Thursday, March 23, 2023

Remembering When I First Started


Sometimes, it is good to recall our motivations for starting a project in the first place. After working so long on something, we can lose sight of our original inspiration. I need to pay attention to that first glimmer when I discovered the 1911 Tilson Genealogy. I think I've lost it in all the wanderings among generations of repeated names.

It's been quite a long time since I first heard that this Tilson family might lead me back to Mayflower roots. Years after hearing that, I discovered Mercer Vernon Tilson's tome on that same family line. After finding my ancestors in its pages—even down to Thomas Davis, my second great-grandfather—I was fascinated to see how all these relatives fit into the same family.

By then, I had already become familiar with genealogy databases, both desktop-resident Family Tree Maker and online, so I knew I had the tools to check out the work done by Mercer Vernon Tilson over one hundred years earlier.

That is how I got started. I'd enter specific information from the Tilson book into my closely related lines, then turn to and to locate records to verify the author's assertions. Everything I checked back then seemed to be well verified—until I got farther back in time to those early Virginia settlers who crossed that 1763 line of demarcation. That's where I couldn't verify the book's claims without really digging in to some source documents. Those, unfortunately, were out of my reach at the time.

Now that I'm back, tackling the project after a long hiatus—hint: pre-pandemic—the fine-toothed comb method is picking up some glaring errors. Perhaps I wouldn't have realized that, if it weren't for the addition of another motivation to re-ignite my original spark of inspiration: DNA matches. As I work through my Tilson matches—remember, I have thirty eight of them to verify—I'm spotting those glaring discrepancies.

Granted, the other tool in hand besides the Tilson Genealogy is Ancestry's ThruLines, a mostly useful program which is limited only by the soundness of the family trees upon which it is partially based. After yesterday's mis-matched discovery, I examined two other Tilson DNA matches, and found either a disagreement with the Tilson book or with actual documentation.

What that means for my tree is simply that, as I proceed with the Tilson book, I need to confirm every step of the way with solid documentation. Perhaps, with the DNA matches, I can share my discoveries with my newfound DNA cousin, but I also have learned that not everyone appreciates a chirpy message about how wrong their tree is, even if the message is only to suggest that the wrong identity was assigned to another Tilson with the same given name.

Producing a published genealogy like the Tilson Genealogy must have been a monumental undertaking when it was first proposed in the early years of the last century. We are blessed with so many tools at our fingertips to speed up the process now. But back then, you could almost see the project run out of steam as it approached some of the more recent generations of the Tilson lines of descent.

When I first started exploring the Tilson Genealogy, my dream was to use the computer tools we now have at hand to verify the information stored in that 1911 edition. It is possible, although an exhausting process. I may never fully accomplish such an undertaking—and I have run across other researchers who seem to have the same type of goal—but the idea has been re-ignited in my mind. At least for my own lines of descent, and for those of my Tilson DNA cousins, I'd like to see that project reach completion. Who knows? Perhaps a family association has already taken on that same idea.

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