Sunday, March 10, 2024

Solving for the Unknown


Genealogy, as I've always seen it, can be quite like an algebra equation: you need to separate the known values to one side of the equation to solve for the unknown entity isolated on the other side. 

Right now, I've been grappling with an unknown: the names and identities of the children of my fourth great-grandmother Mary Meriwether Gilmer and her second husband, Nicholas Powers.

Unfortunately, Nicholas Powers did not leave a will—at least, not one I could find anywhere in the state of Georgia, the Powers family's residence, during the mid 1800s when he most likely died. However, I was able to find a court document indicating that someone named Nicholas F. Powers had been appointed administrator over the estate of "Nicholas Powers late of Oglethorpe County." The catch? The document only identified three children: Nicholas, Sarah, and Thomas.

It occurred to me that I did have a way to isolate the unknown entity in this genealogical equation to learn more about the family of Mary and Nicholas: DNA testing. While the relationship would be distant, it was still within reach. I decided to take a look.

Since my ancestor Mary Meriwether Gilmer had been previously married to a man who was my own direct line ancestor, Warren Taliaferro, I first looked up how many matches I shared with people who descended from Warren. According to's ThruLines tool, I currently have sixty four DNA matches who share a genetic connection to Warren. 

Normally, you'd expect about the same number of matches to also connect with Warren's wife, Mary. But in this case, because the young widow had married Nicholas after Warren's death, descendants of those Powers children—however many there actually were—increased Mary's match count to seventy seven.

Sure enough, when I clicked through to see who made up the difference in the two counts, there were descendants of three Powers children in the mix. However, don't count on that easily solving my genealogical algebra problem. The three Powers ancestors were listed by these DNA matches as George, Mary Caroline, and Thomas. 

Well, Thomas I've already found in documentation, but Mary Caroline? And George is on the borderline, as I haven't found him in any records so far, either, though links to his Find A Grave memorial display family names which sound like Powers and Gilmer namesakes to me. 

I've begun checking each of the seven DNA matches descending from Thomas Powers, as at least I have documentation confirming his descent from my fourth great-grandmother. Surprisingly, the closest match shares twenty six centiMorgans with me, all in one segment, when it could have been quite possible that we would share absolutely no genetic material at all. The paper trail confirmed the connection, encouraging me to review the rest of the list, too. As for George and Mary Caroline, though there is a slight smidgeon of DNA that could tie us to the same ancestor, it is a very weak link. Better to look first for positive signs in the paper trail, before trying to solve for that unknown.

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