Thursday, July 25, 2019

Connecting the Dots, Virginia Style

If the colony of Virginia had an "outback," that would be the turf my Tilson ancestors claimed as home. Far from the civilized aspects of the Virginia we've heard described as the "center of the universe," my third great-grandparents chose to settle, in their generations-long migration from Massachusetts to Tennessee, in this frontier region of Old Dominion.

Trouble is, I can't connect the dots between the Tilson genealogy of my third great-grandmother and her children in Washington County, Tennessee. While I've found signs of Rachel Tilson's parents' wedding in Washington County, Virginia, in 1785, and have already written about finding mention of the Tilsons moving down to Washington County, Tennessee, likely before 1800, I still need more documentation to connect Rachel, bride of James C. Davis, to her Tilson ancestry.

That, given the family's preference for living on the far edges of civilization, may be hard to come by. My best hope, it seems, may be to rely on church records for baptisms and social connections, and tax and property records to trace their wanderings.

Fortunately, the extended Tilson family has included dedicated adherents to genealogical research, leaving folks like me with trailblazing narratives of the family's movement from its origins in New England through to the early 1900s, in the Mercer V. Tilson publication, The Tilson Genealogy. Although I've written about some of the discrepancies before, my third great-grandmother Rachel Tilson's family was listed—including the names enabling me to work forward in time to my own maternal grandfather—as correctly as I've been able to corroborate through documentation.

It's just moving backwards in time that I find challenging. And that documentation is what stands between me and admission to the Mayflower Society. Record-seeking in early 1800s Virginia (and earlier) is certainly not the same game as tracing census records a century later. Some of the records which likely would provide the substantiation I seek will likely not be found with a click of a mouse, online.

Not to worry, though, for come next January, I will be at a library billed as the largest genealogical library in North America. If I can't take a trip to Virginia, perhaps this will be the next best option for solving this records problem.

Above: Wisp of a record to piece together the Tilson paper trail almost two hundred years after the Tilson family's landing in New England, Tilson descendant Rachel marries James C. Davis on September 12, 1822, in Washington County, Tennessee; excerpt from image courtesy


  1. Try checking NC records or The NC State Archives- a lot of the early TN records are maintained there. Washington district was formed by the NC legislature around 1777. In 1784 this area became the State of Franklin with John Sevier as Governor but it only lasted until 1787. Washington bordered along VA and NC. Very good webinar on this on Legacy Family Tree.

    1. Thanks for bringing up the Legacy Family Tree webinar on this topic! Tracing records from "Washington County" can indeed be frustrating. I have another family member who was born in that Washington district in North Carolina that you mention, and died in Washington County, Tennessee. I finally realized the man probably never moved away from his home town, but likely was born and died in the very same place!

      As far as Washington County, Virginia, goes, the specific location I'm after actually did have records in Virginia, rather than North Carolina or Tennessee. The issue is more a case of local records--if they are still in existence at all, not destroyed by fire--not yet having been uploaded to any digital repositories. There is a large body of records which still needs to be accessed the old fashioned way, including, it seems, records on this family's residence in Virginia.

  2. Jacqui, I live in the area that your Tilson family called home. To explain everything that has happened here among five different states would take a volume to type. I will try to gather some information for you and condense it and get it to you as quickly as I can. I'm actively researching a line of the Tilson family that also is supposed to go to the Mayflower. It goes through the Cole family that traveled with the tilson's to St Clair's Bottom in now Smyth County Virginia. I'm so happy to have found your blog!

    1. Thank you so much for getting in touch! I would love to learn about those details you mentioned--and to know which part of the Tilson line you are researching, yourself. Yes, the Cole family is a familiar name to me from what I've been able to glean on the Tilson family's time in what is now Smyth County, Virginia. Please feel free to connect through my email if you prefer. Just type the name of this blog, all lower case with no spaces between words, at gmail dot com.


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