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. 

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