Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Walk Through the Neighborhood

In our race to find as many ancestors as possible—"How far back have you gone?" is a typical question I hear when people learn of my fascination with family history—we sometimes forget to slow down and wander through all the data we've discovered on our ancestors.

Keeping that in mind—slow down and open your eyes—I took that advice to heart while puzzling over the origins of my second great-grandfather, William Alexander Boothe. I had learned from a reliable fellow researcher that it was likely that "Alexander" was born in Nansemond County, Virginia, and I did locate an entry for his young family there in the 1840 census.

So I heeded that advice and took a look around the ninety one pages of that county's census enumeration for 1840 to see how many other Boothe families might have also lived in the neighborhood. The search proved productive. Of course, Boothe—or its more oft-used spelling, Booth—is a common surname, so the discovery may not provide any helpful information. But the exercise is an important one to check off any researcher's to-do list, when faced with puzzles such as mine.

Among the other Boothe entries I found in the 1840 Nansemond County enumeration was an enigmatic listing of one man's name as "Edmond of Boothe." Other than that, though, the others were fairly straightforward. There was one Boothe family—under the head of household named Andrew Boothe—on the page following the entry I mentioned yesterday for Nathaniel Boothe.

Then came the long haul of several pages of census records without any further sign of the surname I was seeking. And then, someone named Kinchen Boothe. A little bit further and I found two more hits, right next to each other, for Robert and Henry Boothe.

And that was all. Six Boothe households, besides mine, out of nearly eleven thousand people resident in the county. What were the chances that any of these other households represented actual relatives of my William Alexander Boothe?

Since I was sifting through the neighborhood's records, the next question on my mind was: just what neighborhood was this? Were there any names identifying the precincts? Going back to the original page where I found Alexander Boothe, I looked to the header to see what, if anything, identified the area, and found this handwritten entry:

At first, it looked like the handwriting had specified "Cedar Hill," but when I looked closely at the same wording on several pages, it became clear that the line was saying "division allotted to Kedar Hill."

That didn't stop me from looking, at first, for any place names in the now-extinct Nansemond County called Cedar Hill, and what should I find but a cemetery with that same name, located in the current county designation as Suffolk. And, happy bonus that it was, the cemetery actually contained some Boothe surnames, including that of Joseph Boothe, who might have been the young son listed in Nathaniel Boothe's 1840 census listing.

Cedar Hill, being an oft-used place name, might have just been a coincidence—not to mention, a mis-reading of what actually had been written on the 1840 census. And so, back to the drawing board it was, in developing my search strategy further. As it happened, though, I didn't have to look long, thanks to Google Books, which brought up one gem showing that there was indeed someone back then with the name Kedar Hill—a man who, not much later, was appointed Postmaster of the Suffolk post office in Nansemond County by 1847.

While I learned that Kedar Hill was a person and not a place name, it still didn't help me figure out the relationship between the several Boothe men in the county. A question like this is beginning to look like a quest to research what may turn out to be someone else's family tree, but it is still worth the effort. After all, once I locate any other records for this now non-existent county, it may turn out that at least one of these Boothe men was indeed connected to my family.

Taking the chance of barking up the wrong family tree is worth it, because at least confirming a negative report can point me away from a wrong direction. And, from looking at all the other trees on this man that I've run across online, there are a lot of guesses out there. They can't all be right! 

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