Monday, April 27, 2020

Living the Life of the Rileys

Leave it to an unexplained DNA match to send me scurrying back to the ol' pedigree drawing board to check on connections. Now that there are so many tools available to help us link mystery cousins to the right branch in our family tree, I had to see if I could at least place this fellow test-taker on the right side of the tree. Using "Shared Matches" on, I managed to discover one thing about this person's unknown-to-me surname: it belonged to a branch on my maternal side which was sadly lacking in genealogical elbow grease.

True fact: some branches of our family trees are more equal than others—at least, more equally attended to. Apparently, I had neglected my due diligence on this particular branch, which likely explained why I didn't recognize this DNA cousin's surname. I had a long way to go before I could connect it to the more familiar names in my family's history. It was time to amend that research oversight.

Admittedly, I had a good excuse for what I neglected. While the research would have meant paying attention to the collateral lines of my second great-grandmother—admittedly, not that far a stretch—it was this same second great-grandmother's husband who had already given me ample research fits. She was the second wife of William Alexander Boothe, the widower who snuck out of town, somewhere in Virginia, to set up housekeeping with his two young sons in Tennessee, back before 1850. It wasn't until after he arrived in Washington County, Tennessee, that he gave any thought to finding an appropriate step-mother for his children.

That second wife came with a package of research problems of her own. Some other researchers who chased this same question long ago assured me her maiden name was one of either two possibilities, adding to my lack of confidence about proceeding with this ancestor chase. One researcher assured me this woman's father was likely involved in horse thievery and had escaped justice by crossing the state line—a story I wasn't entirely sure I could buy at that point, but, hey, there weren't enough online resources available twenty-plus years ago and this researcher lived closer to Tennessee than I did. But it did make a plausible excuse for why the family's name might have changed.

Fast forward to this year, and my decision to make amends for my research neglect. I had to revisit that branch of the family—a mere stub on the pedigree chart, having left off with my second great-grandmother's possible maiden name and that of her parents, according to her 1915 death certificate.

Keeping in mind that even duly-authorized government documents can indeed contain mistakes (such as her possible birth location listed as South Carolina)—as well as other gems, such as Rachel Boothe's occupation ("Old Lady")—I decided to take the maiden name provided on that government document and use it as a tentative hypothesis, so I could get to work on piecing together a plausible tree for her family.

That decision launched me into a multi-generational tour of a branch of the family I had never before encountered. Unlike those warm fuzzy family stories of local-boy-done-good, such as the Flowerland story we stumbled upon a while ago, some family histories include episodes that tempt us to sweep them under the carpet. But our families, if we look long and hard enough, will provide us with a wide variety of instances of the entire gamut of the human condition. We need to decide how to face up to that fact.

In this case, my second great-grandmother owed her existence to a couple known—at least in Tennessee—as William Riley and Cassandra Fincher. Where they really came from—and by what name folks there knew them—I can't say at this point. But I followed the trail of their descendants and discovered it certainly was capable of providing me with at least a few stories for my effort.  

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