When searching for ancestors, do you ever look up the wrong person?
I realize that is an odd question. Of course we all make mistakes. But what I mean is, do you ever deliberately look up the wrong person in your search for an elusive ancestor?
Right now, I'm stuck in my pursuit of the parents of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll Gordon. It seems reasonable that the unsubstantiated claims in several publicly posted family trees could be right when they affirm that Mary Carroll's father was a man in Monongalia County named Anthony Carroll, and that her mother was named Temperance Dunaway. After all, Anthony's own will provides for a daughter by the name of Polly Gorden, who could well have been our Mary.
But what of our discoveries last week, in which a hundred year old history book from a nearby county—Preston County, now in West Virginia—provides another set of stories? These, too, were unsubstantiated, but could well have originated from, say, a family Bible's records, or stories passed down the generations in another branch of the Carroll family. After all, those passages were included in the biographies of two Preston County men: Hardin Duvall Carroll, and his father, James H. Carroll.
It was in that very same biographical entry that we found the back story on our Anthony Carroll: that, arriving from England, he settled first in Annapolis, then settled in that frontier region of what eventually became Monongalia County. It was also that same narrative which produced the erroneous date of Anthony Carroll's death as 1832, when we can see from the court reports that his will was filed in February of 1830.
With nagging doubts swirling in my mind, it might seem reasonable to be solely focused on verifiable facts. Perhaps my weakness for the Bright Shiny Objects of rabbit trails has overcome me once again, but I couldn't help notice some parallel details in a family history of another Anthony Carroll.
The discovery came about like this: I wondered what the possibility would be of finding documents I needed if I shifted my search to another provider. I've done this quite a bit, composing a search query on a different website in hopes the terms would trigger different results at other companies. So I switched from searching at Ancestry.com, and moved to FamilySearch.org. There, I tried looking for marriage records for, first, Anthony Carroll and a wife named, simply, Temperance—and then, secondly, a search for his marriage to someone with a surname Walls.
This search attempt didn't produce anything specific to help my speculation that the second James mentioned in his will—James Walls—was son of Anthony's supposed fourth wife. However, I did spot something of interest: records concerning a different Anthony Carroll.
The time frames were too far off to have belonged to our Anthony Carroll, of course. And this one lived in Preston County, not Monongalia County. But I found it a curious discovery that this Anthony happened to have, for his wife, a woman named Temperance.
This clearly could not have been our Anthony, as the search result I just mentioned was for the 1850 census—long after our Anthony was gone. But could the stories about the two Anthonys have been telescoped to meld into one family saga? This younger Anthony, after all, was likely son of the original Anthony's son James Carroll.
In pursuit of answers triggered by this new discovery, I admit the research path will either lead me (hopefully) to further information on our Anthony Carroll, or I will learn far more than I care to know about someone else's family. Still, the chance to benefit my own research is worth the risk, and I'll spend some more time learning about this other Anthony Carroll's family.
In the meantime, there is one other task yet to complete: following the trail of the heir of Anthony Carroll named James Walls.