Monday, January 8, 2024

Tracing the Carters


There is always the possibility that, delving into our own family's history, we may cross lines with someone who was, indeed, historically significant—not just to our own family, but to the community at large. Tracing the Carter line may just hold that very possibility—but first, we'll have to check this out for ourselves. That's my goal in researching my Carter family history this month.

While this won't be as daunting as tracing the family history of a line of Smiths, the Carter surname—the focus of the first of the Twelve Most Wanted I'll be researching this year—might just be a challenge. Carter is a surname which has been part of this country's history for centuries.

Granted, when thinking of well-known Carters in American history, our former president Jimmy Carter may come to mind, and that would indeed be a good example. Seeing the multitude of people claiming that same surname, though—only a decade ago, records showed Carter being the fifteenth most common surname in President Carter's home state of Georgia—we can hardly say that there must be a relationship there, simply because of a shared surname. Besides that, the Carter I am pursuing was my fourth great-grandmother, Margaret Chew Carter, wife of Zachariah Taliaferro. Back then, those Carters lived in Virginia, which, at least by 1880, claimed Carter as the ninth most common surname in that state.

While we'll need to hone our search to a very specific line of Carters this month, I already have a few clues to guide me. Margaret Chew Carter is mentioned in some published genealogies, which can serve as trailblazer to lead me to documentation, either to verify or discard what's been asserted in those books. While that may seem like "reinventing the wheel," I think it's prudent to confirm for ourselves what others have claimed in any genealogy, whether published as online family trees or coming from the pages of dusty old volumes at the library. Just because a source is old or printed in a book doesn't mean it is more reliable—it's the documentation that counts.

What details I have for now include that Margaret was born about 1771 in colonial America—just a few years shy of the start of the American struggle for independence. Her father—the next step in our search for Carter roots—was said to have been John Carter, a perfect example of how to expand the generic nature of such a name.

While a given name like John may seem to confound the research challenge, we can add that Margaret Chew Carter's mother was a woman named Hannah Chew, passing down her maiden name to her child, as has often been customary, plus providing us a guidepost to separate this one John Carter from the multiple others who were surely out there at the same time around their colonial Virginia home.

However, I can't be sure that those history books including this family's names are entirely correct. This is something we'll need to prove for ourselves. Take, for example, this excerpt about Margaret's husband's Taliaferro line, linking Margaret to another member of the extended Carter family:

According to that book, our Margaret was a descendant of King Carter. So, who was King Carter? And was Margaret's connection to this man one that we can verify?

That resource—the 1911 volume entitled Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher and Kindred Families—might indeed have been well-researched, but I want to trace that line for myself, not solely because I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, but because we all need to confirm each step in our family's chain of events with solid documentation.

So, lest we get lost in the minutiae of King Carter, we need to focus on Margaret and move in a methodical process, first to the next generation in this Carter line: that generically-named John Carter of colonial Virginia. But for those consumed by curiosity (confession: I am, too), I'll relent to take a brief moment tomorrow to discover who this claim-to-fame possible ancestor might have been, at least according to history. Then, back on track!

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