Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Ran Out of Month: Now What?


We all knew this would be a short month. Happens every year. Even those "bonus" years with an extra day still leave us feeling like we've been pulled up short. That's February for you.

That leaves me with far more research for my February goal than I have month to stash it in. That is nothing new when it comes to family history research. There is always more to find. Sometimes, the discoveries take us on detours or lead us to unexpected revelations. But when that happens in February, I make a mental note: in the future, leave month two of my Twelve Most Wanted plan for a slam-dunk proposition. Nothing difficult.

So...what to do with the leftovers of my quest to discover more about my Taliaferro roots?

For all the children of my fifth great-grandparents, Zachariah and Mary Boutwell Taliaferro, I'd like to fill in the blanks on their basic details. Birth, death, locations, name of spouse: all these help fix the identity of each child and keep me from confusing them with others of the same name and generation. Likewise, I'd do that for the previous generation: the children of Richard and Rose Berryman Taliaferro.

Along the way in this month's research journey, I found some other possibilities for future research. These come from wanting to learn more about the maternal lines in these generations. First, I'd go back to my fourth great-grandfather, also named Zachariah, to delve into the family history of his wife, Margaret Chew Carter. Both the Carter line and the Chew surname are rich with potential discoveries. I'd like to know more about these families and how my line connects there.

Then, too, I know very little about the senior Zachariah's wife, Mary Boutwell. I'll scout out the possibilities to see whether there is enough digitally-accessible material to merit a month's research focus for next year. Finally, Rose Berryman, wife of Richard Taliaferro, may be another research possibility.

This signals me to change my approach on selecting my Twelve Most Wanted for the upcoming year. Instead of saving that process for the peaceful, reflective time between Christmas and New Year when I usually tackle that question, I'll now make notes to refer back to, once I get to that end-of-year process in December.

In the meantime, as usual, I'll list the research questions I still need to tackle on my unfinished goal for this month. That list will serve as a tickler to refocus my attention, the next time I have an opportunity to revisit the Taliaferro family. With a new month upon us, though, it's time to move on to the next of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2023.

For tomorrow? Another research challenge.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Looking for Patriots


As the month comes to a close and I realize I have far more research to do than days to do it in, I thought of one possible project to undertake. In the books I found this month which included my Taliaferro ancestors, I had noted that many mentioned a Taliaferro man who served in the American Revolution. However, when I go to the source to check such assertions, I sometimes cannot find any supporting documentation. Why not reverse the process and take a quick glance through all the brothers named in the family of my fifth great-grandfather Zachariah Taliaferro, to see if any of them are Patriots?

I already know that my fifth great-grandfather was among the Patriots. After all, that's how I gained membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. But what about his brothers? There could be five possibilities: John, Charles, Peter, Francis, and Richard.

Richard, the youngest of those siblings I've been able to find, had already been mentioned in at least one genealogy book as having served in the war. However, when I checked the D.A.R. Ancestors records, I could not find anyone with the right year of birth. He might still be one of the Richards mentioned; I just can't tell at this point.

That realization reminded me to be much more wary about claims published in genealogy books. Hence, my project to research the rest of those brothers, as they were all of an age to be involved in making history.

Starting from John, the eldest of the Taliaferro brothers still alive during the 1770s, I was rewarded for my efforts by finding his entry in the D.A.R. website. His service description was listed as "Minute Men." He served from Caroline County, Virginia.

Next of the brothers was Charles, born in 1735, who was also in the D.A.R. Patriot file. His service was identified as "provided supplies." He, too, was resident in Caroline County at the time.

When I stepped down to the next Taliaferro brother, Peter, I couldn't find any entry. While I had a year of birth for him in 1740, I haven't yet located a date of death for him. It could be possible that he had already died before the beginning of the war. However, I had a note in my genealogical database that Peter was father of a son whom he named, predictably, Richard, born in 1762. When I had looked for D.A.R. entries on the youngest brother of Zachariah—also named Richard—I had spotted that 1762 date of birth for one of the other Patriots with that same name. As it turns out, that Patriot would be Peter's son Richard.

As for the two youngest brothers of my Zachariah Taliaferro, Francis and Richard, I did not have success in finding either of them listed among the D.A.R. Patriots. There are two entries for a Francis Taliaferro, but neither aligns with my Francis' date of birth in 1745. I had the same difficulty with entries for Richard Taliaferro, as I had already mentioned. That isn't to say they didn't serve or at least support the war effort. I just haven't yet gotten enough information to adequately identify them.

Now that I've located those siblings' war records, I used Ancestry.com's labeling system to create a custom tree tag labeled D.A.R. Patriot for each of their profile pages. Even though those Taliaferro brothers aren't in my direct line, I like to visually note their participation, no matter how small, in a key event in our nation's history.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

So I Cheated: ChatGPT


Amid howls of protest in my family—after all, we are a household of teachers—one certain family member, who will remain unnamed to, er, protect his privacy, decided to dive into the dark side. He investigated ChatGPT.

It was an innocent enough endeavor. He simply asked the AI device for some references for a particular esoteric topic he was studying. ChatGPT instantly complied.

After long household discussions about how students will never be able to learn anything, and how the entire culture is going down the tubes, and oh no, oh no, whatever shall we do, the conclusion I gleaned from those discussions was: it's a tool. I see it as a souped-up search engine. Think of it as Google: The Next Generation. Sure, I'm never going to use it to write a blog post here—alright, I know: never say never—but I was curious to see whether I could use the thing to do a simple search of the nether reaches of the Internet. For, say, genealogy.

Since I have been struggling with my research project this month, I asked ChatGPT for a rundown of resources for Rose Berryman, my sixth great-grandmother. Well, that is not entirely correct; I had mercy and added a few delineating terms, like when she was born and who she married. After all, if I didn't do that, the answer might turn out more like search results on Facebook.

The response wasn't too bad. After all, I did provide the location (Virginia) and a date (her birth circa 1708). Her husband's name—Richard Taliaferro—was probably the biggest clue. The instantly-provided paragraph indicated her parents' names as well as those of her husband. Included were the names of six, though not all, of their children.

When asked for references, ChatGPT provided links to specific pages in several books digitized on Internet Archive. Some links to other reference material from Google Books were also provided.

The upshot of this little experiment isn't that I'll now use ChatGPT to research my family tree. After all, some of the names provided in this little foray don't line up with what I've found elsewhere. I'll have to check those out, myself. And that's the point: no matter which resource you use to do your research, you still need to check out the information for yourself. The answer isn't right until it's right. And confirming such details is still part of the routine of genealogy, no matter whether I'm using AI or doing the grunt work myself.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

R@RT: A Weekend Divertissement


Before you know it, the time will come for yet another RootsTech extravaganza. Don't count on me being in Salt Lake City after this weekend; too big a crowd for me. I'll watch from my own cozy hideaway.

Even though the big event doesn't occur for another five days (it begins March 2), there are a few preparatory items to take care of beforehand. First, of course, is to register to attend online. Then, to scope out the online offerings and plan which ones to attend right away and which can't-miss opportunities can be viewed later.

Top of my list, once I've taken care of those other details, is to check out this year's Relatives at RootsTech—or, for a short take on that name, R@RT. Yes, I know, I know: apps like that are only as good as the input which fuels the fun connections. But I'll keep an eye on those false matches, I promise.

Last year, I had a chance to connect with a McClellan cousin via R@RT, right before my trip back to Florida to show my sister the old family home there. It was fun to connect with this distant cousin. After all, we may have thousands of distant cousins, thanks to all the ancestors we've researched, but that doesn't mean they all share our deep enthusiasm about genealogy. Finding a cousin via R@RT means using the app to sift through all those other relatives in our tree to find the ones who share our love of family history.

This year, my cousin count has improved. I'm not necessarily keen on how many cousins are on my readout for R@RT. More important to me is finding closer cousins. Fifth or sixth cousins may be mildly interesting, but I much prefer to find those third or fourth cousins.

Why? One simple reason: DNA testing. Yep, I'm looking for genealogical cousins who also show up as genetic cousin matches at any of the places where I've tested—or, who would be willing to take a DNA test. While it may be possible to find a fifth or sixth cousin match through DNA, it is highly unlikely to detect such matches. The third cousin level is far more reliable, and fourth cousins can come shining through fairly reliably, as well. Those are the cousins I want to message so we can keep in contact. And since the readout for participants in R@RT is only available for about one month, it's time to get busy now.

Since the R@RT system allows participants to search their readout by different keys—location, specific ancestor, or family line—I tried looking specifically for Broyles and Taliaferro cousins. After all, those are the two lines I've been researching this year. It turns out there are two fourth cousins who have those surnames in their ancestry—not many, agreed, but maybe two fellow researchers who are interested in delving into our mutual lines. Collaboration can be a great way to tackle research problems.

I've still got a few more days this month to devote to my Taliaferro research, but for this weekend, time invested in sorting the R@RT cousins—and getting in touch with family I didn't know I had—will be well worth the effort.  

Friday, February 24, 2023

Advancing Into Uncharted Territory


Does it sometimes feel as if, in exploring our family lines reaching back to the early 1700s of colonial America, we are tentatively entering into uncharted territory? That is not necessarily so, for there were many governmental and church records during that time period which can still be accessed—if, that is, one knows the appropriate repository for finding such documents.

My strategy, in planning my advance into this "uncharted" territory, is to consult with genealogical books and manuscripts to assemble a working list, then see what I can find in documents to verify or discard those published assertions.

As we've already noted, there are several books which include mention of the family of my fifth great-grandfather Zachariah Taliaferro. I already know there are more such resources, and have been on the hunt to gather together titles to store in my own notes. After all, there is far more than can be accomplished in this one month; I will be returning to this research challenge in a future iteration.

One book that I find others mentioning often is the 1926 publication, The Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. John Taliaferro and Mary (Harding) Taliaferro, by Willie Catherine Ivey. It is available at several libraries across the country, including the Sutro Library in San Francisco where, fresh out of college, I found it on one of my first forays into genealogy. ("I'll look for a book on the Taliaferros. There can't be too many books on families by that name.")

The Ivey book, thankfully, was also available online at FamilySearch.org—although in a typewritten manuscript captured dimly in its digitized version. Still, it was a resource. Further shouts of joy erupted when I subsequently located a typeset copy online through Ancestry.com.

While I intend to compare versions of the Taliaferro ancestry as I locate the genealogy in various books written in the late 1800s and early 1900s, let's zoom in right now to see who would take their place as the possible siblings of my fifth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro.

According to the Ivey book, Zachariah was the third-born child of Captain Richard Taliaferro and his bride, the former Rose Berryman, daughter of Benjamin and Elizabeth Newton Berryman. After their 1726 wedding, according to Ivey, they welcomed thirteen children into their family, although not all survived into adulthood.

Their firstborn child was a daughter, Sarah, born in Virginia in 1727. Ivey notes that Sarah eventually married a man by the name of John Lewis, which immediately puts me on the alert to look for yet another way I might be my own cousin.

Second-born Benjamin, arriving late in 1728, reminds me that this family was prone to repeat the names they gave their children over the generations. This Benjamin died fairly young, about 1751, providing yet another reason for family members to call their deceased brother to mind by naming their own sons after him.

After third-born Zachariah, my direct line, was the ill-fated son Richard. Named after his own father, the child died within days of his 1731 birth.

The next son, John, was the child whom author Willie Catherine Ivey sought to honor with her book. Her book includes an entire chapter devoted to his life story.

Yet another son, Charles, born in 1735, includes a listing of his children and grandchildren. Seeing the names echoed down through these generations—and the intermarriages with repeated other surnames—reminds me to tread lightly as I research these related lines.

Following Charles was the 1738 birth of a child named Beheathland. The author mentioned that that name originated from the Berryman family. It was repeated through additional generations of the Taliaferros, as well.

Another son, Peter, was welcomed into the Taliaferro family in 1740. His was one of the entries which included the name of a future spouse.

Children numbers nine and ten turned out to be twin daughters: Elizabeth and Rose. While the author included a note concerning Elizabeth's eventual husband, there was no further mention about Rose, leaving me unsure whether she even survived to adulthood.

The next child was also a daughter, whom they named Mary. She was born in 1743.

The last two children of Richard and Rose Taliaferro were sons. Francis, born in 1745, was followed by another son named after his father. The author noted here that the youngest son, Richard, served in the Revolution. However, in checking the D.A.R. listing of Patriots, while there were four men noted by that name, none matched our Richard's date of birth as given by this author.

Details like that remind me that no published genealogy is fail-safe. Thus, my next step: to pursue each of the siblings of Zachariah with an eye to finding supporting documentation, whether online, through footnotes in other publications, or by locating the actual verifying records myself. While the many published books of previous generations may seem helpful as trailblazers, without the support of documentation, we are still left just the same as if we were advancing into uncharted territory.


Thursday, February 23, 2023

On the Precipice of Possibilities


One helpful tool which has been borrowed for genealogical purposes has been that of DNA testing. Finding matches with distant cousins who have taken autosomal DNA tests can be informative, helping us fill in some of the blanks on our family tree. But when we get to the point of examining fellow descendants of our fifth great-grandparents, we begin to peer over the precipice of possibilities.

Think of it this way: any DNA matches I receive who also claim my fifth great-grandfather Zachariah Taliaferro as their ancestor could be related as remotely as sixth cousin—or farther. The trouble with such DNA analysis is that we share less and less of an ancestor's genetic signature with each generation we are removed from that individual.

According to a chart featured in the ISOGG wiki (International Society of Genetic Genealogy), based on the particular DNA test I'm using—at AncestryDNA—the probability that two fourth cousins will share enough DNA for the relationship to be detected by testing is seventy one percent. For fifth cousin relationships, the percentage drops to thirty two percent. And sixth cousins? My chances drop to eleven percent that another descendant of Zachariah will match me if we both test at that same company.

All that to say there are a lot of Taliaferro descendants who will never show up on my list of DNA matches at Ancestry.com.

Still, I'm curious, so I popped over to Ancestry's ThruLines readout to see what I could find. I wasn't particularly overwhelmed to learn that I may currently have up to eighty seven matches who also claim the same Zachariah Taliaferro as their ancestor. After all, we're talking enough generations to get us back to a fifth great-grandfather. 

The key, in my mind, was to see how many centiMorgans any given match shared with me. Matches sharing less genetic material could actually be a coincidental connection, or what is sometimes called identical by state, rather than identical by descent. In this particular case, my ThruLines Taliaferro candidates share anywhere from a high of sixty two centiMorgans down to the lowest at six.

Naturally, the advice would be to disregard those "matches" falling at the lower end of the range (I've heard that advice for twenty cMs or less). But what if the "match" can also genealogically support what the test seems to be indicating about a genetic family tree?

Right now, I'm working through that puzzle. I found it interesting that, of all Zachariah's children, those of the son who is also my direct line ancestor—also named Zachariah—add up to forty five of those eighty seven Taliaferro DNA matches. My next largest set of Taliaferro matches, twenty nine in total, belongs to the descendants of Warren Taliaferro—no surprise here, since I also descend from one of his daughters. The remaining thirteen matches are scattered among four other children of Zachariah and Mary Boutwell Taliaferro: Benjamin, Frances, Mary, and Sallie.

At first glance, I could see that some of the trees offered up by the ThruLines process don't seem to be verifiable by documentation. On the other hand, the challenge here is to locate those hard-to-find records from the late 1700s and early 1800s to confirm the lines of descent. When that obstacle is combined with a low centiMorgan count, I tend to disregard the "match" and move on to a more reasonable proposition.

Working through this process step by step may seem tedious, but it is one way to organize my search for verification of lines of descent. While I am tottering on the edge of genetic relationship with those lower centiMorgan counts, I'm keeping in mind the likelihood that moving backwards another generation will be taking a step over the edge of what can be verified by DNA tests—other than by Y-DNA (for any Taliaferro men willing to participate in such a project) or by mtDNA, as I have done to connect through the matriline of Warren Taliaferro's wife.

Even though we'll now be stepping beyond the reach of autosomal DNA tests, I want to learn about the ancestral lines preceding Zachariah Taliaferro. We'll begin tomorrow to review what can be found on the next generation.   

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Just One More Generation


We genealogists must seem like a greedy lot. We are always seeking to push the record back just one more generation.

Here I am, making progress on my Taliaferro line, having reached back to my fifth great-grandfather, Virginian Zachariah Taliaferro. From his 1797 will, I was able to glean the names of his children living at the time—well, put it this way: the descendants who hadn't been written out of his will.

In true genealogical fashion, I now want to move back yet another generation. I want to know about his parents. And I also want to know about his siblings, as collateral lines sometimes help provide information which might otherwise not be found. Of course, the farther back in time we push, the greater the challenge to locate the documents to verify their existence.

The litany of possible excuses for lack of documentation can be extensive. The ravages of time, the fading of ink, the mis-filing of records are but the beginning of clerical woes. Add to that the history of courthouse fires, subsequent wars—Zachariah's parents would have been recorded in documents pre-dating the American Revolution—and threats of violent weather.

There is, however, one tentative way to begin our foray into the generations earlier than our Zachariah Taliaferro: take a cautious peek at books written in the past centuries about the early families of the American colonies. We have already named a few such resources during our exploration of Zachariah's children—the 1911 Historical Sketches book by Margaret Hamilton Campbell Pilcher, for example, which we examined while pursuing son Benjamin Taliaferro's story—but there surely had to be more out there.

There is one way to do a quick tour of available books. This comes as a suggestion from my friend and fellow genealogy blogger Charlie Purvis of Carolina Family Roots. He suggested using an online service called GenealogyGophers.

I decided to put GenGophers through their paces with my Taliaferro question. I entered my query for the senior Zachariah Taliaferro into their search box and got back three pages of references. Granted, many of them were from the Lineage Book of charter members of the D.A.R., same as what can be found on Ancestry.com. But I spotted a few others.

What is convenient about GenGophers is that the search results include snippets of the actual pages of referenced material. You can tell at a glance whether to pursue any given link further. Just be aware: the service is free if you want only to view three references per week. If you want to use more, the service asks that you set up an account to provide a donation—a sensible request, given the cost of preparing and hosting such a website.

As I worked my way through those three pages of possible resources, I could see some were drawn from typewritten manuscripts—much as we had used in working through Arthur Leslie Keith's Broyles genealogy last month. In the case of public domain entities, I knew it was possible to locate full copies elsewhere, which is what I did with the entry labeled simply, Whatever Happened to Mother's Family? A full copy was available through FamilySearch.org—where I found part of the answer to my question on page five of that manuscript.

Still, I spotted signs which gave me pause, such as the entry in a book I originally found through Ancestry.com. Between typographical errors and outright omissions of names in Emma Siggins White's The Kinnears and Their Kin, I hesitate to trust some of these old editions. But even her entry on the Taliaferro family can serve as a guide—as long as the reader proceeds with a high level of caution and exercises every intention to double check assertions through documentation. Remember: these are trailblazers. But we must always test our own path.

As we wrap up the last week of this short month of February, we'll take a look at what can be discovered about the family of the senior Zachariah Taliaferro, pushing back tentatively to the preceding generation. After all, I'm one of those greedy researchers who always wants to go back "just one more."  

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Are You Your Own Cousin?


I have to tell you, right at the start, that it was thanks to this month's research project that I discovered I am my own sixth cousin.

I used to laugh at my husband, when I discovered that his mother descended from two ancestral lines whose founding individuals turned out to be half-siblings. He is his own umpteenth cousin. Me? I have Thomas Taliaferro Broyles' unfortunate wife, Mary Elizabeth Warren Taliaferro Rainey, to thank for this genealogical pickle. (And yes, that was her full name, according to the entry in her father's will concerning his youngest child.)

Here's how this happened. Mary, born in some unidentified location in Georgia, was the last of at least ten children of Thomas Firth Rainey and Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro. Baby Mary arrived on December 12, 1852, five years before she lost her father. Five years later, at the death of her mother, she and her surviving siblings became orphans.

Mary was not the first in the family to have been given that name. A sister born in 1835 had been named after their mother, but had died just one year before our Mary was born. Likewise had their oldest brother died before reaching adulthood—as, I think, had some of their other siblings. It was because of that brother—Warren Taliaferro Rainey—that it fell upon this young girl Mary, the baby of her family, to serve as his namesake, keeping his memory alive.

The name Warren Taliaferro was an important one to that Rainey family, for it was the name of young Mary's maternal grandfather. That senior Warren, in turn, happened to connect to my fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, because the two were brothers. Thus, I descend from two Taliaferro men: on the one already documented Broyles line, I claim Zachariah Taliaferro as my fourth great-grandfather. But through my matriline, I descend from Mary Merriwether Gilmer and her husband, Warren Taliaferro. 

That connection came about when Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, living in Tennessee, must have followed a tip from his parents in South Carolina, to marry a young orphaned woman in Georgia who just happened to be his own second cousin.

It was a stretch to explore the possible pieces when I first attacked that research puzzle, but in retrospect, that sort of liaison was not unusual for the time period. In fact, once I started finding DNA matches on either the Broyles or Taliaferro lines, my distant cousins could often point out more than one way that we were related. The earlier the matches in the framework of American history—thus a smaller pool of eligible contenders—the more likely it might be that families looked for spouses among those whom they knew best: their own extended family.

So think again if you supposed the answer to my question to be a resounding "no." If you go back far enough in your family tree, you may find you are actually your own distant cousin.   

Monday, February 20, 2023

Musings on the Matriline


If you have ever considered taking a mitochondrial DNA test—that specialized test which, unlike the autosomal cousin connector, zeroes in strictly on the matriline—you will appreciate learning of my experience when I sprang for that same pricey DNA test alternative. You see, I have a gap in my family tree, one which I knew about ever since those early years when starry-eyed children asked their parents to tell them all about their ancestors.

Granted, I didn't get too far with that question when I posed it to my father. With my mother, I had only a bit more success: she could tell me about her mother, and then her grandmother. But when I asked for details on her mother, all I got were roadblocks—two of them.

That woman—my mother's great-grandmother and thus my own second great-grandmother—died at a young age. Her daughter barely knew anything at all about her, for the child had only turned three when she lost her mother. To complicate matters further, my mother indicated that, besides dying young, the unfortunate young mother had herself been an orphan.

I had my guesses, of course, which I had written up in posts years ago. My first obstacle was to escape the mindset based on understandings of adoption cases of our current times. Unlike closed adoptions of the twentieth century, when a child was orphaned in previous centuries, it was more likely that some member of the extended family would take in that orphaned child or children. If the researcher was fortunate, there might even be court records of guardianship proceedings.

Once I got used to thinking more like Pollyanna than a placement worker of the 1960s, I realized there might be clues within my extended family. The unfortunate woman who made my second great-grandfather a widower was not simply a nameless orphan. She had a marriage record, and a census entry just prior to that 1871 wedding, opening the door for some Pollyanna-esque speculation about just which relatives might have taken her in.

There was one other way, however, to help me be sure my guesses were well founded: take an mtDNA test, myself. Then, the only obstacle standing between me and confirmation of this orphan's birth family would be whether any exact matches would also have tested.

As I awaited my test results, I had composed a hypothetical tree for my orphaned second great-grandmother, focusing on her matriline. Moving step by step, I had entered and documented the one whom I thought would be her mother, then her maternal grandmother, and so on, back through the generations of mothers. I was ready for any likely candidates to show up in my test results.

Thankfully, someone did test who was an exact match to me—someone who, as a bonus, also had posted a complete tree back to the 1600s.

Far back through the generations, comparing both my hypothetical tree and that of my mtDNA match, I spotted our Most Recent Common Ancestor: a woman by the name of Margaret Watts. Said to have been born about 1700 in Virginia, Margaret had married a man by the name of William Strother. Their daughter Jane married Thomas Lewis, whose daughter Elizabeth became the mother of Mary Meriwether Gilmer, bringing this genealogy down into more familiar territory.

I think you may see where this is going now.

In the meantime, that original Margaret and William Strother had another daughter, who became the head of my exact mtDNA match's matriline, helping to confirm my guess as to the identity of my orphaned second great-grandmother.

I was elated at that discovery when it happened. But its full impact didn't hit me until I started working on this month's research project on the Taliaferro line. Sure, the mystery orphaned woman became the bride of my second great-grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, whose very middle name trumpeted his connection to his grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro.

But that unfortunate bride had a Taliaferro connection of her own. It just wasn't the same Taliaferro. We'll save that discussion for tomorrow.   


Sunday, February 19, 2023

Concerning Cousins


If anyone told you the main reason for completing a DNA test is to obtain information on ethnicity, I'd have to disagree. At least for me, it's concerning cousins and where they fit into my family tree. And really, can you blame me for wanting to know what to do with the 2,323 matches I have at AncestryDNA, or the 5,855 who show up on my readout at Family Tree DNA? I want to know how I connect to them.

With a goal like that, the strategy becomes to focus on collateral lines—all those siblings of my ancestors who ultimately turn out to be the direct ancestors of my DNA matches. Sure, that makes for a wide tree but in the end, it helps me place those DNA cousins into the right places. I can visualize the connections better when I see them in context in that family tree.

In the past two weeks, I've added 238 more relatives to my family tree, which now contains records for 32,447 people. That gives an idea of how wide that tree is, for I've rarely been able to push beyond fifth or sixth great-grandparent on many ancestral lines. But I have several lines of descent outlined to about the sixth cousin level, especially for those DNA matches who haven't still kept me stumped.

Next week, in working on my Taliaferro ancestors, I'll target my eighty seven ThruLines matches at AncestryDNA who connect with me through the elder Zachariah Taliaferro, my fifth great-grandfather. Since I have already entered several lines of descent for this ancestor, hopefully those matches will quickly find their places in my tree. That, at least, was the hope in doing all this work, week after week.

While my research focus this month is on ancestors from my mother's side of the family, I will eventually switch over to working on my mother-in-law's family tree. Behind the scenes, I do enter information on that tree as well, like last week, when I found seventy seven extra names to add to her tree after gleaning some details from my husband's DNA matches. My in-laws' tree doesn't trail too far behind mine: 30,792 individuals, at last count. Come April, those targeted monthly research projects will shift to zoom in on my mother-in-law's family, and we'll see those numbers sprout up much quicker.

For tomorrow, we'll turn our attention back to my own mother's Taliaferro line, for there's a little research twist I need to discuss before we start working on those DNA matches who descend from Zachariah's line.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Wills and Their Ways


It is sometimes aggravating, after finally finding the will of a brick-wall ancestor, to discover that the hoped-for Big Reveal isn't quite up to our standards. After all, if that beloved wife were such a dear companion, why didn't her husband even mention her name? In wills, I've learned to expect a full accounting of all children's names, too—but have sometimes been sorely disappointed when locating the coveted document.

It is those frustrating ways that our ancestors might have had—leaving things unsaid when we most expected them to be more explicit—that I want to muse over today. As it turns out, I did uncover a Broyles descendant's will last week which almost—but not quite—left me pondering what it is we wish to find in wills, and why we sometimes don't find it.

I mentioned, yesterday, one observation that dawned on me during this mental journey: that perhaps it is nigh impossible to read some names and details in wills due to a combination of sloppy handwriting and faded ink. But in the reading of this Broyles descendant's will last week, I may have stumbled upon some other dynamics which might translate into a more forgiving way to look at our ancestors' wills.

Let's take a look at the background story behind researching this will. Though my Broyles research goals extend from my Most Wanted ancestral line for January, I am still working behind the scenes to trace my fifth great-grandfather's descendants down to the sixth cousin level for use in connecting with DNA cousin matches. From Adam Broyles' daughter Jemima and her husband Joseph Brown, I've gone step by step through all their descendants. Right now, I'm working on the lines of their grandson James Rice Brown (1827-1915).

I noticed that James' son George died in 1896, a very difficult time for the object of my research to disappear off the scene, considering that he married Fannie McAfee after the 1880 census. This unfortunate situation thus left me little recourse for discovering their children's identity. (Well, there still were ways, but considering I'd be looking for the household of one Fannie Brown, you can imagine all the ways this search could take a wrong turn.)

Thus I was quite pleased to locate a copy of the will of George Brown, and read it through. While George did—unlike some men regarding whose wills I have been disappointed in the past—actually give his wife a name, in several places he mentioned his children only as "our younger child" or "our youngest child."

That is where the thought occurred to me that perhaps George Brown, unlike most of us who tend to defer unpleasant tasks until a more "convenient" time, was the type of person who liked to keep his personal affairs well organized. Perhaps the nebulous terms for his children were meant to make the document all-inclusive without actually naming all the children because, at his age, he might have more children born to him in the future.

Eventually, George did mention the name of two of his children—sons James R. Brown and George M. Brown—but I couldn't be sure those were his only children. Granted, the will continued at length with several stipulations—for instance, explicitly stating that his wife's father, Joseph M. McAfee, "have nothing whatever to do with my estate"—but before I ever reached the end of the document, a few more thoughts occurred to me.

Due to finding George's obituary in the October 29, 1896, edition of The Morning News of Savannah, Georgia, I realized his was a sudden and unexpected passing. Not quite yet thirty five years of age, George Brown was just entering the prime of his career, serving as solicitor general "of the Blue Ridge circuit," and traveling to Atlanta for some political purpose when he was stricken with what physicians called cholera morbus.

His death on October 28, 1896, apparently came quickly. His wife, perhaps summoned to travel to Atlanta due to the seriousness of his illness, or perhaps planning to join him a few days after he began his business trip, arrived too late be at his side before his passing.

What was surprising to learn, when I read to the end of George's will, was that despite his young age, he had drawn up the will only months before his unexpected demise. The will was dated June 26 of that same year, 1896.

As it turned out, my guess about additional children was well founded. I got brave and looked for census records for all possible widows named Fannie Brown in his hometown of Canton, Georgia. One household in 1900 showed sons named James and George, just as their father had mentioned in his will. 

That household also included a five year old daughter Margaret, and a three year old son named Joseph—perhaps named after George's uncle Joseph Emerson Brown, once a governor of the state of Georgia. Born in January of 1897, young Joseph arrived not quite three months after his father's passing. Though at that point unnamed, he was likely on his father's mind when he drew up his will.    

Friday, February 17, 2023

Another Name Question:
Warner or Warren?


Perhaps it may be owing to sloppy handwriting scarcely preserved by the faded ink of two passing centuries, but I've discovered yet another Taliaferro son called by two names. Unlike the Burton versus Burkenhead puzzle we encountered yesterday, this one is far less confusing: Warner or Warren.

I had already taken the name of this son of my fifth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, to be Warren. After all, though the ink was indeed faded and the handwriting somewhat challenging to read on their father Zachariah Taliaferro's will, the entry did look more like Warren than Warner.

But when I kept seeing writers refer to the name as Warner, I had to take another look. Take, for instance, the Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher and Kindred Families, written in 1911. In one compressed paragraph, author Margaret Campbell Pilcher dispatched the tale of his life, his wife, and their four children. All this, while opening the explanation with his name listed as Warner.

Taking a different angle to examine just who this Warren—or Warner—might have been, a listing from his wife's point of view confirmed the name as Warren, but added the complication of including other incorrect information. Ancestry.com's database drawn from volume three of Mrs. Howard H. McCall's book, Roster of Revolutionary Soldiers in Georgia, shows that Mary, daughter of Thomas Meriwether Gilmer, married Warren Taliaferro. At the same time, the text conflated father and son named Zachariah Taliaferro, providing as date and place of death for the father that of his namesake son, my fourth great-grandfather.

Still, if we can confidently rely on the rest of the information in that paragraph, we now know that Warren Taliaferro married the sister of the Georgia governor, George Rockingham Gilmer, who also claimed as his parents Thomas Meriwether Gilmer and Elizabeth Lewis. In his own book, Gilmer called Warren his brother-in-law, and—you knew this was coming—shared his description of Warren just as he had done for the rest of the Taliaferro siblings.

The governor's assessment of Warren:

...tall, muscular, good-tempered, very indolent and inefficient. He constantly reminded those who listened to his conversation of his Italian descent.

Lest that sound a bit too snarky, Gilmer did add a forgiving observation that his brother-in-law was "a fond husband and father."

Found within the listing of those children who called Warren Taliaferro their father was a reminder that I am not yet done weaving together the strands of this Taliaferro story. It turns out that Warren Taliaferro was not only my fourth great-granduncle, as were the younger Zachariah's other brothers, but he was also my fourth great-grandfather. We'll take some time next week to explore how a mitochondrial DNA test helped confirm my connection to Warren's bride and her line.


Thursday, February 16, 2023

Two Names, One Person?


It is not out of the realm of possibility, I suppose, that an ancestor could have assumed two different identities through the course of his life. My fourth great-grandfather Zachariah Taliaferro's youngest brother may have been one such case.

Searching for youngest siblings can often help when stuck on a family research project. Being the youngest in the family, that child, once in adulthood, may see a lifespan which reaches beyond his siblings into a more thorough period of documentation, giving us a bit more of a peek into the details of that family.

Apparently, applying that hope to the Taliaferro family has not worked so well for me. Worse, either I'm dealing with two different Taliaferro siblings with similar names, or the baby of the family chose to go by an alias.

From all the genealogy publications I have encountered on this family, I first read about this son by the given name Burton. Of course, our talkative governor, George Rockingham Gilmer, in his 1855 book, Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia, packed a paragraph with juicy details about the man—though, sadly, without pertinent dates.

Here's what Gilmer had to say about Burton:

Burton, the youngest of the Taliaferros, was very handsomehad the manners, and wore the dress, of a well-bred gentleman. He read and enjoyed novels and plays, and fashioned his habits accordingly.

The author noted that Burton married Sally Gilmer, daughter of John Gilmer, along with the unfortunate note that they made their home, "during the year that his wife lived," near his oldest brother Benjamin's home by the Broad River community in Georgia.

After the loss of his wife, Burton returned to Virginia to claim a new bride, Lucy Carter, daughter of John Carter, who, according to another published genealogy on the Carter family, lived until 1831. Once again, this genealogical recounting identified the youngest Taliaferro son as Burton.

Yet another resource, the Pilcher book we discussed yesterday, Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher, and Kindred Families, mentioned the youngest Taliaferro son by the name of Burton. In an entry all of one sentence, the author gave his name and that of his two wives—and moved on.

Thus, it was a surprise to me, in pulling up his father's will, to see that, in addition to his brother Benjamin's name missing from the record, instead of the expected Burton was another name. In one instance, the name looked like Bickenhead, in another entry, as Buckenhead.

Since then, I've found that variation on Burton's name in other locations. The 1810 census, for instance, shows the name as Burton Taliaferro, while the 1820 census indicates Burkenhead. Only in a 1951 book by Lottie Wright Davis, Records of Lewis, Meriwether and Kindred Families, did I spot his name recorded as Birkenhead Taliaferro when mentioning his wife as Sarah Lewis Gilmer.

With two versions for his given name—Burton or Birkenhead—and three options for the spelling of the latter, I still need to work on finding the paper trail to document whatever became of the man. The Gilmer publication, back in 1855, seemed to indicate that Burton still lived in Georgia, but the 1810 and 1820 census pointed to his presence in Caroline County, Virginia.

That he had no children may complicate the search. Somewhere along the line, one would presume there would be some record of his passing, whether according to a will or at least through a burial marker. If for no other reason, it would be nice to finally settle the issue concerning by which name the man was officially known. 


Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Those Old Family Stories


Being quite cognizant of the dangers of relying on family legends, I want to take some time today to explore some old family stories passed down from well over a century ago. The reason: I'm on a mission to figure out just why Benjamin Taliaferro might not have been included in his father's will.

First, let's rule out the obvious: Benjamin Taliaferro was certainly quite alive when his father, Zachariah, drew up his will in 1797. Furthermore, Benjamin, born in 1750, did not die until 1821. That he left his childhood home in Virginia could not be the issue, either. Benjamin's service in the Revolutionary War—a war which his father also supported, as we can see from Zachariah's listing as a DAR Patriot—took him far afield of his parents' Amherst County home. His service took him to both Georgia and South Carolina, where he was captured by the British at the fall of Charleston.

It may take a little more reading between the lines to find any signs of a rift in the family constellation. And that is where those family stories come in.

Thankfully, there has been well over one hundred years of genealogical publications to fill the void for us—if, that is, we are willing to tread that shakey ground of family legends and sometimes less-than-perfect research and reporting.

Let's take, for instance, the Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher and Kindred Families, a 1911 publication co-authored by Margaret Campbell Pilcher and three men, presumably also members of the family lines in question. Among those authors was one Calvin Morgan McClung, whose name resonates for those familiar with the name of the historical collection housed at the library of the East Tennessee History Center.

According to the Historical Sketches, Zachariah Taliaferro and his wife, Mary Boutwell, had ten children, of whom Benjamin was the oldest. The authors share some details about Benjamin's service in the war, then launch into the anecdote in question:

He and his brother, Zachariah, were in love with Martha Merriweather [sic], of Amherst County, Virginia; Benjamin won and married her.

What was this "winning" that pitted Benjamin against his brother Zachariah? The Historical Sketches goes on to conclude, "This caused a lifetime estrangement between the brothers."

Understandable, considering the ramifications, which we can only imagine, given such a story. Wanting to know how true this family story might have been, I went looking for another version. Granted, an earlier version I found, published in 1855, was far closer to the time of its supposed occurrence, but the catch is that it puts us relying on the too-blunt, tell-all former Georgia governor, George Rockingham Gilmer.

Here's the governor's take on the situation, from his own book, Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia. After describing Benjamin Taliaferro's service in the war and his capture by the British, Gilmer begins by describing Benjamin's appearance

His person was six feet high, his features handsome, and his understanding good. Army intercourse had refined his manners and made his conversation agreeable.

The author went on to describe young Martha Meriwether, "a blooming, charming young woman." Then the author inserts this one line of explanation: she "had previously been engaged to marry Zack Taliaferro," Benjamin's brother. Apparently, she broke off the engagement and married the older brother. As one can imagine after a move like that, "The brothers quarreled and parted, never again to meet in friendship."

Would that explain why their father didn't include Benjamin in his will? Possibly. But in that same narrative, I noticed one other detail. Author Gilmer had just concluded an anecdote on Benjamin's father, Zachariah, concerning an event which occurred just before the elder man was sworn in as sheriff of Amherst County, when he chased after a "notorious outlaw" and didn't give up pursuing him until he caught him. 

This vignette demonstrating the man's thorough determination led up to the next family story: that of Benjamin being challenged publicly by a bully to a fight. Benjamin somehow deflected the challenge, but when his dad heard of it, Gilmer's interesting comment was that he "was threatened with disinheritance by his father for his supposed want of courage."

Disinheritance? Could that be the reason? Would it have been from that specific instance in his youth, considering that Benjamin eventually served with distinction during the war? Or could this simply be pointing out his father's inclination to do such a thing as write a son out of his will?

There are likely many details of the daily life of our ancestors for which we will never be able to read between the lines with confidence—or even accuracy. But when those gaps in the story make their appearance, it's pretty evident that subsequent generations are tempted to try and fill in those blanks. 

Whether the Pilcher Sketches of 1911, or even the Gilmer Sketches of half a century prior were able to capture the essence of the reason, I can't say. But I know for sure that something happened to create a rift that ricocheted through the family for decades afterwards.  


Tuesday, February 14, 2023

But What About Benjamin?


There is a name which, due to its owner's brush with history, has been memorialized through the various positions he held and roles he played in the early years of our country's existence. That name was Benjamin Taliaferro.

As far as I've been able to see through occasional research on the Taliaferro family over the years, that Benjamin belonged to the same immediate family as my fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro. But when we look at their father's will, I have to wait until almost the last line of the document to find Zachariah mentioned, but not once do I find Benjamin named in that record.

Is Benjamin part of that family or not? Did I enter him into a family tree to which he has no relation? Let's review what can be found about this Benjamin, starting with the reports from history.

Benjamin Taliaferro was known as an attorney, a politician, and a judge. Born in 1750 in Amherst County, Virginia, he came of age with the dawning of his own nation, serving in the Revolutionary War. After the war, he married the daughter of another longstanding colonial family, Martha Meriwether, and they moved from their native Virginia to the newly-formed state of Georgia.

A few years after their move to Georgia, Benjamin served in the Georgia General Assembly, and eventually was elected to the state senate, where he served as the senate president.  He later served two separate terms in the United States Congress, before returning to Georgia to serve in another capacity as a judge of the Georgia Superior Court, and later, as a trustee for the University of Georgia. It is no surprise to learn that a county, Taliaferro County, was named in his honor.

Though the retelling of Benjamin Taliaferro's history sometimes includes the names of his parents—the senior Zachariah and Mary Boutwell Taliaferro—I find it odd that Benjamin is not mentioned in his father's will. As a Patriot due to his service, Benjamin Taliaferro has his own entry in the listings provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution, as one would expect. But he also is included in the descendants listed in the DAR entry for his father Zachariah.

If that is so, why was Benjamin not mentioned in his father's will? It certainly couldn't be owing to Benjamin's choice to move from his family home in Virginia to the pioneer settlement where he lived in Georgia. His brother Richard did the same thing. It appears that at least one of his sisters—Ann Watkins—and possibly his sister Frances Penn, did likewise. And another brother, the younger Zachariah, lived not far from Georgia, being just over the state line in South Carolina.

As it turns out, there may have been another reason for this omission, though I can only guess at the cause. Relying only on stories from printed genealogies of generations past, I might have found a reason. At least, it makes me wonder what is at the root of the omission. We'll explore those old family stories tomorrow.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Going Straight to the Source


Source documents have an important place in genealogical research—and for good reason. Finding the original documents drawn up at the time of their occurrence, clearly identifying all the pertinent parties, is our best source for correct information.

So, in the case of my current project, that of researching the siblings of my fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, why not go directly to his father's will? After all, that is usually where we find the most reliable listing of all the children in the family.

That is true, at least for those parents who don't simply refer to their family as "my beloved wife" and "dear children." We've already seen some wills like that.

Thankfully, the senior Zachariah Taliaferro, father of my fourth great-grandfather, was more explicit than that. He just wasn't as thorough as I would have preferred. Here's the problem: I get the sneaky suspicion that ol' Zach left some people out of his will. And I'm not sure why.

Here's what can be found on the one page of the senior Zachariah Taliaferro's will, drawn up in Amherst County, Virginia, almost exactly two hundred twenty six years ago.

The first mention of any of Zachariah's children came with the third item detailed in the will. There, Zachariah specifically mentions "my three sons" as if those are the only sons he had. He listed, in mostly legible handwriting, the three as Charles, Warren, and what looks like Buckenhead. 

Reading on, however, we discover a listing toward the end of his items, presumably the place to catalog the names of all his children. The instructions to liquidate the balance of his estate to be divided equally among his children might cause one to conclude he named all his children. 

Included in this list are: Richard Taliaferro, Ann Watkins, Charles Taliaferro, Frances Penn, Warren Taliaferro, and Bickenhead Taliaferro. The list is helpful, for among other details, it confirms the connection with Zachariah's daughter Frances and reveals the name of the daughter married to the neighbor alternately identified as Thomas or "Thomson" Watkins.

That, however, is not a listing of all his children, for Zachariah then continues with his appointment of executors. Within this next list, we realize there previously was at least one child missing, as the listing of executors added one more name to "my sons"—Zachariah, Richard, Charles and Warren. Thus, we gain the confirmation of one more son. And wonder whether any others still might have been left out.

Being left in that unsure state, I can't tell whether just one, or maybe several more children were omitted from Zachariah Taliaferro's will. But I do spot one name glaringly absent from this document. I read the record over and over again to make sure I haven't overlooked that one additional name. Apparently, I haven't.

That name turns out to represent possibly the most well-known of his children, Benjamin Taliaferro. If, that is, Benjamin was really Zachariah's son. Something is definitely not adding up here.   


Sunday, February 12, 2023

Remembering Forgotten Resources


Do you ever write yourself a note about a great family history resource you've discovered with the thought, "Someday, I'll need this,"—and then forget you ever made that note?

That's exactly what happened to me when, just this past week, I realized that two huge manuscript collections might just contain information on the details I've been seeking on the siblings of my fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro.

Those two manuscript collections I first learned about through a week-long course in Southern research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. One of them was known as the Draper Manuscript Collection. The other was referred to as the Shane Manuscript Collection.

The Draper collection includes copies of letters, historical and genealogical notes, newspaper clippings, and notes from interviews regarding the early days (before 1830) of what was then called the Northwest and Southwest territories. The Shane collection focused on church records, early history and biographical sketches, many regarding Kentucky and nearby regions and including the family papers of a number of associated surnames.

Don't think these are resources you can check out from your local library and read in your spare time. The Draper collection contains 490 volumes of material. While the original volumes of the Shane collection are held by the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, FamilySearch has preserved the collection on thirty six microfilm reels—and currently reserves this digitized version for access at their main library in Salt Lake City or any FamilySearch center or affiliate library, but not, unfortunately, online from home.

Not to worry, though, for there is a partial index of the holdings in the Shane collection, drawn up by William K. Hall. Breathless when I discovered the FamilySearch catalog included a listing for the digitized copy of Hall's index, you can imagine my disappointment when I clicked through the website, only to find the message, "Due to copyright restrictions, this book cannot be viewed online."

Sometimes, though, the brick wall details we are seeking end up being found in our own backyard. While I suppose I could have checked that out by going to WorldCat to see if a library closer to home could resolve this research dilemma, I simply cut to the chase. I happen to know our own local library has a decently sized collection of genealogical reference materials, so I just hopped online to see if I'd get lucky with this.

Yes, I held my breath. Thankfully, though, the Hall book was there. Now, all I need do is make the drive downtown and spend a few hours in the reference section to see whether any of my Taliaferro kin make an appearance in the Shane collection. Sometimes we still do find worthwhile information in our own backyards. 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Back on the Trail of Uncle Dabney


Do you ever, in the pursuit of your distant ancestors, run across a name so different that you just have to grab it and run with it? That's the case in my current chase after the family of Zachariah Taliaferro: I've run into a name I'm certain has to be one of a kind.

True, the man's surname is Jones, and that can be impossible to research. But for a first name, Dabney has got to be unique. And that is indeed what I'm discovering.

Recall last week, in examining the will of my fourth great-grandfather Zachariah Taliaferro's brother Richard, how specifically he identified his sister Frances Taliaferro Penn and her two children. While mentioning his nephew Richard Penn, the elder Richard went into far more detail about Frances' daughter Mary, first identifying her as wife of Dabney P. Jones, then putting her inheritance in the control of a man named John H. Johnson, rather than bequeathing it directly to his niece or even to her husband.

You can read volumes into a statement like that. And you know I need to follow up on that trail.

So why the concern? It's hard to say, from information on the surface of local history. Apparently, Dabney P. Jones was well known among the residents of Georgia. A Methodist preacher, he was credited with preaching the first sermon in Newnan, Georgia, in 1828. On the Fourth of July in 1832, he made what some believe was Georgia's first temperance speech, "the beginning of a labor that ended only with his life."

Eventually considered the state lecturer for the Temperance Society in Georgia, Dabney Jones was soon "known everywhere as Uncle Dabney" (see page 63 here). He was mentioned by that moniker in biographical sketches of other notable residents of Georgia, owing to his influence during that era.

Funny thing is, I've been down this research trail before. Ever have that déjà vu feeling dawn on you?

It turns out the name Dabney P. Jones had been stuck in my mind four years ago when someone mentioned the name "Dabney" during a Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy course I was taking on Southern Research. Of course, I had to check it out then—even wrote about it in a blog post.

Reviewing my thoughts from that 2019 post made me realize something else. There are two huge reference collections which were mentioned in that SLIG course which may be extremely pertinent to my Taliaferro research now.

It's time to revisit those collections. This could be a chance to unearth some valuable reference material. Somehow, you know I'll be weaving those manuscript collections from that old 2019 post into my work during the rest of this month's research goal.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Finding More About Frances


We've been on a genealogical journey, trying to piece together the family constellation of my fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro. So far, we've found mention in his will of one Richard Taliaferro, whom he named as one of his executors. Chasing that clue, we found in Richard's own will—at least, we think it's our Richard's will—the naming of his sister Frances Penn and her two children, Richard and Mary.

As it turns out, it is a good thing that Richard Taliaferro specifically documented the name of Frances' two children. Where one would think to find such a listing, there is none. If I've found the right will for the Penn family, Frances' husband mentions her by name, but doesn't provide any detail concerning their children other than mentioning them generically as "our children."

Frances' husband Wilson Penn drew up his will on the nineteenth day of May in 1811. The document was filed at Elbert County in Georgia, the state where some of our Zachariah Taliaferro's siblings had settled. We already noticed yesterday that Richard had also made that decision to migrate from Virginia to Georgia before drawing up his own will.

Wilson Penn's will was fairly brief. Despite leaving us no clue as to his children's names, he did help us by appointing executors whose names will aid our research. Along with his wife Frances, whom he named as executrix, Wilson appointed Benjamin Taliaferro, Dr. John T. Gilmer, and "Thomson" Watkins.

While Benjamin Taliaferro is most likely brother to our Zachariah as well as to Richard and Frances, the other two names provide us assurance that we have found the will for the right Penn family. While we don't yet recognize who Dr. Gilmer might be, that surname interestingly is the same as that of the outspoken biographical author we mentioned yesterday. And the note inserted with the passage quoted yesterday from the Gilmer book mentioned a neighbor by the name of Thomas Watkins, who was said to be a brother-in-law of the lifelong confirmed bachelor, Richard Taliaferro.

So far, we've identified as siblings of my fourth great-grandfather Zachariah: Richard, possibly Benjamin, Frances Penn, and the wife of Thomas Watkins. Thankfully, we can now turn to the will of their father, also named Zachariah, to see who else should belong in this family tree. We'll begin that exploration at the beginning of the coming week.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Local Former Governor Tells All


If you ever wanted to know the details on, say, a Hollywood celebrity, leave it to the society columnists and social media "influencers" to dig up all the dirt. But our Richard Taliaferro, possible subject of two conflicting documents we've found, lived in the mid-1700s—and in a place unlikely to have many newspapers published with gossip columns.

Not to worry. There was another way to find all the snark a nosy family historian might desire: the tell-all book published by a former governor of the state of Georgia, George Rockingham Gilmer.

Governor George just happened to be born in Georgia to parents whose lines reached way back into colonial Virginia times: Thomas Gilmer and Elizabeth Lewis. The fourth of nine children, our George grew up with eight other opportunities to intermarry with descendants of early American family lines. 

He also, perhaps owing to his upbringing in what was then "frontier" territory of his home state, developed a habit of bluntly saying what he thought. Maybe it was his training as an attorney, or perhaps the years he spent serving in the Georgia state legislature, or the United States Congress, or his terms as governor, but those who have read his book, Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia, have noticed a high snark factor in his writing.

I am not sure we can call ourselves "lucky" that Governor Gilmer happened to be related to the Taliaferros in question for my research project this month, but he did have something to say about all the elder Zachariah Taliaferro's children. In particular, he mentioned the son we've been wondering about yesterday, Richard T.

The governor's commentary seems to confirm that Richard was son of the senior Zachariah and brother of my fourth great-grandfather, the junior Zachariah. Note how his assessment shows us that Richard did not seem to have a wife, let alone any children. In the governor's words:

Richard Taliaferro was deformedhis legs and thighs being only a span or two long, whilst his body was of ordinary length and size, and his head unusually large. His mind was of good capacity, but his deformity so soured his temper, and mortified his pride, as to drive him from society. He never married, became very penurious, and died without ever having enjoyed the love or commiseration of any but his nearest kin.

Whether that commentary was actually mean-spirited or simply the bluntness of a self-appointed social critic, it does provide us with some further hints about this Richard Taliaferro. For one, it rules out the guardianship document we found concerning two children orphaned about the same time someone by the same name as Richard died in Coweta County, Georgia. Since the passage was inserted in pages devoted to listing remembrances of the Taliaferro siblings, it makes for interesting reading—though not guaranteed to be accurate reporting. 

A note inserted by the author along with that text mentioned that Richard lived near his brother-in-law, Thomas Watkins. With the will we found yesterday—seeming all the more likely to be our Richard's document—we now have two sibling leads to follow up on. Besides Frances Penn and her family, mentioned in Richard's will, we now also need to find other explanations of how Thomas Watkins might have been related to our Taliaferros.


Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Richard Taliaferro's Last Wishes


My fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, named in his 1831 will several executors. Besides naming two of his daughters to the position of executrix, there were three men named. Two of those men were his sons-in-law: my third great-grandfather Ozey R. Broyles and David S. Taylor, husband of Zachariah's daughter Lucy.

There was an additional person named to this position in Zachariah's will: a man by the name of Richard Taliaferro. Presumably, that man was Zachariah's brother, for he did have a brother by that name. But since I know very little about that brother Richard except that his was a given name popular in the extended Taliaferro family, this is obviously both a moment to learn more about the man and a warning to proceed cautiously with research.

As it turned out, a cursory check of online documents revealed two court records. One was an 1834 guardianship appointment for the two orphan children of Richard "Talifaro," drawn up on the third day of November in Monroe County, Georgia. The other record was the last will of one Richard Taliaferro, which he signed in nearby Coweta County, Georgia, on the last day of October in that same year.

At first glance, despite being drawn up in two different counties, date-wise it appears as if the two documents fit together like two pieces to a puzzle. But let's take a look further. The children named in the guardianship proceedings were Mary H. and Charles R. Talifaro. The guardian appointed was a man by the name of John Brown, rather than any Taliaferro kin who could easily have stepped into this position.

Let's take a look at that other document to see who among his kin was named in Richard Taliaferro's will.

Beginning as did many last testaments of that era, the will first took care of the necessary business of ensuring a decent burial and paying off his remaining debts. After that, where one would expect to see a listing of a wife and children, Richard proceeded to name two women "formerly belonging to me" to give them specific items out of his possessions.

Family was eventually mentioned in Richard's will, but not a wife, and—even more germane to our question—not any children. Those he did name were either siblings or children of those siblings. Among them were:

  • "my sister" Frances Penn
  • nephew Richard T. Penn
  • niece Mary Jones

The last mentioned relative, Richard's niece Mary, had stipulations attached to the inheritance she was about to receive. For one thing, it was actually granted to John H. Johnson in trust for Mary, which might lead one to believe, at that point, that Mary was a minor. But not so. A parenthetical comment after that line explained that Mary was "formerly Penn"—in other words, Frances Taliaferro Penn's daughter—and "now wife of Dabney P. Jones." The will also specifically adds the words, "and her children."

In one single paragraph, we are granted a clear sketch of a family tree, if not of Richard, at least of his one sister, Frances. But is this our Richard? If so, what about the other document, drawn up only a few days later, naming orphaned children Mary and Charles? And how does John H. Johnson fit into the picture—if, indeed, either one of these documents belongs in the picture for our Richard Taliaferro.

Our first step will be to see whether we can find anything else on our Richard, executor for his brother Zachariah Taliaferro's will. Then, we'll also explore what can be discovered on Frances—ours? or another Taliaferro line?—and her Penn and Jones relatives. (Jones might be a rough research prospect, but perhaps not so difficult when coupled with an unusual given name like Dabney.)

Bit by bit, we'll either confirm or reject this connection between the Richard in the 1834 documents and the Richard mentioned in the 1831 will of our Zachariah Taliaferro—and learn a lot about at least someone's Taliaferro family.   

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Tying up Loose Ends
in the Family Constellation


It's helpful, when researching an unfamiliar family line, to get a sense of all the names populating that branch of the family tree. Only problem: until we know the names to put in that tree, how can we be sure we're on the right track?

Yes, that sounds like circular reasoning, but I can say I'm glad this is not my first foray into the history of the Taliaferro family of Virginia. We may know, for instance, that my fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, was named after his father, or that he was born in Caroline County but raised in Amherst County. But when we find out he had at least nine brothers and sisters, all born in the mid to late 1700s, there are a lot of loose ends yet to tie together.

We know, for instance, that in my fourth great-grandfather's will, he named as executor someone identified as Richard Taliaferro. Since we already know the younger Zachariah only had four daughters who lived to adulthood, who is this Richard? Not a son. Likely a brother would be the most reasonable guess, but what can we find about that Richard? Not very much, at first glance.

There were, however, two documents bearing such a name—well, I say two, only if you count some creative spelling efforts by the clerk of one county. Granted, Taliaferro is a challenge to spell—much more a trick to know how to pronounce—so it shouldn't be a surprise to find someone "misspelling" a name like that. Right?

If Zachariah named his brother Richard in his 1831 will, it would stand to reason that Richard were still living at that point. But would he be living in the same location, Anderson County in South Carolina, where Zachariah died? Or could he have lived some distance away, perhaps back in Virginia, where he was raised?

That is when knowing the family names helps identify whether we are looking at a document pertaining to the right person. Call that a cluster approach, or knowing a person's "F.A.N. Club." It's when we see the usual suspects appear in a document along with our target ancestor that we gain confidence we are on the right track.

With Richard Taliaferro—or Talifaro, as another document listed the surname—would a will from 31 October 1834 be reasonably his? How about a guardianship record for November of that same year? My only problem here: the guardianship papers name those two orphaned children in Monroe County, Georgia, while the will was filed in a Georgia courthouse in Coweta County.

Granted, the distance between the two courthouses amounts to a little over sixty five miles. But do they reference the same man? Hard to say, at least until we know something further about the family constellation of this Taliaferro family. It's time to see what we can find on this Richard Taliaferro, one of the executors of Zachariah Taliaferro's will. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

About Zachariah


There is a story about Zachariah Taliaferro, one of the kind we stumble upon in those old published genealogies (sometimes lacking source information), concerning his marriage to Margaret Chew Carter. Zachariah, namesake son of his father and wife Mary Boutwell, had been born about 1760 in Caroline County, Virginia, but was raised in Amherst County where his father had land holdings.

After the Revolution, the younger Zachariah studied law and decided, by 1786, to leave Virginia and settle in what was then called the Pendleton District in South Carolina. By this time, Zachariah was nearing thirty years of age, yet still unmarried.

It wasn't until at least ten years later when, still unmarried, he decided to return to Virginia to visit family. He was just about to conclude his visit when a friend persuaded him to postpone his plans so he could attend a ball to be held nearby the next day.

According to a genealogy published concerning the Carter family of Virginia—alas, with no documentation concerning this anecdote—the story was shared that, on the eve of that dance, Zachariah had a dream of seeing a beautiful young woman at the ball, standing "at the head of the room tying her slipper." Next evening, attending the ball, that is exactly what happened. Zachariah sought an introduction to meet her, and eventually claimed the young Margaret Chew Carter as his bride.

The Carter genealogy, in sharing that story, portrayed Zachariah as "an old bachelor lawyer," and indeed, he was over forty years of age when they married. However, he apparently outlived her, his 1831 will indicating no mention of a wife, only daughters, sons-in-law and some of his grandchildren. 

One of the executors listed in his 1831 will was a man named Richard Taliaferro, most likely one of Zachariah's six brothers. In addition to those six brothers, Zachariah had at least three sisters. If our goal this month is to trace the branches of this Taliaferro family, with a sibling count of that size, we may as well get busy looking at what we can find on those other children of the senior Zachariah Taliaferro and his wife, Mary Boutwell. 

Sunday, February 5, 2023

An All-Time High for Understatements


The columnist for the local Society section of South Carolina's The Greenville News was fairly gushing when she penned her column for Sunday, December 11, 1949:

The photograph on the front page of today's society section...is of particular interest here (an all-time high for understatements) for the bride is a Greenville girl...

As it turned out, I wouldn't have stumbled upon that newspaper clipping if it weren't for a few preceding details. The first on that list would be my dogged pursuit of all distant cousins descending from my Broyles ancestors, immigrants to the 1717 Germanna settlement in colonial Virginia.

By now in this plodding process, I had already run into anecdotes about the extended Brown family descending from my fifth great-grandfather Adam Broyles' daughter Jemima. I discovered my relationship to the real Georgia Brown immortalized by the 1925 hit tune, Sweet Georgia Brown. Yesterday, I realized I was related to an airline pilot determined enough to stare down the Cuban government and be the first to win the right to fly his passengers back home to the United States in the same hijacked airliner in which they had unexpectedly arrived.

Along this same family line of William Carroll Brown, direct ancestor of both those distant cousins I've mentioned, I ran across another story, the one referred to by the Society columnist above. The woman in question, the bride causing such breathless commentary, also descended from this same William Carroll Brown. Like some of William's other children, the bride's grandmother had also named her child after her father, William Carroll. Unfortunately, she only had one child, who in turn became a father of only daughters.

No matter; this man named one of his daughters by that same middle name, spelled as Carroll, instead of the more expected spelling for a woman's name. As I traced his daughter Carroll through life and added her to my Broyles family line, I ran into trouble when I started entering the name for her husband.

Unfased by the fact that anyone could have more than one middle name—after all, these are southern families I'm researching—I began entering the name of the groom. Alfonso...Antonio...Vicente...

When I was done recording the groom's name, I had taken up two full lines of print in his entry on my Ancestry.com tree. Something was clearly up here. No one has a name that long.

So I googled it. Sure enough, the prospective groom had made a name for himself when, at the age of seventeen, he bet $500 that he could fly a plane under the Tower Bridge in London. He won. He went on to compete in horse races, bobsled teams, and, eventually, car races.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, he met—incredibly—and married my mother's fifth cousin, Helen Carroll McDaniel of Greenville, South Carolina. Hence, the Society editor's amazement that someone from a town the size of Greenville would become the wife of the Eleventh Marquess of Portago, Grandee, a Spanish aristocrat.

Of course, I wouldn't have uncovered a story like that if I didn't pursue those collateral lines to make it possible to connect distant cousin DNA matches to their rightful place in my family tree. True, it takes a lot of sifting through countless stories before discovering some of the ones I've shared over these few weeks since the beginning of the year. For instance, in the past two weeks alone, I've added 476 documented names to my tree, which now contains 32,209 people.

Granted, that focus on one line—driven by research goals outlined at the start of each year in my Twelve Most Wanted plan—means the other lines see no action. For my in-laws' tree, I made zero progress in the past two weeks, simply because I won't focus on that part of the family until this coming April. That tree still remains at 30,715—same as it was two weeks ago. But when I do shift to cover the research goals for my mother-in-law this spring, I'm sure I'll stumble upon a few fascinating stories there, too, as I work to plug those distant cousin DNA matches into their right places in her tree.

In the meantime, I'll keep adding those distant cousins and linking them to DNA matches, all the while on the lookout for another story about the extended family. 

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Discovering Some Broyles Cousins


Do you ever take the opportunity, in researching your DNA matches, to discover the stories of the distant cousins who link you to your matches? Although I've finished working on the Broyles family, my Twelve Most Wanted research goal for January, behind the scenes, I'm still working on bringing down the lines of descent in my family tree on the collateral lines of those Broyles ancestors. Sometimes, I run across stories which I just have to share. I'll take this weekend's two opportunities to tell you about a couple distant cousins I discovered along this research trail.

When you come across a distant cousin's story through research, do you ever get a strong feeling about that cousin? Sometimes, that feeling can be positive, but this past week, I worked on one Broyles descendant whom I have to admit stirred up some negative feelings. Take this as true confessions of a Genealogy Guinea Pig, but in the end, I'm happy I got to "meet" this cousin.

First, let's set the stage—at least, genealogically speaking. We'll begin with a man born in 1851 called Asbury Churchwell Latimer. With a name as distinguished-sounding as that, you might think he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

That was not exactly the case for this man. Born in Abbeville County, South Carolina, he was fourteen years of age when the Civil War drew to a close, leaving the entire South in an impoverished state, and his own family unable to provide him with a decent education. Thus, he chose the practical approach, threw himself into farming and business to make a success of himself.

Asbury Churchwell Latimer chose, despite these financial challenges, to marry early. He chose as his bride one of my distant cousins descending from the Broyles family of my fifth great-grandfather's daughter, Jemima.

This Broyles descendant, Sara Alice Brown, just happened to be a niece of Georgia governor Joseph Emerson Brown. Whether, in the midst of raising the family of five children which she bore to him, Asbury's wife ever talked politics, I can't be sure. But by 1890, when he was nearly forty years of age, Asbury Latimer decided to turn his attention to running for office, becoming a congressman for his state and eventually their senator. It is from the memorial remarks at his sudden passing while in office in 1908, still available to read online now, that I draw much of the information on his early life.

That, however, is not the cousin I wanted to talk about today. Remember, this is only setting the stage, genealogically, for the one I want to mention.

As I worked my way through the descendants of "A. C." and Alice Latimer, I started first with researching their oldest, their only son whom they named William Carroll, after Alice's father. Perhaps owing to his father's political influence, son William chose to go into the legal profession, moving to Atlanta, Georgia, to establish his own practice. He must have been quite successful, for he married a beautiful daughter of a socially prominent family of Paducah, Kentucky—think thoroughbred racing—and raised four children in Atlanta.

All went well until, like his father before him, William Carroll Latimer died in 1927 before reaching the age of fifty. His oldest child, whom he named after himself, lost a father when he was only seventeen.

Perhaps I should have gone more lightly in my judgment of this distant cousin. After all, that kind of loss can have repercussions throughout life. Besides, it didn't help my prejudiced position to accidentally assume that the two-year-long marriage I discovered between a woman and "William C. Carroll"—ending childless in divorce so soon afterwards—was a document belonging to William Carroll Latimer when it really should have belonged to William Craig Latimer. Not the right guy.

Like his father before him—perhaps because it was the thing a son was expected to do—the junior William Carroll Latimer went into the practice of law, and soon claimed a socially prominent bride from among his mother's circle of acquaintances back in Kentucky. While strikingly beautiful, and eventually the mother of his firstborn child, William's wife became, before the next ten years were up, his first wife. William married again, returning to the social scene in Kentucky for a second bride, and subsequently fathering another two children.

If it were only for chasing genealogical details through documentation, a story like that would have left me disappointed in this newly-discovered cousin due to my own point of view. Thankfully, though, there were ample newspaper reports and other resources to tell some of the rest of this man's story.

Although William was well into his thirties—not to mention, married and a father—at the beginning of the second World War, he chose to leave his job to join the war effort. Gaining "duration leave" from the company where he was employed, he joined the Army Air Corps, as he had long since left his work as an attorney to train as an airline pilot.

One of those thoughtful but unnamed lovers of history who decided to archive an article from the news output of the old Brookley Field in Mobile, Alabama, was the first to help me see this distant cousin with a more three-dimensional view. From a news clipping there in Mobile from October 18, 1942, I learned that First Lieutenant W. Carroll Latimer spent his time as a test pilot, including running such World War II machines as the "Airacobra" for which his six-foot-two frame seemed an unlikely fit.

Back to his regular job with Eastern Airlines after the war, Carroll Latimer piloted such more decidedly docile routes as New York to Miami. However, if you remember the times during the late 1960s in which such routes ran the risk of sudden, unplanned itinerary changes to Cuba, such became the case for Captain Latimer.

Headlines in newspapers, such as this one from South Carolina, noted one such hijacking in February, 1969: "A fat man with a sick father in Havana hijacked a jetliner Monday." Pulling out a gun and informing a steward of his intentions, the man convinced the cabin crew of his argument and the pilot, our cousin Captain Latimer, complied.

That move, of course, brought complications—more than the kind we might assume. In such hijacking cases, according to one report on the incident, the Cuban government would allow the pilot and crew to return home on the "pirated" craft, but the Cuban policy was that all the passengers be retained in Cuba until another plane be sent from the United States to retrieve them. This involved busing the passengers to another airport location ninety miles away from Havana for their return flight home.

It wasn't until I found the story retold in his own obituary that I began wondering whether Carroll Latimer had decided, once on the ground in Havana, to trade his pilot's skill for his attorney's training in negotiations. As his family shared in his obituary

Once on the ground, he refused to leave his passengers and after much deliberation with the Cuban Government, became the first pilot to fly a hijacked plane, with all its passengers, out of Cuba and back to the United States.

I'm not sure why discovering stories like this helps me appreciate my distant cousins as the real human beings they are. But they do. They've convinced me to become a fan of searching the Internet for family names, checking newspaper archives in hopes of finding tidbits like these, looking in unexpected places for the kinds of details which range far from the traditional Birth-Marriage-Death routine we regularly document. Yes, that framework is important—after all, we need to make sure we've identified the right ancestor—but the joy of genealogy, in my opinion, still finds its spark in discovering the stories.


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