Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Getting Lucky With Larkin


It is only with some lucky discoveries, thanks to DNA testing, that we can budge those previously immovable brick wall ancestors from their moorings. In my case, my second great-grandmother, Catherine Laws, may have had a sibling with an unusual name: Larkin. At least, that's what one of my closest Laws family DNA matches is showing me. Now to test out that possibility and see if it leads anywhere.

Let's see what we can find about Larkin Laws, the twenty three year old laborer in the household of William and Elizabeth Laws. At the time of the 1850 census, Larkin and Catherine and the rest of the Laws household were situated in Yancey County, North Carolina, and yet, before the next census, my Catherine had married a man in Washington County, Tennessee, by the name of Thomas Davis. How did that North Carolina girl end up in Tennessee? Tracing Larkin, as well as William and Elizabeth Laws, through subsequent enumerations helps quell my concerns about just how my second great-grandmother Catherine, from North Carolina, ended up marrying someone in Tennessee.

Following the Laws household to the 1860 census shows the shoemaker had moved to Carter County, Tennessee. While the location was in a different state from the Laws household's 1850 origin in North Carolina, checking a map shows the distance was not very far. Both counties border the state line, with Yancey County being slightly south of Carter County.

Fortunately, the elder Laws' occupation helps differentiate William Laws, and we can see, in 1860, that Larkin has followed his (likely) father's craft. The challenge in reviewing this 1860 census, though, is that ages don't advance by ten years from the previous census. Is that simply an indicator that ages weren't tracked as carefully in that region, or a sign that we've located the wrong family?

Names, compared with the previous census, seem to follow the pattern. Of course, by 1860, our Catherine would have removed to her own household with her husband Thomas Davis in nearby Washington County, Tennessee. Of the rest of the Laws grouping listed in 1850, all but Rebecca and John were accounted for in 1860—though some managed to age only five years in the interim, while others gained eight years. Only Wiley managed to complete a full ten years in the span between the two census records, a cause for some doubt about this research find.

When we move onward another ten years, we see several changes for Larkin's living situation. With that, I'm tempted to read between the lines, back at that 1860 census. Remember, the 1860 census did not include any explanation regarding relationship between members of a household; we need to infer what the connections might have been. As an example, for the presumed matriarch of the Laws household in the 1860 census, forty nine year old Elizabeth Laws, the youngest child was listed as a seven month old baby. While it is possible for that to have been Elizabeth's child, when we move to the 1870 census, I see a different scenario: the three youngest children from the 1860 census may actually have been the children of Elizabeth's eldest son, rather than her own.

The age gap from the next child up in that 1860 census—seventeen year old Wyley—to five year old Margaret also makes me wonder if Larkin might have been the father of children Margaret, two year old Elizabeth, and baby William. If so, those three youngest children might have lost their mother before 1860.

By 1862, Larkin Laws has taken a wife, a woman by the name of Matilda E. Oler of Greene County, Tennessee. The 1870 censusif we can believe that the listing for "Landon" Laws in Greene County actually refers to our Larkin—shows an interesting configuration. Though the couple married only eight years previously, their household now includes two teenagers by the names of Margaret and Elizabeth, who, like their father, had been born in North Carolina. The family is rounded out with two younger sons, Wylie and James, most likely children of both Larkin and Matilda.

Larkin Laws remains in Greene County for the two remaining enumerations in which I can find him listed: in 1880 and 1900. Beyond that, I can find no sign of either Larkin or his Tennessee-born wife Matilda. Still, there is enough information in those several census records to allow me to build a tree of their descendants. After all, that is the next step to take in comparing a possible link with my closest Laws DNA match.

It's a good thing I've already started that process, though, for it didn't take long for me to realize there might be a discrepancy between the tree I built and the one posted by my Laws cousin. We might not be as lucky with this discovery of Larkin as I had thought. The crux of the matter may go back to that same issue with Larkin's older children—the ones who might have had a different mother. If I don't know who that other mother was, how can I determine whether our DNA match is owing to a Laws connection, or through another line? 

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