Thursday, April 22, 2021

Collateral Damage


When the search for details on direct ancestral lines results in no leads whatsoever, one tactic is to look at what information can be found on the ancestor's siblings. Collateral lines are those family members who are not in one's direct line of descent from a given ancestor. The possibility is that, while documentation may be lacking in one direct line, something is sure to show up, once the researcher delves into those other lines.

Here I sit, stuck on the research sidelines, because after three weeks of searching, I have failed to produce any information connecting Mary Carroll Gordon to her parents—other than a mention of "Polly Gorden" in her possible father's will. True, the western outpost of colonial Virginia where her father chose to settle—the region soon to become Monongalia County, once the colonies revolted from British rule—was sparsely populated and not well equipped to fulfill the normal functions of an organized government (not to mention, be able to protect from the ravages of fire, which eventually destroyed their few records in 1796).

But if I couldn't find any further connection to Mary's previous generation, I had three other family members mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will for which to create a family tree and trace the next generation's records for wills, property and tax records, and other signs of their continued existence in Monongalia County.

So far, no luck.

To make matters even worse, I'm not yet convinced that I've located the right person for that supposed step-brother of the Carroll children, a man named in Anthony's will as James Walls. The other day, we discussed those research woes having to do with the uncertainty of spelling in those early records—was the name really Walls? Or could it have been Wales? Or Wall? Or even Wells, a surname which provided ample possibilities in the Mon County vicinity.

It was Wells which became the surname throwing me a curve. Remembering that Mary Carroll, once she was married to William Gordon—the Gordons being another family in the Monongalia County vicinity—had moved to Pennsylvania, I wondered whether there were any mentions of that surname claimed by Anthony Carroll's supposed stepson in the new region.

Turning to local historian Howard Leckey's book, The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families, what should I stumble upon but someone with almost the same name, who had married into the Gordon family. And had a son named James, as well. 

This did not bode well for any neatly packaged theories derived from collateral lines. Not only did I have a James Wells—a more likely surname than Walls—but I had someone with a demonstrated connection to another part of the extended family. Could it be that the transcription of Anthony Carroll's will included a misspelling of James' surname?

It was then that I realized there was something missing from the equation: a timeline for these collateral lines. With lack of documentation comes lack of dates. It would help to have such details more clearly defined, which means we'll need to look first at what dates we have for Mary Carroll Gordon and the others mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will—plus the James Wells who married into the extended Gordon family—before we can evaluate whether this discovery represents a viable possibility for the missing fourth heir of Anthony Carroll's "children."

So much for the idea of easily gleaning clues from those collateral lines. Before that technique can be of any use to us, we still need more information.


  1. I always regret it when I spend way too much time on questions that could have been answered easily with a timeline. I keep telling myself to start with a timeline, to make a timeline as I go along. But instead, I wait until an impossible circumstances jumps up in my face.

    1. So frustrating, isn't it?! In this case, there are not that many verifiable dates I can grab, given the lack of documentation so far. However, it is helpful that, using at least, the timeline is built right in, with every document added to an ancestor's profile page. I just wish I could be more confident about the few dates I've gleaned for the main characters in this family search.


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