Thursday, March 9, 2023

When the Same Names Keeps Popping Up


Stuck on a family history question? When it seems as if there is no way to make any progress in discovering more about those ancestors from colonial America, perhaps we researchers seem to be grasping at straws. But when the same names keep popping up, as we wander in research circles, perhaps that is actually our clue. Let's see what we can find about one surname which keeps appearing in notes about my fourth great-grandfather, Peleg Tilson of Washington County, Virginia.

We're already at a disadvantage in researching Peleg Tilson. According to the extensive Tilson Genealogy of 1911, researcher Mercer Vernon Tilson could only give an estimate for Peleg's birth—in the 1760s—and provided no entry for his date of death. The only thing we know from the book is that Peleg married a woman from Saint Clair, Virginia, whom he listed as Rachel Dungan.

Fortunately, Mercer Vernon Tilson provided a listing of ten children attributed to Peleg and his wife in that same book. The youngest of those children, a son, was listed with the curious given names of Hellens Dungan.

Any researcher seeing an unusual name like that—Hellens Dungan Tilson—would be tempted to assume that name might represent the namesake of a significant relative from the child's heritage. Since Dungan was his mother's maiden name, could her father's given name have been Hellens? Granted, Hellens would be an unusual given name for a man, but perhaps even that might itself point towards a grandmother's maiden name.

Perhaps seeing that name Dungan has sensitized me to other appearances of the surname in relation to records on the Tilsons. Remember, in finding Peleg Tilson listed among the cards from the Gordon Aronhime papers, there was a 1796 transaction noted in reference to "Elisha Dungan's land." Not Hellens Dungan, granted, but a Dungan nonetheless.

What about looking through the Aronhime papers for any information on someone named Hellens Dungan? Not surprisingly, there was a card in the collection for a similar spelling—this time, listed as Helings Dungins. Scribbled on this index card, both front and back, were far more entries than Peleg Tilson merited in his own card.

Here are a few details which could be gleaned from the card for Helings Dungins. Though there was no date of birth, he signed his will on November 10, 1813, which wasn't probated until September 20, 1814. The will was filed in Washington County's Will Book 4, beginning on page 72, according to Gordon Aronhime's notes. The most helpful clue was that among the will's witnesses was someone named Thomas Tilson.

Looking back to the Tilson Genealogy book, and this time to examine the names of Peleg Tilson's siblings, there was indeed a brother named Thomas. However, it is unclear why this Thomas Tilson might have served as witness to Helings Dungins' will, as his wife was not a Dungins. Perhaps—and this is quite likely, given the number of Tilson descendants with the same given names—it was another Thomas Tilson who signed as witness to his will.

However, that is not the end of the Tilson-Dungan connection. It happens that Peleg had another brother who did marry a Dungan bride. That was Peleg's brother Lemuel, named along with Peleg in reference to land owned by Elisha Dungan in the Aronhime papers. Though the Aronhime entry for Helings Dungins notes that his daughter Mary "may have married Samuel Tilson"—rather than Lemuel Tilson—that entry may have been a hurried error on Gordon Aronhime's part. Other record transcripts note that it was Lemuel whom Mary married on October 8, 1795, not Samuel.

This makes enough evidence for me to wonder just who Helings Dungins—or Hellens Dungan—might have been, and what his relationship to the wives of Peleg and Lemuel Tilson might have been. That said, what about the other Dungan mention in the Aronhime cards, Elisha? We have enough clues here to begin working on a rudimentary family tree. It's worth a try, in the absence of any other information on our Peleg, to wander a bit further down this research rabbit trail to see if we can unearth any other mentions of his name.

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