Monday, March 4, 2024

Meet M.E.T.


It is always wise to start with what you know, when launching a search for the unknown predecessors lying behind those brick wall ancestors in your family tree. At one time, my third great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro was one of those mystery ancestors. Only because of the help gained by using the mitochondrial DNA test was I able to break past the point before that, when all I knew about my second great-grandmother was that she was an orphan from Georgia who married Thomas Taliaferro Broyles and moved to Tennessee six years before her untimely death in 1877.

It wasn't easy to find the orphan's parents. Before DNA, all I knew, thanks to an entry in a family Bible, was that my second great-grandmother's maiden name was Mary Rainey—and even the spelling of her surname was suspect, due to handwriting issues. Eventually, the discovery that the daughter lived with her older brother Thomas in the 1870  household of one Charles Taliaferro in Columbus, Georgia, led me to the previous census record where, in 1860, the two siblings lived in a household headed by one Mary E. Rainey.

The older Mary was, at that time, apparently widowed, for there were several young people living in the home with her—but no husband. In typical fashion for the 1860 census, the household was itemized, giving the names of the men below the head of household, then the women who, in bookend fashion, followed—first the oldest daughter Martha, then the youngest daughter, "Mary W. E." 

The problem was that looking for the family in the previous census meant that baby Mary Elizabeth Warren Taliaferro Rainey would not be included in the household, since the 1860 census had indicated she was born about 1851. Noting the names of the older children, though, I pushed back to the 1850 census to discover baby Mary's father's name: Thomas F., same as the brother with whom she had been living after her parents' deaths. From there, I also obtained a copy of the elder Thomas' will, filed in Campbell County on June 7, 1858 which, although not identifying the other children, did name two daughters, including—thankfully—Mary Elizabeth Warren Taliaferro Rainey.

Now that I knew her parents' identities, it was time to learn more about them. Unfortunately, I haven't learned much about Thomas, husband of the elder Mary Elizabeth and father of the longer-named daughter. As for his wife, Mary Elizabeth, I discovered through her husband's will that, in addition to naming his wife as executrix, the same Charles Taliaferro in whose household I originally found the younger Mary Elizabeth and her brother Thomas living had been named executor of the elder Thomas Rainey's 1858 will. That, combined with the repeated reference to Warren Taliaferro, both as name of the couple's deceased son and the appendage to their youngest daughter's name, sure seemed to point the way to a Taliaferro surname for Thomas Rainey's wife.

As it turned out, there was an 1818 marriage record recorded in Oglethorpe County for one Thomas F. Rainey and his bride to be, Mary E. "Talafero." What was concerning, though, was that if the bride was indeed our Mary E. Taliaferro, she would have been quite a young bride. Based on the ages given in the 1850 and 1860 census enumerations, she would have been born in either 1804 or 1806.

The initial thought might have been, given the different location of the county, that this was not our Mary. However, it was the name of the minister which hinted we might have the right bride, after all. This minister of the gospel signed his entry in the court records as Nicholas Powers. Like many other clues we find in family history research, this name had more than one connection to Mary Elizabeth's family, as we'll learn tomorrow. 

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