Wednesday, November 20, 2019

About That D.A.R. Clue

Sometimes, the hints generated by genealogical programs seem to present more of a puzzle than a prod in the right direction. Take the clue I found yesterday, in the quest to determine if Tally Simpson—my first cousin, four times removed—had any nieces or nephews whose descendants might still be with us, reading his Civil War letters home.

Since Tally had written so often to his favorite aunt, Caroline Virginia Taliaferro Miller, I began my search with the descendants of her children. Sadly, Aunt Caroline's son Harry also lost his life in the war, and her two daughters—Resaca and Caroline—had no children of their own.

That left Henry and Caroline's youngest son, George William "Watt" Miller, as the only one of Tally's Miller cousins to have any descendants. And that was where the clue I found in the D.A.R. Lineage Book seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help.

The reason is likely because "Watt" and his wife, the former Edith Ellen Walker, married after the 1870 census, but did not show up in any enumerations following the 1880 census. George William Miller died in 1890, and though his wife died in 1903, I can find no mention of the widow or her children in the 1900 census (yet, at least).

The search plot thickens when we take a look at that sole snapshot of the George Miller family in 1880. The household includes their son, Percival, plus three daughters: Maud, Martha, and Caroline. But no Dorothy, the woman mentioned in the D.A.R. lineage book as being daughter of George and Edith.

Dorothy—by the time of her mention in the D.A.R. publication, known as Dorothy M. Miller Massey, wife of Arthur Ballard Massey—certainly wasn't a name included in the 1880 census, but could that middle initial be the clue to her identity in 1880? After all, southern families were often known to switch identities from one to the other of their given names. But which daughter would be the one whose "M" initial would be coupled with a first name of Dorothy? After all, there were two possibilities: Maud, and Martha.

It took a lot of traveling up and down the descendancy ladder with each of the Miller children to locate any further clues as to the "M" name which affixed itself to a Dorothy. I tried my hand at signatures of informants on death certificates and lists of survivors on family obituaries, but nothing seemed to show up.

In the process, I realized something: I already own a book of the genealogy of this extended family, thanks to Tally's own brother, Richard Wright Simpson. The book, History of Old Pendleton District, was published one year after Dick Simpson's death in 1912, and thus necessarily cannot include marriages in the Miller family after that date. It did, however, advise me of some important details.

Among those reports in the Simpson book was the mention of the names of all of the George W. Miller children. In a brief listing of the Miller family on page 138-139, the author included among George Miller's children five daughters: Dorothea, "Mattie," Caroline, Edith, and Beatrice. While all but one of the daughters—Caroline—were listed as unmarried at the point the book was written, the text did provide one other detail to help with my puzzle: it included the middle name of Dorothea.

Remember how the 1880 census gave one of the daughter's names as Maud? That is apparently a function of an enumerator misunderstanding the verbal response of the reporting party. As it turned out, "Maud" should actually have been Dorothea's middle name, spelled as Modd—likely representing a surname from her parents' own ancestry.

With that identity problem solved, it was easy to move forward to connect the D.A.R. listing with other documentation for Dorothy (as she apparently preferred to spell her name in later records). Her marriage record to Arthur Ballard Massey, listing her as Dorothy Modd Miller, provides the date of 12 June, 1913, the same year as the Pendleton genealogy book was published. And her 1947 death certificate in Virginia includes the name of her younger sister Beatrice as the informant.

Finding that entry in the D.A.R. Lineage book had been frustrating at first, because I had no way to link it to the right person, based on the information I started out with. But thanks to an old book from the time period in which these people all lived, I had an additional report to connect the dots from the family's past to its near future, leading me to additional verification of that line.

Above: Excerpt from the 1880 U.S. Census for the George W. Miller family of Pickens County, South Carolina; image courtesy


  1. Your diligence and attention to detail is paying off!

    1. Miss Merry, it is always reassuring when the details can come together with appropriate documentation from multiple sources!


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