Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Taking One Step Backwards


Anyone who has researched family history knows that genealogists do things backwards. We start from the here-and-now and move back in time, step by step, through the generations of our ancestors. That means, in my quest to connect my third great-grandmother Rachel Tilson Davis with her rumored Mayflower ancestors, I need to find some documentation first connecting her with her Tilson parents in Washington County, Tennessee.

In that case, taking one step backwards from Rachel means we look for her father, Peleg Tilson, and his wife, Rebeccah. Rebeccah's maiden name I've seen spelled various ways, including Dungins, Dungings, and even Dungans. While Rachel's parents likely died in Washington County, Tennessee—though I have yet to find Peleg's will there—they arrived in Tennessee from their former residence in Washington County, Virginia.

While still searching for Peleg's will in Tennessee, I did see some promising signs in Virginia. Apparently, just as he had in Tennessee, Peleg was party to land transactions in Virginia along with some of his relatives. Take, for instance, this transcription of a land deal in Washington County, Virginia, on October 14, 1794.

The transcription named three parties. Along with Peleg "Tillson" were Levi Bishop and a man identified as "Hellius" Dungans. This I already know is a transcription problem—a difficulty which has frustrated many researchers—for Peleg and his wife Rebeccah later named one of their sons after Rebeccah's father, Hellens Dungans.

Though the 1794 transaction, at least in this transcription, did not indicate the disposal of the 330 acres named in the record, the entry itself is still exciting to me. It pinpoints Peleg and his father-in-law not only in the same place in a specific time frame, but provides me with confirmation of family relationships as well as that Virginia location.

It was barely a decade earlier when that same county's records reported the October 20, 1785, marriage of Peleg and Rebeccah. This notification came to me thanks to an email from fellow blogger Charlie Purvis. Once again, though it is not a typewritten record, the appearance of what looks like the same handwriting style throughout the document seems to represent a copied version of an original record. 

At this point, I have a few options in my attempt to locate records tying Rachel with her father. I can find a copy of Peleg's will, and hope he named his daughter among his heirs. I can also attempt to find church documents including baptismal records, or at least a family Bible. A third approach, barring discovery of the first two items, would be to do a collateral search in which a sibling is clearly linked to the parents and to Rachel.

Locating Peleg's will is an imperative, but could present some pitfalls. For one thing, I have no firm date of death for Peleg. While the Tilson genealogy says nothing about Peleg's death, other published local histories mention the possibility that Peleg returned to the old Tilson family farm in Virginia before his death. Of course, those histories could contain errors. After all, the extended family had not one but three men named Peleg Tilson; any one of them could have been confused for the other in narratives published a century afterwards.

If Rachel and her parents were members of a church with a strong record-keeping conviction—think Catholic here—it would be a simple matter to locate her baptismal record. However, from what little I've gleaned about the Tilson family, they were of a Protestant faith, attending a small country church which, from what records I could find, moved en masse from Virginia through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky—all, that is, except for Peleg Tilson and his two brothers. If the church's records are even existent in any form now, I'd be extremely surprised. Looking for such records would be a last resort—and a doubtful process. Likewise for the search for a Tilson family Bible, unfortunately.

With this, I'll be left to continue my search for Peleg's will while constructing any necessary proof arguments, should I need to move to the collateral research approach. We'll leave this work to be done in the background—possibly revisiting this search in the upcoming year. In the meantime, before the month is out, let's shift gears to the other impromptu research question which popped up, thanks to some emails from DNA matches in Florida on another maternal branch of my family tree. 

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