Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ancestor #6: Because I'm Curious

With today's selection of ancestor from my Twelve Most Wanted, I'm not only halfway through my list—and wrapping up the three candidates from my mother-in-law's tree—but I'm making a choice based on some frivolous speculation.

Just as dangerous a leap as it is to grab for a connection to Charlemagne, or the Queen of England, or Niall of the Nine Hostages—well, maybe Niall and his Y-DNA would be a less speculative connection than the other two—my question that led me to place today's ancestor among my Twelve Most Wanted came from a mere curiosity.

My question is about my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother's father. Confused? Let me place this ancestor in perspective. This third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll, married a man from our thoroughly-researched Gordon line. Thanks to a combination of resources, a whole bunch of us avid Gordon researchers have been trailing that line for decades, so I have plenty of info on Mary's husband, William B. Gordon.

What I don't have is much detail at all on Mary's own family. Somewhere along the line, someone else mentioned the name of her parents, but there is very little to tie such details together for a woman born about 1773.

Knowing Mary Carroll's family was Catholic, I was fascinated to learn that the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence was also named Carroll. I also knew that our Gordons and Carrolls and others in that group of early immigrants had, at one time, settled in Maryland, the location of that famous Carroll, the "First Citizen." Though I knew so very little about that famous Carroll, my curiosity was piqued. I've always meant to learn more—even if that exploration didn't lead to any sign of a connection. After all, it is part of our nation's history.

With that, I may as well see how far back I can push the generations on Mary Carroll's parentage. If nothing else, thanks to the Catholic traditions of documentation, I should have a moderate chance to discover a bit more, at least about our much lesser-known branch of the Carrolls. With hopes to push back the generations on my mother-in-law's Carroll line just a little bit more, I'll be adding Anthony Carroll—the tentative father of our Mary Carroll Gordon—to my list of Twelve Most Wanted for 2020.

Above: "Farmstead in Winter," 1860 painting by George Henry Durrie, American artist made famous by Currier and Ives lithographic reprints of his many rural winter scenes; image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Ancestor #5 = The Least Known Ancestor

Can a person whose family has been, in some cases, in this country since the early 1700s possibly not know anything about her own great-grandmother? I'd find that impossible—impossible, at least, until I started delving into my own family tree, with all its secrets, missing origins and disguised names. And I have to remember that I'm now working on the family tree of a woman who once told me she was sure it was her own grandparents who had probably just "gotten off the boat." How inaccurate that guess turned out to be.

Except...in one case. After all these years of researching my mother-in-law's family tree, I still can't pinpoint any more information on her paternal grandmother's mother than her name and year of birth and death. And that is all I'll have to work with, as I add Elizabeth Stine to my Most Wanted Ancestors list for 2020.

Here's what I know about Elizabeth Stine. First, that she was listed as Eliza Stine on her 1825 marriage record in Perry County, Ohio, where she said "I do" to someone labeled as Jacob Snyder—probably James Jacob Snyder, son of German immigrant Nicholas Dominic Schneider. Second, that she was likely born in Pennsylvania, arriving about 1808, based on census reports. Finally, that she probably died as a widow in Perry County, Ohio, in 1881.

Elizabeth Stine Snyder represents the oldest of my mother-in-law's most recent ancestors for whom I have such a little bit of information, other than the basic dates and regions. Though I know of no enticing story about her, or any research tidbits that would either intrigue me to pursue her or repel me from the pursuit, I feel as if I owe it to myself—not to mention my in-laws—to try my best to learn more about this next-to-invisible woman ancestor.

Above: "Mill in Winter," 1897 oil on canvas by Polish artist Ferdynand Ruszczyc (1870-1936); image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Ancestor #4:
A Situation of Two Simons

In this quest to identify my Twelve Most Wanted ancestors to research in the upcoming year, I've limited myself to three candidates for each of the four family trees I'm building. In the past three days, I've outlined my research challenges for my mother's ancestry. Now I'd like to move on to the first of three ancestors on my mother-in-law's line. Prime among those candidates is the murky line of someone named Simon Rinehart.

...or make that two people with the name Simon Rinehart. The two men I've encountered with that same name definitely represent two different individuals in my mother-in-law's tree. From what little I know about them, the elder was probably born in Germany in 1750, while the younger arrived around 1774 in Pennsylvania. It could be quite possible that the elder was father to the younger, as the German Simon settled in Washington County, Pennsylvania, while the younger Simon—whom I first pick up on the paper trail in Kentucky—eventually returned east and settled in a place called Greene County, Pennsylvania.

Of course, for those who know their local history, Greene County was carved out of Washington County just about the time the younger Simon left Pennsylvania for Kentucky. By the early 1800s, the place was still sparsely populated, having less than nine thousand inhabitants, making it all the more possible that my mother-in-law's many Gordon and Rinehart ancestors could have been related in more ways than one.

Assuming such connections, however, is not the intent of genealogical pursuit. Of course, I have to find documentation to support these hunches—and even more documentation to untangle the several folks who ended up with the same names among all those distant cousins.

The Simon Rinehart who first prompted this search represented such an example. A third great-grandfather to my mother-in-law, this Simon, the one leaving Pennsylvania for a brief stay in Kentucky, had a daughter—Sarah, born in Kentucky in 1795—who ended up marrying a Gordon. Though this family returned to Greene County, Pennsylvania, they eventually removed to Perry County, Ohio, by the early 1830s.

The other Simon Rinehart—the one born in Germany but traveling to America with his two brothers—was father of a daughter named Nancy, who married a different Gordon descendant by the name of John. This Simon would have been old enough to have a son in 1774, but it is difficult to follow his line. He apparently served in the Revolutionary War—though his entry at the DAR website spells his surname as Reinhard, reminding me to keep my eyes open for many spelling variations—and may have died either during or just after his service. The date of his demise is not clear, though, as the DAR entry indicates his death might have been as late as "ante" 1787, while the Samuel P. Bates History of Greene County, Pennsylvania offers a story of his death in April 1779 at the hands of Native Americans in Washington County.

My task will be two-fold: to further identify the younger Simon Rinehart, father of the Kentucky-born Sarah who married James Gordon; and to determine Simon's parentage, likely back in Washington or Greene County, Pennsylvania. In the process, I suspect I'll get a closer look at those three proverbial Rinehart brothers who came to settle in the western frontier of Pennsylvania from Germany.

Above: "Norwegian Winter Landscape," 1890 pastel by Norwegian impressionist artist Frits Thaulow; image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Ancestor #3:
The Most Wanted of the Most Wanted

In a few days, we will begin the new year of 2020. In that year, among other commemorations, will be the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower. On that tiny ship, among all those other significant passengers, was one crew member who turned out to be my tenth great-grandfather. If, by now, you've guessed I'm related to John Alden, you've astutely identified the far side of my research dilemma. However, it's not the beginning of that Mayflower line I'm concerned about, but the distant reaches of his line of descent that teases me by being just out of my grasp.

Here's the reason why: the General Society of Mayflower Descendants provides properly sanctioned resources to trace the five generations stretching from John Alden (and all the other surviving Mayflower passengers) to the level of their second great-grandchildren. In my case, that would lead to Janet Murdock, who married Stephen Tilson (of the well-documented Tilson line). This is all well and good, as long as we stick with those generations in Massachusetts and surrounding areas, but by the time of the next generation—and their son, William Tilson, in particular—the family has removed from those New England colonies to the back end of Virginia.

Ah, you knew Virginia would be showing up somewhere in this saga.

At that point, still during the pre-Revolutionary War era in the 1760s, the line settled in what was then Washington County, Virginia—until some of the family line moved further on. Some family members continued on to Kentucky—or so the report goes—while the branch including my fifth great-grandfather moved only a short distance to settle in the northeastern part of Tennessee by the early 1800s.

Somewhere in all those colonial documents and early church records from the backwoods of Virginia are likely mentions of this family of William and Marcie Tilson, but as far as I can reach from my armchair researcher's spot out in California, I can't seem to put together the necessary paper trail to connect William's granddaughter Rachel, wife of Tennessean James C. Davis, to her rightful place in not only the Tilson line, but also the key line leading all the way back to John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. While I can find hundred-year-old books which, for their own parts, make the assertions which, connected, would lead me all the way back to my goal, I can't find the documentation to bring me clearly from Point A (where I leave off with Rachel Tilson Davis) to Point X, where the Mayflower landed with my tenth great-grandparents.

Hopefully, my strategy to see what resources can be obtained during my January visit to Salt Lake City will conveniently align with my intention to apply for membership to the Mayflower Society before this celebration of the 400th anniversary comes to a close at the end of next year.

 Above: "Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor," 1882 painting by William Formby Halsall; image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Twelve Most Wanted:
Ancestor #2

For my second of the Twelve Most Wanted ancestors, my research sights are zeroed in on another maternal line with which I've struggled often during this past year. However, in a nod to the upcoming year of 2020 serving as the centennial of women's right to vote in the United States, rather than focus on my fourth great-grandfather Aaron Broyles, I'd like to zoom in on his wife.

Not Nancy Davis, as those hints in two different genealogy companies assert, but a woman by the name of Frances Reed was the wife of my Aaron Broyles from Anderson County, South Carolina. And that is all I know about her, other than the dates on her barely-legible headstone.

There is one tantalizing connection I did notice, in reading about the extended Broyles and Reed families, though. Remembering A Faithful Heart, the annotated transcription of Emmala Reed's diary from her Civil War years, I know that her father, Judge Reed, was somehow described as an illegitimate son—interestingly—of one of the Broyles men. What his actual connection was with the name Reed, and how that Reed related to Frances Reed, Aaron Broyles' wife, I don't know. But I want to try my hand at figuring that out.

Some of the answers may be dredged up by reviewing A Faithful Heart and all the commentary provided by the diary's editor, Robert T. Oliver, but there are still some assertions which did not appear to link to supporting documentation. Possibly, in some delicate matters, documentation is not to be had, but it would be helpful to see support for the editor's Broyles-Reed paternity contention. These all are—or may be—names which fit handily into my own family tree. My own missing link is the information connecting Aaron Broyles' wife with the rest of the Reed family in Anderson County.

Thus, the second Most Wanted ancestor on my list for 2020 will be Aaron Broyles' wife, Frances Reed. That, along with yesterday's nomination of William Alexander Boothe, represents two out of three potential ancestors to focus on from my mother's family tree. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at my third nomination from her tree, before moving on to my mother-in-law's tree.

Above: "Winter Landscape," oil on canvas by Dutch artist Thomas Heeremans (1641-1694); image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Twelve Most Wanted

We may sing carols about the Twelve Days of Christmas, but for this year, I'd like to fill those twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany with a project designed to prepare me for my upcoming research year. I'll be selecting one ancestor per day to introduce as a research project for 2020.  For the four family trees I've been building—one for each of my daughter's grandparents—that means this twelve day series will provide an introductory vignette on three ancestors from each tree.

Ahhhh...how to select these Twelve Most Wanted ancestors...

Today's selection will be simple. I already know what my marching orders will be upon arrival in Salt Lake City for SLIG: spend some earnest time digging through early Virginia records to find any trace of my second great-grandfather, William Alexander Boothe.

I've already mentioned how I've struggled—as have other researchers—with Alex Boothe's origin in the now non-existent Nansemond County in Virginia. I'm building a to-do list of material to look up, once I arrive at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in January so I can hit the ground running. Since this man was born about 1812, the record sets for his family will be far different than those people are accustomed to consulting for more recent ancestors—doubly so, since so many records were destroyed by fire or, in some cases, simply not kept until far after that date.

William Alexander Boothe may be my number one Most Wanted Ancestor for 2020, but there are others. Since Alex Boothe came from my mother's family tree, that will leave her two more to pursue in this upcoming year. We'll take a peek at the second of these Twelve Most Wanted tomorrow.

Of course, that will be twelve people from my four family trees. You may have others you have struggled with this year, too. Perhaps this is the time for all of us to find a way to see twenty-twenty concerning those brick wall ancestors whose stories seem so fuzzy and faintly outlined right now.

Above: "Winter Landscape," oil on panel by Russian Romantic artist Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900); image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Peaceful Christmas

It's so refreshing to have a day to set aside for special remembrances. Christmas seems to top the list of holidays when it comes to a total switch-up of the schedule. Other than my husband's few years in shift work during his law enforcement career, we've been privileged to have time together at home as a family—much as I remember my parents being able to do when I was growing up. I'm sure my mom and dad could say much the same thing for their own childhood, but now, more than ever, it seems so rare to be able to just stop the daily grind for a breather with those we love.

I hope you are able to find a peaceful respite today with those who mean the most to you. Tomorrow is another day—and there is always something more to do—but for today, may you find peace, quiet, and loving connections to make your day the special event that it is.

Above: "The Holy Family," oil on canvas by Venetian artist Giambattista Pittoni (1687-1767); image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sticking With the Gang

There is one positive aspect of researching those early-arrival immigrants to North America's eastern shores: those early travelers often moved en masse—whether with one's extended family, or sometimes with several other families from the same village. To find the details about one member of the party is to find out the past of many of the others, as well.

Seeking the roots of my Aaron Broyles—while insuring that I have the right Aaron Broyles—is made easier by one delightful discovery. Aaron's Broyles ancestors likely arrived here by 1717 as part of the second Germanna Colony.

Interest in the first and second Germanna colonies has generated enough written material and website collections to gladden the information-seeking heart of any genealogical researcher. Even though some of these resources may seem horribly out of date—the Rootsweb-hosted "Germanna Colonies" site has not been updated in ten years, something to keep in mind when perusing their list of suggested links—they connect us with material found by those researchers who have gone before us.

What caught my eye, years ago when I first stumbled upon this site in those early share-and-share-alike years of Rootsweb, is that there was a separate section devoted to the Broyles progenitor. Much of the detail shared in that section is repeated in the Keith manuscript which I've been accessing at FamilySearch.org.

From the very first appearance of the Broyles family in Virginia, they were identified as part of a group of people. First, as part of the Germanna colonies, and then when several Germanna families moved to Madison County, Virginia and founded the Hebron Lutheran Church, we can find mentions of the Broyles—or "Breil"—family members. Tracing one member of that family means following the path of the other members of that same family. From generation to generation, that sometimes also meant the intertwining of families, even to the point of cousins marrying cousins.

With all those facets of inter-relatedness, you can see why keeping tabs on all branches of the family could be important. It would, if nothing else, help me see how the other Aaron Broyles in Tennessee likely would be related to my direct ancestor, Aaron Broyles of Anderson County, South Carolina. And, following the trail of their wills and land records, it would also explain why so many of my Virginia and South Carolina Broyles family members seemed to have such a connection with those northeastern Tennessee locations. When a family's F.A.N. Club turns out to comprise their own relatives, it is far easier to keep track of all of them.

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 FamilySearch.org, 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 FamilySearch.org 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 WorldCat.org, 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.  

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Can it Be?
Christmas in Only 3 More Days?

Every year, it seems, I trick myself into thinking I'll get this entire Christmas challenge conquered in only one month's time. And fail miserably.

And then we go and have a late Thanksgiving. C'mon, after all, four weeks before this Christmas, we still hadn't dressed our turkey for Thanksgiving. Time didn't fly this year. I'm sure the Grinch stole it.

While I'd love to ponder the wonders of Christmases long past—after all, thinking of what our ancestors were up to, this close to the holiday, is a wonderful exercise for those with the leisure time to lavish upon it—I'm beginning to realize we will soon be upon a fresh new research year. I'll be on my way to SLIG in only three weeks, and need to wrap up my research to-do list for those colonial Virginia ancestors. After that, I'll be back in Florida for another research trip, complete with visits to relatives who are quite happy to tell me everything they remember about their older relatives.

Besides that, there is a whole new research year stretching ahead of us. I can't afford to squander such research opportunities, but what should come next? As corny as it sounds, I've decided to take those traditional "twelve days of Christmas" and select twelve ancestors—three from each of the four family trees I'm working on—as my "twelve most wanted" ancestors for 2020. Each chosen ancestor will be featured in a vignette on one of the twelve days of Christmas 2019, starting late—or right on time, depending on how you count the twelve days—on December 26 (what, you didn't expect me to post on Christmas day itself, did you?) and leading right up to Epiphany.

Between now and then, though, I have no time left to bemoan all the Christmas cards I never got to send, or the last minute gifts I still need to snatch up Monday morning, before the rest of the shopping crowds wake up and get going. Christmas will be here, whether any of us are ready or not. The best strategy at this point is to just be ready to be there with all the people who mean the most to us. The rest will all sort itself out, somehow. Hopefully, with a bow on top.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

First-Day-of-Winter Doldrums

When the shortest day of the year begins to feel as if it were the longest day, it's time to find an antidote to my mood's doldrums. This is the kind of time when I do best with mindless activities. If I had more energy, house cleaning might come to mind, but this time, I'm looking for something a bit more subdued. And I found the perfect drudgery to mask such symptoms: cleaning up my trees' Ancestry hints.

Other people might pull out the newspaper and struggle over a crossword puzzle, or go to the closet and pull out a box of a thousand jigsaw puzzle pieces and hopelessly struggle to put the picture back together again. Geneaholics like me have it much simpler: flip open our laptop, snuggle into an easy chair, and pull up our trees on Ancestry.com.

If I pull up one of my trees and click on the "All Hints" category, I can mindlessly delete (in other words, "ignore") all the entries I already know I'd never use. Don't like including other subscribers' trees in my own work? Click "ignore" and poof! They're gone. Discover I'm not really appreciating the recent data dump of all those Newspaper.com obituary teasers with nothing more helpful than a couple unverifiable names? Ignore. Don't want to include all those member-submitted photos of "Nana's green room" in my own records? Ignore.

My largest tree on Ancestry.com currently has nearly fifty thousand hints, most of which are items I wouldn't even consider adding to my ancestors' profiles. Census records, marriage records, wills and death records, sure—but since I include all the collateral lines for each generation, I've got to stick to the basic verification tools. The nice frills have got to go. Even that photo of Nana's green room.

Of course, this is the type of drudgery we seldom like to tackle, so my to-do list here always builds up. But on days when I don't have the energy—or the inclination—to do anything productive, there is something therapeutically cathartic about a mindless click-to-ignore process like this. Sometimes, we just need to get some spring cleaning done—even if it isn't spring, yet.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Prescription of Writing

When life begins feeling rudderless, I've found grounding through an old tradition: journaling. Especially with the upheaval of recent family changes, it's been a comfort to preserve thoughts and feelings, no matter how fleeting—not just to record them, but to find the best way to communicate them.

As much as I love having found old letters and diaries related to my ancestors—and as much as I bemoan not having more than just a few slim notebooks of my own mother's scribblings—I have been entirely remiss in not keeping a more regular habit of journaling the thoughts and events in my own life. Assuming there is anyone looking back from their vantage point of the next century, those future great-grandchildren would find precious little to help them piece together the lives of my generation's cohort.

Taking pen in hand and applying those remembrances to paper is far different than blogging one's thoughts in digital format. While it is true that paper does disintegrate over time, online records are as fleeting as the electrical impulses that carry them—and as fickle as the ownership of their dot-com hosts. I've even read one author's musings that the tools we use in our writing influence the style of our output. Consider Hemingway's staccato delivery—both in terseness and manual typewriter production. The fluidity of longhand expression on a writing pad may do more for the psychology resident in the prose than we think.

And so, I find a prescription for writing—the old fashioned way, in my journal—to be a habit I'd be happy to reacquaint myself with at this juncture in life. After all, it seems quite disconcerting to realize that, but for one lone cousin, that generation in our family—and all their memories—is all but gone for good. To be sure, writing about them won't bring them back, but it will go a long way toward enabling the next generation to pass along their remembrance to our family's future generations.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Why we Need Memories

Five days before I got the phone call, my older sister most likely had her deceased husband on her mind. As she has done every year since his passing six years ago, she likely told everyone who would listen how much she missed her beloved Frank. And why not? He was her everything.

Not that there weren't any others. My sister had a large family of devoted children who loved her dearly—and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren who returned that radiant love.

But on this day of the phone call, she no longer had to recall how very lonely she was.

Even though some phone calls are not unexpected, they still can be difficult to comprehend. Or accept. It's hard to acknowledge that someone is gone—irrevocably so. Perhaps that's why it is so helpful to remember those many stories of life, rather than to be left staring at a gaping emptiness.

And so, I turn from sharing stories here of relatives long gone to take some time away to reflect on someone who has, so recently, gone to join them.

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 FamilySearch.org.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Seeking More Virginia Ancestors

In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies the county holding the secrets to the true identity of my third great-grandfather Ozey Broyles' mother. I've always had her maiden name listed as Frances Reed. And I would have been satisfied at that, until these handy new online services have been sending me breathless announcements about how they've "solved" my mystery DNA matches with other Broyles descendants. Their secret: Ozey Broyles' mother's name wasn't Frances Reed; it was Nancy Davis.

Imagine my surprise. Ozey's dad—who I always had thought was named Aaron Broyles—was nearly a lifelong resident of Anderson County, South Carolina. True, he was born in Culpeper County, Virginia—that beautifully-situated historic land once surveyed by the likes of George Washington. But while Aaron's dad (Adam Broyles) may have lived for a time in Washington County, Tennessee, Aaron raised his own family in South Carolina.

So...would Aaron have found a bride in Tennessee? It is possible. But it is also possible that, considering the large Broyles family descending from the original immigrant family founders, there might have been more than one Aaron Broyles among the many cousins of that generation. There are, for instance, not one but two Find A Grave memorials for burials of men of that generation by the name of Aaron Broyles. Each was born in Culpeper County within a decade of the other—my Aaron in 1767, and the other Aaron in 1775.

What is encouraging to me is that my Aaron Broyles' memorial is accompanied by photographs of the headstones—both his and his wife's headstones. Though worn by the years, it is possible to see that Aaron's wife's name was listed as Frances. To complicate matters, the Find A Grave memorial for the other Aaron does not include any photographs—and that Aaron's wife's name was given as Lydia. Not my Frances. Not even the Nancy Davis that has been suggested by online "collections." Perhaps we are looking at three Aaron Broyleses.

With no digitized documents to help confirm which name is the right name for my Aaron's bride—or whether there was just one, instead of a scenario of an early death and second marriage—I'll need to rely on other verification for the early years of my Aaron Broyles. Since I'm not planning on traveling to Virginia any time soon, my next best option—as I've already catalogued in the case of my Boothe family stumbling block—is to see what can be found on that generation of my Broyles family at the Family Search Library in Salt Lake City. After all, I'll be there next January for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy—a mere block or so from that respected genealogical library. I can even ride there in chauffeured comfort after class is over, since SLIG provides chartered bus service to the library each evening.

Of course, I am not patient when it comes to waiting, so I'll be looking online for other resources in the meantime. And there is one I can think of, right away. Thought faulted for its acknowledged errors, it is a private manuscript which documents the genealogy of the entire Broyles line. I'm certainly willing to put it through its paces—cross checking its assertions against documentation which can be verified, of course—and I may as well see what can be found about these Aarons right now.

Why wait until January? I may as well start the process now. We'll take a look at the manuscript tomorrow, and discuss the second of my mystery ancestors from Virginia whom I hope to find by the time of my January research trip.  

Monday, December 16, 2019

Toolkits From the
Dawn of Internet Genealogy

What do you do when the typical go-to places for online genealogical research fail you? Why, you fearlessly strike out with your trusty search engine—and end up, umpteen pages beyond the first hits, finding those websites of yesteryear which used to be the mainstay of early family history buffs.

Remember USGenWeb? In seeking what could be found about a now-nonexistent Virginia county, that's the best LinkPendium could do for me. Though the USGenWeb archives for Nansemond County have been updated within the past month, most of the findings amounted to posts from hopeful researchers seeking to connect with others as equally stumped as they.

Thankfully, the undaunted search engine led me to other resources. To help with maps, VirginiaPlaces provided a couple, along with a brief overview of the county's formation timeline. Unfortunately, though, the maps were both for different portions of the Lower Parish—come to find out, the Boothe families I've been researching lived in the Upper Parish.

When in doubt, though, one could always check the catalogs of genealogical holdings—or holdings of any library, for that matter. WorldCat is indispensable for that, and served up a generous portion of reading material for Nansemond County's history—including, to my surprise, an entry for the "workbooklet" of the very researcher I had mentioned contacting years ago on the Boothe story, which I found in a more extended search at WorldCat for Nansemond's general entries. Unfortunately, the WorldCat entry noted they were unable to get any information on libraries which held that item.

Besides the WorldCat listings for background information on Nansemond County, there is always the catalog at FamilySearch.org. I originally looked there (and at WorldCat) because I had found a listing for a book which seemed pertinent to my research question, supposedly now being sold online—I located a mention of my target surname in the index—but strangely, I could not locate any reference to that title in either library catalog.

But, oh, the other possibilities, once I learned to search for Nansemond County listings under Virginia's Suffolk County. Believe me, I'm making my list and checking it twice for the books and microfilm reels I'll be using when I arrive in Salt Lake City in mid-January.

It already looks like I'll be quite busy with the items I've already found—let alone any more I discover between now and then. Top of my list will include any records for both personal property tax and real estate tax for the years since my second great-grandfather William Alexander Boothe attained majority age until his likely move to Tennessee by 1850. If the family stories about the reason behind his leaving Virginia are accurate, surely that will have scattered a paper trail for me to follow back to the place of his own roots.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Counting the Connections

It took a recent obituary to get me back to work on my mother-in-law's family tree. She—child of an isolated, coal-mining county where everyone, seemingly, is related to everyone else—never fails to amaze me with the number of connections her distant cousins all have to each other. While hers is not a case of true endogamy, I like to call it "endogamy lite." There are nearly that many connections.

And so, when one unfortunate distant cousin closes his eyes for the last time, his obituary reads like a Who's Who of family relations. That means, for today's biweekly count of my research progress, her tree did not stand stock still as at other times. The departed relative and his many cousins led me to one hint after another. Seventy-three new names' worth of hints, actually. And my mother-in-law's tree count has risen to 17,267 documented names.

That, unfortunately, triggered another research task: the culling of duplicate entries. You see, when I add a new name, I don't just transcribe the data from documents onto my tree. Each name presents further connections—names of now-deceased parents, living (and now married) siblings, and descendants leading me to another generation. But each time I add another name in this intermarried county, I stumble upon relatives of other kin already in the tree. Which leads me to yet another batch of hints and documents.

While I'm working my way up from the present generation, there is another dynamic at work. One of my research goals, in the face of DNA matches I can't figure out, is to create a "descendants of" chart of the earliest ancestors of my mother-in-law. As you can imagine, at some point, the work backwards in time from the current generation crosses over an already-completed line from the "descendants of" project. And I end up with duplicate entries in my tree.

That is what happened this past week with that discovery of the distant cousin's obituary. Knowing it was time to do another count, I couldn't just let those duplicates sit there, inflating the count and masking my true level of progress. So what did I have to take time to do? Eliminate all those duplicate entries.

Meanwhile, the date of my colonial Virginia class at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy is rapidly closing in on me. I have much to do to spruce up my own mother's tree—the one that leads me to those colonial candidates for research this coming January. I've been working on my Boothe line in Nansemond County, Virginia, but the progress has been slow. Right now, I have 20,244 in my mother's tree, an increase of 184 over the past two weeks. Nice, but not quite as fast as I had hoped. These family lines with messy secrets impede research progress, though I have to admit, they lead to fascinating reading...if I can find the right tell-all documents.

As has happened for far too many weeks than I care to think about, both my father's and my father-in-law's trees have suffered no research progress in the past two weeks. My dad's tree has been stuck at 654 names for the past two months, and my father-in-law's tree has been at 1,563 for the same amount of time. Maybe next February, when I return from SLIG and another research trip, they can both have their time in the sun. Hopefully by then, I'll have received some helpful clues from holiday gifts of DNA tests, and can add a few names via collaboration with cousins I never before knew.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Fox? Hen House? Wait!

I've done a lot of thinking this week, ever since the news broke on Monday about genetic genealogy database service GEDmatch.com being acquired by Verogen, Inc. Verogen, supplying their global customer base with high tech products designed to deliver "biometric based human identification," hopes to engage the GEDmatch support base in a "conversation" about how they will "enable the operational forensic laboratory" to participate in these new developments in genetics.

To dispel any alarm among those in their newly acquired customer base, Verogen spokespersons have been quick to assure GEDmatch, as an NBC report headline read the next day, of their "vows to fight police search warrants"—the very issue rankling privacy rights advocates among current (and now former) GEDmatch users.

But what need is there to "fight police search warrants" for a company designed specifically to serve forensic labs? After all, according to their own website, Verogen is "uniquely positioned to support forensic labs." They seek to "unlock the true potential of forensic genomics."

True, privacy comes in more forms than just one. Early yesterday morning, on their official Facebook page, the new GEDmatch discussed the issue of users reporting previous matches now missing from their accounts. The new GEDmatch response:
We are obligated to adhere to the various privacy policies in force in the different countries where GEDmatch users reside. As such, data of certain users who have not yet granted permission for their information to be transferred to Verogen is not visible on the site at this time. As they grant permission, these matches will be restored.

That, perhaps, includes all the GEDmatch users who have not yet signed in to the site to indicate their response to the updated terms of service. And that may leave me, as well, as one of those invisible participants, as I have not yet decided whether the tools afforded by this website are now worth the cost to play this new game.

Much appreciated, in this week of pondering such news, is the analysis provided by The DNA Geek, Leah Larkin, Ph.D. She first reminds us that Verogen is a company which "focuses specifically on machinery and lab supplies for law enforcement" and is a bio-tech company which was a recent spin-off from Illumina.

While Dr. Larkin is "cautiously optimistic" about how the new owners of GEDmatch will respect user consents regarding their private data, she is not blind to the potential for a new and improved GEDmatch to be seen as "quite the cash cow" for Verogen. And she has publicly stated that she has deleted her own DNA records from the website, as of last May.

And here we were, concerned about how the response to one overly-broad search warrant granted law enforcement access to go riffling through the raw data representing over one million DNA profiles already uploaded to the site. Who's watching this hen house now?   

Friday, December 13, 2019

Getting the Bird's Eye Tour

In order to comprehend the lay of the genealogical land, so to speak, of my Boothe ancestors in Nansemond County—if, that is, Nansemond County was the place in Virginia where my second great-grandfather William Alexander Boothe originated—we need to get an overview of all the Boothe families living there when "Alexander" last appeared on the census. That means going back to 1840 to begin our survey, a task I began discussing yesterday.

I've already outlined the Boothe heads of household for 1840 Nansemond County—Alexander nearby Nathaniel and Andrew, then Robert and Henry next to each other, plus Kinchen—so it would help to see whether any of these names showed up in the subsequent enumeration. Of course, we already know that widower Alexander left for Tennessee before 1850, but it turns out all these other Boothe men remained in their home county.

Here's how the households appeared in 1850. Keep in mind, this was the first census year which included names for everyone living in the same household, but it did not include the stated relationships—that additional detail wouldn't appear on census records until 1880. Still, we can infer from what we see—what I like to think of as an educated guess. And since we've already seen indications that Alexander was likely born around 1812 in Virginia, this may reveal some hints as to possible relationships between each of these Boothe men, as we work our way toward tracing each of their family trees.

First in the lineup, of course, was Nathaniel Boothe, the one we spotted just four lines after Alexander's entry in the 1840 census. Nathaniel was born around 1790, in Virginia, and was a farmer with property worth three thousand dollars in 1850. His household for that census included Mary, five years younger than he, and Joseph, born 1832 and likely his son.

The next Boothe entry in the 1850 census was for Andrew, whose age indicated he was likely born around 1800, also in Virginia. In Andrew's family were Priscilla, born 1805, plus two likely daughters, fifteen year old Amelia and five year old Elizabeth.

Kinchen Boothe, another resident of Nansemond County, was older than all the previous men, having been born around 1782, also in Virginia. In his household were Mary, born 1790, plus two likely adult sons, thirty year old Abram and twenty three year old Henry.

Not to be confused with that Henry was another Henry Boothe—in later years, differentiating himself by the addition of an initial "D"—who was born in 1809. This Henry's household included two women named Mary. One, I suspect, was his second wife, for she was born about 1822, only fourteen years before the birth of Henry's likely daughter, also named Mary. Taking a sneak peek ahead, I spotted a marriage index indicating that the younger Mary gave, for her mother's name, Amelia, not Mary, suggesting the possible identity of Henry D. Boothe's first wife.

Right next to Henry's entry in the 1840 census had been that of Robert. In the 1850 census, we find that Robert was born about 1779, and was listed as the property owner of a parcel valued at $500. In his household was a woman born one year after Robert, whose name was given as Honor Beasely. As there was no apparent wife in this household, I suspect Honor was Robert's sister. The third member of this household was a thirty six year old man named Daniel Boothe, possibly Robert's son.

Putting all these Boothe men (and neighbors) in age order from oldest to youngest would give us, first Robert, then Kinchen, and afterwards Nathaniel, Andrew, Henry, then Alexander. With the years of birth spanning from 1779 through 1812, it is doubtful that these would all be brothers. The proximity of living quarters might suggest that Henry would be the son of Robert, or that Alexander might be the son of nearby Nathaniel. But I'm not quite prepared to make such claims just yet. There is this small matter of documentation, you see.

And that's just the gist of my dilemma: documentation. Wars, fires, and the like, you know. There are, however, some old genealogies of area families that have been published, it seems. And we all know how error-prone those can be, even though they were printed and bound up in book form. Still, it might provide some guidance to take a look and see what records others might have found—or privately preserved, despite those public, courthouse fires.

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! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A Boothe Nearby

A good lesson to keep in mind, when researching Southern lines, is the possibility that nearby families sporting the same surname may indeed be related. Recalling this lesson from my Southern Research class at SLIG last year may actually reveal over-reaching hopefulness on my part, but I thought I'd give it a try in this current research challenge. After all, I know nothing about who the parents of William Alexander Boothe might have been. All I know is that my second great-grandfather came from Nansemond County, Virginia.

Finding Alexander in the 1840 census in Nansemond County was an encouraging start. Even more so, when I flipped the page from his entry and discovered, four lines later, an entry for another Boothe family. This one was for the household of a man named Nathaniel Boothe, who was somewhere between the ages of forty and fifty. If closer to fifty, for my William Alexander Boothe, born in 1812, that could place his neighbor at precisely the perfect age to be—possibly—his father. Not only that, but father of an oldest son.

There were other people in this household of Nathaniel Boothe, of course. Youngest was a possible son between the ages of five and nine. Then, too, there was the expected female in this family, as well—a woman under the age of fifty, like Nathaniel, himself. Even more interesting was that there was a second woman in the household, aged about twenty years older than both Nathaniel and his assumed wife.

Whether these were the right people to represent William Alexander Boothe's parents is hard to say, just from this one census record. After all, just because the two entries are separated by only four lines on the document doesn't necessarily mean that the two Boothe households lived close to each other. It is impossible now to determine the route the enumerator might have taken in completing his duties in 1840.

It would be a good idea to search through the 1840 census for this county to see if there were any other families by the same surname—which I will have no problem doing, since the population of that now-extinct county was under eleven thousand in 1840 and the census entries were one line per head of household. Not exactly an easy task, but not daunting, either.

In addition to slogging through the 1840 census for Nansemond County, though, I've taken a look through other available resources. It turns out that there are a number of other places where a few things can be found about the various Boothe families of the area. Virginia may have suffered fires and wars, but there apparently are some other records available, after all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

"Oh, I Heard That One, Too"

Vanquishing those persistent family legends may become one of my goals as I work my way through my many family lines leading back to Virginia. The Booth surname, in particular, presents a family story which not only refuses to die, but has become so widespread that it may never be snuffed out.

Just thinking of the surname Booth may prompt you to recall one southern sympathizer of infamy who possessed that very name: John Wilkes Booth. Yes, the man at the center of the biggest man-hunt to date in 1865 Washington, D.C., may have been reported shot and killed, but the story still lives that the man who died at the hands of a Union sharpshooter may not have been John Wilkes Booth, after all. And in that bait and switch, in the conflagration of the moment, the real John Wilkes Booth supposedly escaped to the South and lived out his days at a horse ranch in Texas.

That horse ranch, supposedly, was none other than the property of Quinton Boothe, eldest son of William Alexander Boothe, my second great-grandfather. While it is true that Quinton Boothe moved to Texas after the Civil War, and while he did end up with a fair amount of property there, when I first heard that story as a child, I chalked it up to my maternal grandfather telling one of his fabulous, unbelievable stories. One could never be sure, with him, whether he was pulling the leg of his listeners for fun, or actually detailing a factual—though incredible—report.

Fast-forward to the age of the Internet and the birth of a new kind of family history research: online genealogy forums. I'd run into people on these forums who also were researching the Boothe/Booth line and, eventually, someone I never met would recount that very story of the incredible escape of John Wilkes Booth. We'd get into a group conversation about the tale, and the typical response would be, "Oh, I heard that one, too."

But...everyone hearing it? That's quite the persistent family legend for people so distantly related to have all heard the same thing.

The messiest part of the story, however, was one added detail: that the reason the assassin escaped to that particular location was that William Alexander Boothe's family was related to him.

Try as I might, I have not been able to find documentation demonstrating any such connection. Of course, you might already have assumed that outcome, and I wouldn't blame you—but you can't fault me for trying to demonstrate by evidence whether the vote is yay or nay about that claim. After all, the story is so persistent that I even got a phone call, a few years ago, from someone who was considering attempting legal procedures to exhume the supposed burial location for purposes of DNA testing.

That attempt has been tried before—even the nameless author of the blurb attached to John Wilkes Booth's Find A Grave memorial noted that "modern day legal efforts to exhume the remains for DNA testing and identification were eventually rejected."

Whether that question will ever be tested and put to rest is beyond the scope of my own family history—despite having actually found someone who contorted William Alexander Boothe's family tree on one online service to place him as brother of John Wilkes Booth and son of Junius Brutus Booth. What I can move towards, though, is to encourage male descendants of my William Alexander Boothe to participate in Y-DNA testing, especially joining the Booth DNA project at Family Tree DNA.

Though I don't yet know who my Alexander's father might have been, it turns out that, despite the loss of many early records in his native Nansemond County, Virginia, the very 1840 census enumeration in which I found his record puts his name only a few entries away from another man of the same surname. It is quite possible that, tracing a descendancy chart for the other Boothe families in Nansemond County, we could put together a project to test descendants of the various Boothe lines in that county to see which ones, if any, belong to the same line.

The big "if" in that case all depends on who that other Boothe man in Nansemond was—and if he had any sons...who had sons...who had sons...

Monday, December 9, 2019

Pursuing a Family Secret

Has your genealogical research ever been complicated by a family legend? I know mine has—and, as it turns out, the legend which complicates the quest to find my Boothe family's origin is a story spread far and wide among my distant cousins. People I don't even know have told me, "Oh, I heard that story, too."

Since I'm in a research mode to focus on my roots leading back to Virginia—after all, in five weeks, I'll be taking a course in colonial Virginia research at SLIG—I figured I may as well face the facts now and see if I can sort them into a logical stack of notes. So, this week, I'll start that process with my Boothe line.

William Alexander Boothe—"Alexander"—my great-great grandfather, is easily discoverable in east Tennessee, where my maternal grandfather grew up. From the time Alexander married my second great-grandmother, Rachel T. Riley, on September 12, 1854, he spent the remainder of his days in Washington County. Like clockwork, I could find his large family's entry in each subsequent census, up until the time of his death in 1895.

But that first census record after Alexander and Rachel were married gives a clue to a life before this marriage. The oldest child in the Boothe household in the 1860 census—David—shows an age pre-dating the marriage joining the two adults in the family. Sure enough, checking the previous census record for Alexander and David, a household of three males shows us a father and two (likely) sons: David and an older brother named Quinton.

Furthermore, both census records show us that William Alexander Boothe was born in Virginia, not Tennessee. But where?

That is the point at which I—and several other distant cousins researching the same line—lose the paper trail. Thankfully, over the years, I've had the privilege of connecting with these distant cousins about our mutual research problem, and we've shared our notes regarding this puzzle. One avid researcher, decades ago, told me he couldn't find much documentation, but he had traveled from Tennessee to Virginia to follow the paper trail at the very earliest times of online genealogical resources.

His conclusion: William Alexander Boothe originated in a county in Virginia called Nansemond. More tantalizing, this researcher divulged his discoveries about just why Alexander might have left home in Virginia to move his two young sons to Tennessee: after the death of his wife, he might have gotten himself into some financial trouble, and the best way to resolve his money woes might have been to skip town.

Of course, that isn't the only family legend tied to this Boothe surname, but taken by itself, it was a lead that might easily be followed up on. Sure enough, there was an Alexander Boothe at the very bottom of one page of the 1840 census for Nansemond County. Even better, his household included a young son of about the same age as our Alexander's oldest son, Quinton, who was born about 1838. It would just be a matter of going through property and tax records of that decade to see what might have prompted our Alex to make a hasty departure across the state line.

Simple enough, right? Only problem: there is no such place as Nansemond County in Virginia—not any more, that is. It is an extinct county. Though the records were shifted to the independent city courthouse in Suffolk, even finding them there would not solve my research dilemma, as the earliest records date back to the 1850s for births, marriages and deaths—and the late 1860s for land and probate records.

Besides that, you know the story for many of those southern jurisdictions: what was there to help with research inevitably was destroyed in a fire, some time in the county's past history. Sure enough, that was indeed what happened to older records such as the 1810 census, which might have shown us Alexander's possible father's household just before his 1812 birth; Nansemond was among eighteen Virginia counties for which such a loss occurred.

Still, it is worth the time to take a look at what can be discovered about any possible Boothe family members living in the former Nansemond County. As it turns out, there are several resources which can be accessed, online—and there is no time like the present to start up my to-do list for locating books and microfilm to consult, once I get to Salt Lake City for that week-long training session next January. After all, I have another family legend to vanquish while I'm in the neighborhood.

Above: Entry of Alexander Boothe's name in the 1840 census for Nansemond County, Virginia, found courtesy of Ancestry.com.   

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Imperative of Sharing Family Stories

A family story—even a family legend—is a wisp of a trail pointing back to the stuff we are made of. That, of course, signals just who we are. Our genes carry powerful messages from generation to generation, and we, recipients of that DNA, express the messages sent us by our ancestors in so many ways.

It's not just a matter of nature. We have nurture to thank for much of our heritage, as well. But the two, intertwined—nature and nurture—make a package deal out of the inheritance we've received from our elders.

Even though we might—as have so many others in our situation—bemoan the fact that we never stopped to think about asking grandparents and great-aunts and -uncles about their ancestors, we can be fairly sure that what we think, how we feel, how we express ourselves or tackle our day-to-day problems is our forebears writ large in our everyday existence.

Yet, much like the adoptee searching for his roots, when we don't have literal stories to couple with those natural impulses, we feel that detached sense of being unhinged from our past. It is when we have the stories to grab onto, to handle, that we can better see ourselves as part of a continuum of generations, rather than that detached individual.

Research has, of course, found a way to document such psychological underpinnings. I knew that stuff already, of course—ever since Bruce Feiler's column broached the subject in The New York Times in 2013—but thanks to a recent post in blogger John D. Reid's Anglo-Celtic Connections, I now have a new article to share concerning the same point, spun off of another article which came complete with links to all those research papers I had already read.

The take-home from all this is simple: when we share our family's stories—better yet, pass them down through the ages—we help build resilience and a sense of connectedness in our younger generations. But what I love about the article John Reid found is that it puts a new spin on the task of "interviewing" our elders: instead of serving as chatty talk-show host fronting a commercially-laced interview process, Tara Calishain heads to current tech resources such as YouTube and Spotify with an eye to finding conversation starters as sure-fire prompts for reminiscing. An excellent idea, resource, and way to switch the routine up from "tell us about when you weren't so old" to using events, media and music from before their time to say to our relatives, "You were too young for this, but tell me what it was like for you."

There is something so valuable, so irreplaceable about sharing our family's stories. Whether we tell those tales while sitting around the dinner table, or after opening gifts during the holidays, or on a long drive to a family vacation destination—not to mention, in a blog post which will remain findable online for years afterwards—it doesn't matter: we are giving a gift which can resonate in the lives of descendants (as well as distant cousins) we've yet to meet.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Now Indexing:
More NYC Immigration Records

It's time to add a little confetti to my holiday calendar—and take care of a monthly giving-back goal before that holiday calendar gets too hectic. (Yes, for those who complete an indexing project at FamilySearch.org, the website showers electronic confetti from top to bottom of your computer screen.)

I like to do my tiny bit, in thanks for all the help that's come my way over the years, by indexing a couple sets of records every month at FamilySearch.org. Indexing—the process of turning digitized pictures of historical documents into searchable records—does not take long, once you've read up on a few tips and instructions, and it gives the satisfaction of being of help to others. After all, we all enjoy the comparative exponential search speed, post-Internet compared to pre-Internet. The indexing process makes it possible for more records to be directly searched (versus browsed) by people looking to verify their ancestors' stories.

Since my family came to North America through the port of New York City—and likely completed some of the same forms I'm indexing today—I like to work on that record set when I do my volunteer work for FamilySearch.org. I love seeing the wide variety of situations, smashed into bureaucratic constriction, and can only imagine the stories those forms preserved.

This time, I spotted an immigrant from Finland who somehow found true love with an immigrant from Italy—about as far apart on the continent, and as varied in physical surroundings, as one can get. I also noticed an Irish immigrant who gave, for her place of birth, a tongue-twisting name of a town which surely will be a gift to any of her descendants, if they come seeking traces of her path.

If only those future researchers could share their stories of finding these documents online. What fun it would be to see the expressions on the faces of those who have, at long last, followed the paper trail back one step farther than they ever had, before. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Time to Get to Work

Today may be the springboard into another weekend—another weekend leading up to the holidays, no less—but that doesn't signal any excuses to kick back and forsake those research goals. This coming Sunday leaves only five weeks until I fly to the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. It's time to get all my Virginian ancestors organized for a great research opportunity. After all, my SLIG treat is to attend what may be Barbara Vines Little's last class on Virginia research there.

It would be so much easier if I could say I have one ancestral line to trace through to colonial Virginia. That, of course, turns out to be a far simpler task than I'd hoped. It turns out I have quite a few roots leading back to The Old Dominion—some of those ancestors taking the back roads, and not being particularly helpful in leaving clues as to the trail they took.

In planning out my own research journey (metaphorically speaking, of course; I'm not about to take any road trips before Christmas), I'll be taking the next week to scope out the lay of the land for several ancestral lines, as well as take time to introduce and review each family's migratory situation. I know, for instance, where these families came from, and where they eventually ended up—it's just their time while staying in Virginia that defies documentation.

In order to know where we're going with our research, it helps to know what we already have in hand—an inventory, of sorts, of the scattered bits and pieces already gathered about each of several ancestral families. From that inventory, hopefully, we can launch out into fresh research directions and lay out where else we can obtain records on the missing data for each generation.

Besides helping to orient this researcher in preparation for class at SLIG, there's another reason for organizing this inventory. After all, I will be spending a week a mere block away from one of the largest genealogical libraries in the continent. I may not be able to find what I'm seeking on these Virginia families online, but I may be able to identify resources in Salt Lake City which will help answer some research questions. In a library that size, it's always better to gather that go-to resource list before arriving in town. I may have a week ahead of me, but I don't have a moment to lose!
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