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 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—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 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."  

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