Monday, December 23, 2019

Finding Family in
Century-Old Manuscripts

As indiscriminate as people choose to be when scraping the content of someone else's online family tree, we seem unable to place the same amount of blind faith in others' genealogical research when it appears between the covers of a book. And yet, it may be the latter which brings us closer to the (adequately-sourced) truth of our ancestors' life stories. All we need to delve into that material—published or unpublished—is to learn how to proceed with caution. Pairing the written research with today's online tools for verification may make for a promising partnership.

Case in point is the unpublished manuscript I've been perusing since puzzling over the case of the two men named Aaron Broyles and their wives. I've known about the "Keith manuscript" for decades, now. The volumes of The Broyles Family have been in existence for nearly one hundred years, and one avid Broyles researcher shared a copy with me twenty years ago. Thanks to its current availability at, I've been revisiting the unpublished manuscript lately for one very specific reason: to double check the assertions on those typewritten pages with the digitized documentation any of us can find online now.

To untangle the identities of the two Aarons, I could use help like that available through the Keith work. Arthur Leslie Keith may have produced a genealogy which others acknowledge contains errors, but the author traced the family back to the original Broyles immigrant ancestor from 1717 and followed the line of all known descendants of the man who eventually was listed as John Broyles.

By re-organizing the Keith research into a database program and checking for verification of each key detail, it will eventually become obvious which assertions can now be supported by documentation. By using a genealogical database program, it also renders the transcribed data as searchable, providing ease in identifying exactly how each Broyles descendant is related to each other.

That utility is key for me, as I've already discovered several DNA matches who are connected to my results, thanks to a mutual Broyles ancestor—but which one? And how do we connect?

I've used this same process of vetting the details in hundred-year-old genealogies for other family lines I'm researching—for instance, my Taliaferro and Meriwether roots. It's time to repeat this method for my Broyles lines. There are so many of them—and with the same names repeated—moving from their Virginia origins to the Carolinas, as well as Tennessee. I've got to have a way to keep all these Aarons sorted out.

Thankfully, places like have taken up the task of coordinating digitization of these old genealogies for all of us to access online. FamilySearch reports a network of cooperating libraries from both the United States and Canada participating in their project. In some cases, the books are actually available for viewing, right on the FamilySearch website.

Of course, not all of these hundred-year-old resources are available through that one website. But if I know a title—or can make an educated guess about it—I can search through other resources. First stop, of course, would be to consult, which will pull up the locations of libraries which house a copy of the title you are searching for—such as these locations for the Broyles family history.

While a search engine would also give some leads as to locations for specific out-of-print titles, the difficulty with just striking out on one's own into the worldwide web is that, unlike Google Books, some collections are kept stored behind a firewall, and are better found through an internal search engine on that specific website. Even in other cases, it is best to specify the website to target when seeking books or manuscripts. For Internet Archive or HathiTrust, for instance, I'll put my search terms alongside the site name in quote, such as "Broyles Family" coupled with "Internet Archive."

Once a copy of the manuscript is located online, that's when I begin adding the information gleaned into a genealogical database, and then start vetting the assertions.

Now that I'm re-visiting the Broyles issues—thanks to another Aaron being represented as if he were my own line—I'll be trudging through that same tedious process once again. It's worth it, however, to not only be able to explain that one name represents dual identities, but to be able to identify why that is so. Supplementing my own research with verification of the work of others who have gone before us keeps me from having to re-invent the same wheels I need to get me to my research destination.  


  1. Oh! You had me at Meriwether! Any chance they are connected to the Meriwethers of Todd County, Kentucky? As in Meriville? Their roots go back to Virginia, and they are one of my collateral lines. My 5x great-grandfather, Edward Walton, is buried in the family cemetery by Meriville. The inscription on his tombstone says something like "He fell like overripe fruit into the lap of our common Mother."

    1. What an unusual epitaph, Kathy!

      With our Meriwether roots, I'm sure you and I can find a connection if we go back far enough. As with your ancestors, my Meriwether line begins in colonial Virginia. Since my connection is through the mother of a man who married someone in my matriline, I can't say where the rest of that branch of the Meriwethers ended up in later generations. Many of mine were later connected with the Gilmer line in Georgia and other states in the deep South.


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