Thursday, February 24, 2022

Leaning Toward the
Side of Greater Caution


Knowing half of a story never instills quite as much research confidence as knowing both sides of a story. That observation certainly applies, when it comes to using DNA tests for genealogical purposes. Discovering the name of one partner in a couple may be encouraging, but until we can confirm the other party involved, we are still left with conjectures.

That's pretty much where I stand with this exploration into the possibilities for my second great-grandmother's parents' identity. I have DNA matches whose trees point me back to a man by the name of Larkin Laws. Initial joy over the discovery that there was a household in 1850 North Carolina which included both Larkin and a possible candidate for my second great-grandmother, Catherine Laws, gave way to doubts, once I followed the line of Larkin's descendants. Comparing what I found with the trees of two of Larkin Laws' descendants inspired more questions than answers. Hence, the caution.

First on my list of questions was the point I brought up yesterday: did Larkin's three older children have a different mother than that of his younger children? This is important, because the specific descendant for two of my DNA matches was Larkin's second daughter, Elizabeth.

Well, let's put it this way: that daughter is identified as Elizabeth from her appearance as a two year old in the 1860 census, all the way to the day of her 1881 marriage to J. W. Bullman in Greene County, Tennessee. Records after her wedding named J. W. Bullman's wife as Frances.

It isn't so much that I'm concerned that Frances Bullman isn't the same woman as Elizabeth Bullman—although having some document to clarify the name switch would be reassuring. The root of the problem reaches farther back than that: to Elizabeth's own mother, whoever she was. Remember, Elizabeth's 1858 date of birth pre-dates her father's marriage to Matilda Oler. Not being able to specify the identity of Elizabeth's own mother leaves us open to the possibility that her descendants' DNA match to me might be owing to yet another family line in this region of tightly-knit (read: intermarried) communities.

Because of that, I've taken a closer look at the many other small DNA matches I have in common with Laws ancestors—specifically, to avoid descendants of Larkin. At closer inspection, several of my Laws connections have matches in common with my Davis ancestors, making it even more important that I only use descendants for whom I'm confident of both sides of their pedigree.

As it turns out, I have at least two small matches who descend from a different son of William and Elizabeth Laws. Like Larkin, this son had a given name making him ripe for lifelong mis-identification in government records. The man's name in the 1850 census, best I could tell, looked like Pendexter. It was no surprise to see the name rendered as the more familiar Poindexter in the 1860 census. By the time of the 1870 census, he may have just given up and settled for "Dexter" as a given name, but even though he was a single man boarding in another couple's home, his occupation as shoemaker in Greene County, Tennessee—same county where other Laws family members had settled—gave me enough confidence to assume that was the right identity.

Not long after that 1870 census, Greene County records alert us that "Pendexter" Laws had married Mary Ricker, beginning a family which grew to six surviving children by the 1900 census, still in Greene County. Among those six was their son David King Laws, whose own son Lawrence showed up in the tree for one of my matches. Even though that match's tree wasn't very large, all it took was seeing that one name, since I had already built out my hypothetical Laws tree for many of the lines of descent.

Just to be sure—especially since I am still in doubt over his brother Larkin's children—I'll be working over these Lawrence Laws DNA matches to examine whether that is indeed the right connecting link. And then—glutton for research punishment that I am—it would be nice to find a DNA match connected to another child of potential parents William and Elizabeth Laws, before I conclude that that was the identity of my Catherine's parents. An added bonus would be to wrap up this February research project before I run out of month. more thing: about Catherine Laws' other brother. His name turned out not to be Poindexter. Nor was it Pendexter. According to his children's own death records, he used the name Dexter, but that was apparently his middle name. His first name was Pine, producing his full name as Pine Dexter Laws. No wonder he confused all those government record keepers. 

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