Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Clustering Data

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.


  1. When I have been searching census records, I look at a few previous pages...one time I found a relative quite by accident living inn the neighborhood:)

    1. That's always a gem to find! Glad you mentioned that tip, Far Side. It is true that relatives seemed to move from one place to another with others they knew, both families and friends--and sometimes even entire communities would pick up and move!


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