Friday, April 16, 2021

"I've Heard That Story Before"


Stories about our ancestors, repeated often enough, sometimes take on the aura of truth. I'm sure everyone has them: those questionable recitations of the ancestral "Indian princess" or the immigration saga of "there were three brothers..."

Sometimes, though, those stories turn out to be true, when taken at face value and researched, using proper techniques to evaluate what we find in source documents.

The story I'm going to share today lies somewhere in the middle: not too outrageous, and not too bland—but hardly can I say it is "just right" and justify swallowing the tale whole. Let's just say I'll consider it a possibility, if only because I've run across it in more places than one.

The main strike against this story is owing to its source: one of those biographical history books so much in vogue in small-town America at the turn of the century—the nineteenth to twentieth century, that is. I just re-discovered it, courtesy of a suggestion sent by a reader last week—thank you, Kathy, for pointing it out!

While those History of tomes may have their weak points, like any family legend, we should pay some heed to them, in case the story leads us further toward the truth of the matter. But you'll see how, in its very wording, the one particular entry on our Anthony Carroll causes me some doubt—even though I've run across this same story in other reports.

Here's how A History of Preston County, West Virginia began their description of that man who may have been the father of Mary Carroll Gordon, my mother-in-law's third great grandmother.

Anthony Carroll was a remarkable man. When ninety six years old, he walked from Morgantown to Kingwood one day, and walked back a few days later.

Let's pause this spin machine for a moment to realize exactly what a feat that might have been. The best driving route, today, from Morgantown in Monongalia County to Preston County's county seat, Kingwood, covers twenty one miles through hilly West Virginia terrain.

I suppose it is not impossible to cover twenty one miles in a day's walk. After all, there are many joggers who can run that distance. But at ninety six years of age? Perhaps that was remarkable. 

It was, however, the line immediately following that tale which has me concerned about overall veracity. In one way, it sounds about as believable as this initial report about the man. On the other hand, if the first can be a true report, and the second followed suit, then we may have found some usable information to assist us in determining the source of that fourth person listed in Anthony Carroll's will as "my children."

According to A History of Preston County, Anthony Carroll was married four times. Granted, any man living beyond ninety six years of age could have outlived more than one wife, especially during that era and nestled into those frontier hills.

The book provides a vague catalog of those four wives of Anthony Carroll. The first had her name given only as "a Miss Donaway, whom he married in England." From this union, the two descendants named were James and Mary—a fortunate discovery for me, indeed, if it was true and if I can locate any record documenting such a connection.

The one promising clue is that the book includes a comment that from this Mary descended an "Hon. William Gorden Worley." Since I've been a researcher of the Gordon line now for decades, I can vouch for that statement. However, the book continues with the assertion that Mary married William Gordon and "moved to Ohio." Marrying William Gordon, yes. But though William Gordon did indeed move to Ohio, Mary unfortunately never made it that far. But what would the editors of this 1914 history book know about that?

From that point, the book mentions a second wife of Anthony Carroll who "died not long after marriage." Though there were no children from that wife, Anthony apparently married again, to a "Miss Rose Hall" who was attributed as the mother of Margaret, the future wife of Godfrey Guseman.

It is the fourth wife, though, who will prove most interesting to us—provided the reports in A History of Preston County turn out to be supported by documentation. Although all the writer states is that there was "no issue from this marriage," it is easy to see why the name given for this fourth wife could be helpful to us: she was mentioned only as "a Mrs. Walls."

Pinning dates on any of these nuptial events has been challenging, simply because I don't yet have a timeline of when Anthony arrived in Monongalia County—not to mention, marriage records in Monongalia County before 1796 were lost in a fire. It would be far better for me if all of Anthony's four marriages occurred elsewhere.

The key now is to discover whether the "Mrs. Walls" of the Preston County book happened to be one and the same as the "Temperance Carrell" of Anthony's will. If so, then it must have been her son who became the fourth "child" named in Anthony's will as James Walls.

However, thanks to those crazy rabbit trails which wind in and out of the Carroll extended family lines—and considering the liberties taken in the spelling of those children's names—there may well be another candidate for the "James Walls" in Anthony Carroll's will. That, however, is a research adventure to save for another day.

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