Sunday, October 23, 2022

Reading Between the Lines


When struggling to barely grasp documents verifying our ancestors, we hardly seem to be able to read what is not there on the page, let along what is on the records concerning our elusive forebears. That may be the case for my research goal this month of documenting the generations preceding my great-grandfather, Antoni Laskowski of Żerków, Poland. It's a struggle to locate anything more than mere transcriptions of two hundred year old documents.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, I have continued working on a secondary goal this month—something which popped up only this September, long after I set out my "Twelve Most Wanted" research goals for this year. I am on the hunt for information on my maternal Tilson line, a line which promises to push all the way back through colonial American history to the landing of the Mayflower.

As it turns out, the Tilsons closest to my mother's branch all settled in a mountainous pocket of land wedged in between Virginia and North Carolina in northeastern Tennessee. Because of my corollary DNA goals, as well as the promise of collaboration with other Tilson researchers, I've been working on the entire Tilson line in that region. But there's another reason for extending my Tilson project to include all those distant cousins: this line threatens to extend far beyond what we'd consider simple pedigree collapse. These lines are interconnected in multiple ways, over several generations. I need to step back from a laser focus on just-my-line-only and take in the bigger picture.

There's another reason calling me to read between the lines: an unexpected, headline-generating event in the Tilson family. Apparently, one Tilson descendant became a defendant in a murder case for which the first life sentence that was ever imposed by that county's circuit court became the verdict.

From the time of that 1943 trial, the rest of that man's family dispersed. His two sons and a daughter were taken in by two unmarried aunts. His wife left the state, though later surfaced under another married name—I think—with the exact same family constellation: two sons and a daughter. Yet, at the end of her life, there was no mention of the children she had left behind. It was only thanks to the obituaries of the two youngest siblings of this wife that I was even able to confirm the two identities belonged to the same woman.

What a story must have been buried beneath the public tragedy of the murders reported in that local newspaper. How does one read between lines like that? 

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