Are you my cousin? If you have the surname Broyles in your family tree, we most likely are distant cousins, but how many people know that much detail about their distant ancestors? If you know, you might be a researcher like genealogy blogger Marcia Philbrick of Heartland Genealogy, who commented here yesterday about our Broyles connection.
It isn't that often that I run across someone with the surname Broyles. It is so uncommon an experience for me that when I do meet someone with that name, I wouldn't hesitate to blurt out to the unsuspecting stranger that we might actually be relatives.
In my college days, I wasn't quite so sure of myself, though when I spotted twin brothers at my university with that name—and not the more common Boyles, missing the telltale "r"—I knew we had to be distant cousins. Since then, I've dug far deeper into that unusual surname and learned a few details, enough to see that I need to keep digging even more.
In those earliest years of the Internet, when I was poking around online in search of other "genies" researching their Broyles roots, I ran across another Broyles descendant living in San Francisco. He emailed me a digitized copy of the widely-shared unpublished Arthur Leslie Keith manuscript, and we exchanged emailed notes on both its usefulness and its weak points. It was a starting point to help me see how the many members of this now-enormous extended family connected.
As online connections between genealogy researchers increased over the decades—from ListServs to bulletin boards to genealogy forums—it wasn't unusual for those of us who knew our Broyles connections to announce to each other (and the lurking genealogy world) our umpteenth-generation-removed relationship. Thanks to what we were all learning about the Broyles lines, we were able to tell each other when we were, say, Broyles ninth cousins twice removed. It took a lot of knowing to be able to do this, but as they say, if you know, you know. And there are a lot of us out there who do know our Broyles ancestry.
There are, of course, pitfalls in all that research, which any Broyles researcher will be quick to mention. Those who told me about the Keith manuscript seemed to be quite quick to insert such statements. Perhaps that is why, despite having access to that manuscript plus many avenues for using that material as a trailblazer for my own research, I've been careful to move slowly through the generations. I've written before on some of my Broyles ancestors, but they have been of a more close relationship—if you can call someone born in 1798, like my third great-grandfather Ozey Robert Broyles, to be a "close" relationship.
For this month's research goal, however, I'm taking the plunge to examine Ozey's paternal grandfather, Adam Broyles. This is partially owing to the fact that I can, based on DNA testing, connect with some distant Broyles cousins from as far distant an ancestor as Adam. In fact, one task to complete this January is to check all my Broyles DNA matches listed on Ancestry's ThruLines to confirm through documentation what the genetic details seem to be affirming.
There is, so far, very little I know about Adam Broyles, himself—most of it drawn from the Keith manuscript and publications of a few other researchers. I know, for instance, that Adam Broyles was born in Virginia—which was, at the time of his 1728 birth, a British colony. I also know, from his 1782 will, that Adam Broyles died in Washington County, Tennessee, a location which, not surprisingly, became the state with the highest Broyles population in the nation by the time of the 1840 census.
While that may be an interesting factoid to toy with, it also presents research problems. Like many other American immigrant populations, roots of the Broyles family must have held naming traditions, for the extended family presents researchers with the challenge of separating same-named cousins into their correct families of origin, while realizing so many of them living in the same location in Tennessee.
Discovering more details about the man we are researching helps to isolate that individual from others who might bear the same name. In Adam's case, I know his wife was a Wilhoit—or Wilhite, or even Wilhight, depending on spelling used at the time—and that their firstborn son was named Moses. Adam had additional sons Aaron—my direct line—and Joshua. In his will, Adam also mentioned two married daughters, Anne Brown and Mille Panther (or Parther), one soon-to-be-married daughter Mima, and one unmarried daughter named Mary.
Knowing such details helps isolate the right Adam Broyles. Fortunately, besides these facts gleaned from his last will, Adam's family lived within a broader historical perspective, which we'll start checking into tomorrow.