handwritten on the cards, it employed a shorthand system of descriptors, so the collection includes a listing of abbreviations commonly used in the collection.
In addition, since a good number of the settlers in this area later migrated to nearby northeastern Tennessee, the collection includes a listing of several of these men, as well as listings on local forts, mills, ministers—and even some details on the 1780 Battle of King's Mountain.
That wasn't the only discovery I made while exploring the lesser-known sites discussing the topic of my current interest. Deep within the pages of the Virginia GenWeb site, I found a listing of marriages from Washington County, dated 1782 to 1820. Sure enough, looking at the alphabetized entries for the letter "T," I found several marriages for my Tilson family—although nothing of interest for my Davis ancestor.
No problem with that, though. The search is far from over. Just knowing that these hidden nuggets are out there to be found—with diligence and lots of patience—encourages me to keep trying my hand at googling those search terms.
Above: Sample card from the Gordon Aronhime Papers at the Library of Virginia shows entries for my fourth great-grandfather, Peleg Tilson, including details on his marriage, land transactions and removal to Washington County, Tennessee.