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.   


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