Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Two Wives . . .
and their Husband Named Aaron

While Aaron Broyles may have died with a wife named Frances, that doesn't necessarily mean he began married life with a woman by that name. Could this South Carolina man have gone to Tennessee to find a wife in his younger years?

The answer to that question might determine whether Frances Reed was the mother of my third great-grandfather, Ozey Broyles. Born in South Carolina in 1798, Ozey followed at least three older siblings who also were said to have been born in the same state.

There was, however, a gap in ages between Cain and Jemima, the oldest two children, born in the late 1780s, and the rest of the Broyles children who followed, beginning with the 1796 arrival of Polly, the sibling just older than Ozey. The gap of years between Jemima's birth in 1789 and that of Polly in 1796 could suggest the death of one wife and marriage to a second—or, it could signify the loss of one or possibly two other children of the same woman.

The other claim of a wife for Aaron Broyles, however, placed the marriage in Greene County, Tennessee, about one hundred fifty miles directly to the north of our Aaron's home in Anderson County, South Carolina. That wedding—of Aaron Broyles and a woman by the name of Nancy Davis—was solemnized by a ceremony in December of 1797.

You see my predicament. If this were really the Aaron Broyles who was father of my Ozey, then whoever his wife was in 1797 would surely be the same woman giving birth to a child just one year later.

There was also another reason why I couldn't just discard this information, based solely on geographic restraints. While the distance between the two counties crossed state lines, it is not like there weren't any other Broyles members of this family's genealogy in Tennessee. In fact, in his younger years, my second great-grandfather, Ozey's son Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, was sent from his South Carolina home to tend to property owned by his father in Washington County, Tennessee—not far from Greene County.

Fortunately, by looking forward to the future after that 1797 marriage, we can still find an Aaron Broyles with his wife Nancy in Tennessee in the 1850 census. And, by 1850 in South Carolina, the other Aaron was very much...dead.

So, we can feel quite confident—and without much of a drawn out explanation—that the Aaron who married Nancy Davis was not one and the same as my fourth great-grandfather, Aaron Broyles, despite the many online trees insisting that is so. But that brief detour into the realm of double identities shows us one other reality: there were enough Broyles cousins in Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee to yield us duplicate—and possibly triplicate—instances of the same names in subsequent generations.

That's where it became handy for me to stumble upon an unpublished manuscript of one researcher's efforts to sort out the extended Broyles family—to trace it back to its founding immigrants, in fact, and beyond, to a town in Germany. That manuscript, as we'll see tomorrow, has thankfully been digitized and available online for anyone to use. The only caveat: as many others have noted, the work does contain mistakes. Still, it can be valuable to us as much as a trailblazer is to those who have never journeyed that way, back through the family history trails, before.

Above: Marriage entry in the Greene County, Tennessee, records for an Aaron Broyles and Nancy Davis on December 2, 1797; image courtesy


  1. Very nice example of figuring out mistakes, in spite of the many family trees that might insist on using the mistaken information. It's so easy to do! (Use mistaken information, I mean - it's NOT easy to figure out the truth.)

    1. What's incredible about that situation, Lisa, is that one of the DNA companies has picked up that "connection" and presented that as the link connecting me to several of my DNA matches. While I've otherwise found that service to be helpful, when it is based on faulty research, the drawback to the system is that it only serves to amplify errors.

    2. Well, that 's been my experience exactly on the only DNA company I really use. I have (only) one great-grandparent line where I am truly flummoxed. No idea where the "Jeffers" of 1783 came from, and am beginning to suspect that was not the name of either of his parents. I just can't find a probable Jeffers family (or variant of the name), connected to me by DNA matches, that could have been his likely parents and siblings. And I have searched diligently for months.

      So, in spite of it being an unorthodox thing to do, I have begun to experiment: assigning my Nathan Jeffers 1783 into a possible family, as a "new" offspring. I only use families that truly seem possible - because of location, ages, well-developed lineages on the web site, and many DNA matches tracing that line and also with appropriate cM relationship to me. I'll leave each "new birth family for Nathan" there for a few weeks. Each time the web site tool presents that "connection" as the Common Ancestor link. Then when I change the family for Nathan, the process starts all over again.

      I had hoped their algorithm relied only on DNA, regardless of the names written in by users. I don't understand algorithms or DNA analysis well enough to see my error. But something ain't right.

    3. How frustrating, Lisa! I can see why you might have suspected a surname change--although it could also have happened along the way for some of your DNA matches, as well.

      If you are in contact with any Jeffers descendants from your line who are either direct patrilineal connections (father to son) or matrilineal (mother's mother's mother, etc.), perhaps they would be willing to try the Y-DNA or mtDNA tests. There is a small surname project for the Jeffers line, hosted through Family Tree DNA, that you might check out, but I don't know how active they are.

    4. Thank you for suggesting this. It will be on my mental list of possible pathways. Though just now I don't have any relatives that would want to participate in the tests, I may find some if I keep meeting people online. Your suggestions, throughout your blog, are a treasure trove of good ideas and techniques.


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