Friday, May 15, 2020

How Many Trees Does it Take?

In the course of researching a family's ancestry, it may not be unusual to build more than one family tree. In some cases—such as adoptions or undocumented paternity—a researcher may build many more than one tree. Most will be test cases, of course, but in order to line up an organized way to examine hypotheses, it helps to use the format we genealogists have become most comfortable with visualizing: the pedigree chart.

Thus, in the case of the William F. Riley who showed up again in the same county he had left as a young married man—Washington County, Tennessee—I need to confirm that we do, indeed, have the right man. It is quite possible that there were more than one man of that age in the same county, so we take the clues we've already gained, and work with those to move forward in answering our questions.

In our case, the William F. Riley who showed up at the Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in that same Washington County might have been the same as the man we'd already traced from his Tennessee home to a new residence in Indiana, where he raised his family. Or, he might have been an entirely different person. The records at the Home, however, provided names of two women who were to be notified at his death—and they apparently weren't the same as his "widow and daughter" who were also noted in the record, without any names provided. Those two were called Mary M. Riley and Bettie Taylor, and the record specifically stated that each of them lived in "Jonesboro"—the old spelling once used for the name of the county seat, Jonesborough.

Of those two women, I could only find a census entry from the preceding enumeration in 1900 for one of them: Bettie Taylor, wife of Samuel D. Taylor. What we can glean from that record about Bettie's identity was that she was born in September of 1871, and that she had been married for eleven years.

The difficulty with this search for connections to verify the identity of our William F. Riley is that we already know that he had a daughter, named Mary, who had evidently been implicated in a paternity suit, back in 1871. The only record I could find of that was when I accidentally stumbled upon a transcribed article posted at by another subscriber. I can't access the actual news article, nor have I yet been able to get a copy of any other reports or court records on this case. However, one would presume that, had suit been brought against the alleged father of the child of this unmarried woman at the time of this March 1871 newspaper report, the child's birth might have been imminent.

One wonders what the usual response was for a family who discovered their unmarried teenaged daughter was about to give birth. In different time periods, we've heard of "shotgun weddings," or shipping the "unwed mother" off to a remote location to give birth (and then releasing the child for adoption). In other time periods, the mother might have been made to raise the child by herself, poverty-stricken. In yet other times, perhaps the grandparents would have taken in the grandchild and raised him or her as their own.

Mary's grandparents, of course, would have been back in Tennessee. Could this Bettie Taylor have been Mary's firstborn child, sent to Tennessee to be raised by her grandparents? Thus, the need to build a tree for this Bettie who married Samuel D. Taylor.

Thankfully, it took little effort to assemble enough documentation to reach a conclusion. First of all, though Bettie reported in 1900 that she had been born in Tennessee, that issue could easily have been answered by the possibility that her mother simply traveled to that state of her grandparents to give birth, away from prying eyes of gossips back in her hometown.

But what else can we find on this Bettie? For one thing, her burial information—gleaned from the Find A Grave entry from a cemetery which was indeed in Jonesborough—showed it was more likely that she was born in 1870. Furthermore, her death certificate indicated not only the exact date of her birth—September 18, 1870—but revealed that her parents' names were Elijah Leach and Louise "Tayler." Further confirming that 1900 census report of eleven years of marriage, an 1889 Washington County marriage register confirmed a marriage license was issued to S. D. Taylor to wed Miss Bettie Leach.

If that was the only Bettie Taylor in Washington County at the time of William F. Riley's 1906 death, we're left with an unclear signal as to why it was so important that she be notified of his passing—if, of course, we have both the right Bettie Taylor and William F. Riley. Ascertaining details any more closely may require either traveling to Tennessee to review documents in person or finding another way to access original records, as they aren't provided online.

In the meantime—since not too many people are traveling at the moment—we do have one other recourse: to see what can be discovered concerning the hapless gentleman whose name had been besmirched by legal action, back in Putnam County, Indiana.   

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