Monday, February 14, 2022

Letting D N A Be my Guide


Do you ever find yourself getting envious of those researchers who brag about working on their seventh or eighth great-grandparents? Nah, not me; I just figure they've got easier ancestors to research, or short generations, or paperwork which never got lost in the bureaucratic shuffle.

Me? This month I'm facing the music on one of the branches of my maternal line which has kept me stalled at a second great-grandparent. Yes, a mere second great-grandmother. The odd thing is that, thanks to her genetic legacy, I have several DNA matches all claiming kin with folks sporting her maiden name: Laws. And none of them match up to what I know about my second great-grandmother. Some of these DNA matches have trees which don't even seem to line up with each other.

 On the theory that they can't all be wrong, I'm game to test the waters this month. Back before the beginning of this year, I made Sarah Catherine Laws the second of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2022. The trouble is, I don't really know very much about this woman. In fact, I'm not really sure that's her full name, despite family tradition that she was Sarah Catherine, and not just Catherine, as so many documents represent her.

Take the census records for instance. In the 1860 census, newlyweds Thomas and "Cassa" Davis are included in Washington County, Tennessee, along with their newborn son James. Though "Cassa" is usually short for Cassandra—and I do have another ancestor from that region claiming that given name—I just chalked that up to enumerator error. After all, she was listed as Catharine in the 1870 census, and exactly the same for the 1880 census. Though her 1893 headstone in Erwin, Tennessee, proclaimed her as Catherine Davis, two of her four children's death certificates—the only ones that I could find—contradicted each other: eldest son James' certificate mentioned his mother as Catherine Laws, while daughter Mary McNabb's North Carolina record had her as Sarah Laws. Even the carefully-researched Tilson Genealogy lists her simply as Catherine Laws. No Sarah.

That may turn out to be helpful intel, as we'll see when we review what can be found on Sarah, er, Catherine herself. Depending on which family tree we examine for the various Laws families who may be candidates for my second great-grandmother's extended family, having her name listed as both Sarah and Catherine may run us into trouble. Whether by DNA test or paper trail, we'll begin our search tomorrow to see if we can sort out this name conflict.

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