Saturday, March 23, 2024

Genealogy Ennui


Today was one of those days, the type when nothing seems to turn out right. A weekend should hardly begin that way, but perhaps I can just blame it on genealogy ennui.

For my weekend research tasks, I like to tackle something light, often veering from my weekday research path. I started out at my computer, seated in front of a window filled with signs of spring in ample sunlight—and ended in threatening cloudiness. What had happened?

My thought had been to put the FamilySearch Labs latest promising project—the Full Text search—through its paces on another research puzzle I've been tackling off and on for a year. Truth be told, it was just last month after I reported my King Carter discovery in answer to my sister's question that she promptly followed up with another question: "And what about our Mayflower connection?"

Rather demanding of her, I grumbled to myself, but had to admit those elusive documents on that Tilson case were, um, still elusive.

But now, there's FamilySearch Labs, right? And now, we can find anything. Right?

Maybe not. We can find a U.S. Land and Probate record if it was digitized and added to the enormous collection. Oh, and if it hadn't been lost in a courthouse fire, or a flood, or an act of war. But not—surely—if it hadn't been drawn up at all. Right now, I'm beginning to wonder if that last possibility might have been the true case.

See, all I needed was a handy-dandy digitized copy of the will of my fifth great-grandfather William Tilson, showing his acknowledgement of his son named Peleg. Easy, right? But looking for any such document in the nebulous place where William had settled in southwest Virginia—the county lines kept shifting—brought no shouts of victory. Nor did a similar search in the Tennessee wilderness where he had settled bring even a sigh of relief.

To the credit of the FamilySearch Labs' Full Text search, it did lead me to a document in Washington County, Tennessee, showing an inventory of the estate of one William Tilson, deceased. Whether that was my William Tilson, I can't yet say, but someone named Peleg Tilson certainly went shopping for some tools when that inventory was made public early in the year 1825.

Since there wasn't a will—William S. Erwin was noted as administrator, but I haven't yet found any document appointing him to that position—not only do I lack a record to tie my Peleg to his father, but I have no way to know whether this William Tilson was one and the same as my fifth great-grandfather. Without that, I lack the connection between my paper trail to Peleg and William's paper trail to the original passengers on the Mayflower.

However, what I found does bring up a problem. I've long known that a Find A Grave memorial exists back in Virginia for William Tilson. The date of death given on that memorial is 1833. If you look closer at the memorial, though, the Find A Grave volunteer noted that the headstone, by now, is illegible. There is no way to read the name on the headstone, let alone the date of death. The volunteer reported that, according to the historian for the cemetery, that is "most likely" the grave of William Tilson.

Where did the date 1833 come from? Noticing that the comment on Find A Grave indicated William's service in the Revolutionary War, I cross-checked his information at D.A.R. There, for Patriot William "Tillson," the date of death aligned more closely with the estate inventory I had found in Tennessee: 1825.

At this point, feeling about as unsettled as the weather swirling around outside my window, I wasn't sure which direction to take next. For all I know, there could have been one William in Tennessee and another across the border in southwest Virginia. Or this could have been a case of both identities being one and the same person, owning property in Tennessee, but dying unexpectedly after traveling home to visit his daughter in Virginia. Until I found a document to say so, I can't really know for sure. And there's the rub: what if there is no document to check?

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