Saturday, September 23, 2017

Evolving : A Sense of Community

Thursday night was our local genealogical society's monthly meeting. Of course, there isn't a meeting—at least for our group—that goes by without it prompting thoughts. Many thoughts.

It's a season of change at our local genealogical society. Not only because genealogy everywhere is changing, the result of a new universe of research possibilities bestowed upon us by technology, but because of changing commitments, we, too, must adjust.

I sometimes think ours is a society different from all others. Perhaps it's because we're in California, where everything seems to run differently. Somehow, we're less stuffy—and more engaging. Less "professional"—and more eager to learn.

Whatever it is, we are the type of group that visitors—sometimes our guest speakers, as well—find welcoming, informal, comfortable. That mode has become a hallmark of the community which has evolved among those of us in our county who are fascinated with genealogical research.

Granted, there are some longstanding members who have been dedicated society volunteers for decades, but there are new faces, as well. Each new person brings a unique perspective along with the specific purposes which caused him or her to decide to become part of our society. Thus, with each new member, our group becomes increasingly enriched—no matter how infinitesimally small that change may be—by the qualities that person brings to our circle.

We morph from what we were to what we are to become ever so gradually with the inclusion of yet one additional member. But the pace of change seems to have become supercharged with the blending of community and computers. Some of our members have joined us from long distances—the value to them in associating with us can only be met by our willingness to expand to offer digitally-accessible services. While we appreciate their financial support in the form of the dues which enable our organization to provide the varied services we offer, we need to remember to expand those services to include meaningful access to those who can't just hop in the car for a short drive to our meeting location.

We can look to others who have already accepted the challenge of opening their organization's "doors" to, virtually, the world. Societies which have set up a Facebook presence make themselves instantly accessible to anyone, anywhere, who speaks the same language and searches for the same details. Yet while serving these new additions to their community, the process itself of providing that service instigates a change to the organization, as well.

Genealogical groups have learned to publish blogs, produce podcasts, archive webinars. We are getting our word out—and reaping a following from those who are receiving that word. Every new act we add to our society's repertoire changes us as a society.

We learn from genealogy trailblazers. Our society's current president, Sheri Fenley, has been participating as a panelist in a sharing-while-learning experiment conducted by DearMYRTLE and associates, the GenDoc Study Group "hangout." While we observe DearMYRTLE—a.k.a. Pat Richley-Erickson—conduct on-air programs, we gain inspiration for what we, too, can replicate in our own circles.

But every time we catch a glimpse of what we, too, can do, we interject a trajectory of change into our group's status quo. Granted, each change—whether of method, or ideas, or new people and their own unique contributions—may be so slight as to not be immediately noticed. But eventually, the change will be felt. And then the question becomes: how do we handle that change? How do we counterbalance the ravages of change to respect the integrity of the community?

There are some people who may feel that, if the group changes, it will no longer be the same group. True, with change, that sense of community will not remain the same. It doesn't, however, mean the community is no longer meaningful or useful. The one size which used to fit all will not always work, yes. But if we see our organizations as the living, dynamic entities that they actually are, we will plan to adapt to honor that sense of community cohesiveness while also stretching to become the inclusive organization we need to grow into if we hope to meet the needs of those whom our services inspire.      

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Land Grant that Wasn't

Choosing a time like 1763 to arrive in the wilderness of southwestern Virginia was probably not the most advantageous arrangement. Whatever the mechanism was that granted William Tilson property on the south fork of the Holston River—even if it was on account of his service to the Crown during the French and Indian War—the British government promptly followed up by declaring all colonists' claims to land west of the Appalachians null and void.

But the Tilsons apparently stood their ground. Whether this Proclamation of 1763 suddenly converted all those Virginia settlers into outright criminals or simply scofflaws is hard to tell. Regardless of what others did—or what they were supposed to do—those Tilson ancestors, new to the area in 1763, apparently stayed in the neighborhood long enough to raise their seven children.

If what can be gleaned from Lewis Preston Summers' History of Southwest Virginia, 1746 - 1786 is accurate, land agents for the Patton grants and the Loyal Company grants "immediately proceeded to survey and sell lands upon the waters of the if they had never been restrained from doing so by the proclamation of 1763."

That others eventually affiliated with the Tilson family were also in the area during this disputed time is evident, for the family we mentioned yesterday—that of the Joseph Cole who married William Tilson's youngest daughter—were said to have arrived in the area from Massachusetts by 1774.

The various historic reports of settlers having to vacate their lands seem to either pre-date or post-date the Tilsons' stay in the area. There is no doubt that the unrest caused by the land disputes made a stay in the area risky, but the two eras in which it was mainly reported that settlers actually fled to other colonies were either well before the Tilsons arrived, or during the time when the Tilsons also migrated to Tennessee.

By 1766, in fact, the Loyal Company, one of the very land companies which should have ceased their activities, actually placed ads requesting that "all persons who had contracted for any of the company's land and were driven off their settlements in the former war, to return and claim the same or it would be sold to others."

Perhaps, with those conditions, it was no surprise that the Tilsons held tight to their land.

Still, the question is: if the very governmental entity which authorized the granting of that land to William Tilson for his military service now changed its policy and retracted that grant, exactly who would it be that held the document verifying that land grant that now wasn't?

Despite such questions, it was only a few more years until a subsequent war changed the legal standing of that policy yet another time. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

About That "A" in the FAN Club

Following after those bright-shiny research objects spotted during the malaise of project goals gone awry is not all lost time or effort. In the long run, research detours can be quite productive, especially if we remember that the principle of the FAN Club—the friends, associates and neighbors of our ancestors—can often help uncover clues which otherwise would have remained invisible to us in our most challenging searches.

This week, I've been poking around in any material I could find online concerning the land where my Tilson ancestors settled in the southwest wilderness of 1763 Virginia. Yesterday, we discussed the process of obtaining some of the colony's original land grants which much pre-dated my Tilsons' arrival from Massachusetts.

Finding the names of surveyors James Patton and Thomas Walker turned out to provide surname landmarks on which to peg my progress as I followed along. As it turned out, a subsequent discovery of an interesting paper—who knows how accurate that material itself is—caught my eye solely because of those Patton and Walker names, and then led me to a useful discovery.

The paper was from a presentation given at the Blockhouse Visitor's Center at Natural Tunnel State Park nearly three years ago. The speaker was Lawrence J. Fleenor, whose subject was "The First People from the Old World to Come Into the Greater Holston Valley in Virginia."

While the article deserves a good read by anyone researching the same geographic area I'm currently studying, it led to yet another rabbit trail emerging from this presentation that helped me further on my research way. If you recall the cemetery in the region in which some of my Tilson ancestors were buried—a place curiously called Saint Clair Bottom Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery—you may remember my difficulty trying to find out more about both the cemetery and the place where it was located.

I hadn't made much headway finding more information on Saint Clair Bottom—even using the variant "St. Clair" and the possessive form of the name.

In the Fleenor article, however, I found not only a curious history of migration into the area which my Tilsons eventually called home, but some hints on alternate names for that Saint Clair Bottom designation.

Being that it was located at or near the south fork of the Holston River in Virginia, naturally I assumed the "Bottom" referred to low-lying land close in to the river, itself. But the designation "Saint Clair" had me stumped.

As it turned out, that Saint Clair referred to an actual person by the name of Charles Saint Clair. That very Saint Clair, as it turned out, was somehow involved in the explorations of the surveyor we met yesterday, James Patton.

The Fleenor paper referenced another version of Saint Clair's surname; it turns out he was also called Charles Sinclair, and his property referenced as Sinclair's Bottom (and various possessive forms of that name).

Once I found that detail, I tried my hand at googling everything I could find on that new name. There was a great deal to be found, including a website and a blog on a DNA research project focusing on that specific family from colonial southwest Virginia.

In addition, my search turned up yet another version of that name: Charles Sinkler (or Sincler), which was evidently how the Virginians of that time pronounced Saint Clair. (Not surprising, as I've already learned the Virginians had an entirely unexpected take on how to pronounce the surname of another of my ancestral lines, the Taliaferros.)

Thus, now armed with the knowledge that Saint Clair Bottom—as at least the historic church was originally called—might also be referred to as Sinclair's Bottom or Sinkler's Bottom, I started afresh with research vigor.

It was a long rabbit trail to wade through all the material I could find. In the end, I discovered Charles Sinclair led an adventurer's life that may actually have been stranger than fiction. Tucked within that insane narrative, I learned, for one thing, that he and his family had to retreat for safety to North Carolina during the period between the end of the French and Indian Wars and the time of the colonies' war of independence, and that, upon his death back at his regained property in Virginia, portions of the land inherited by his children eventually were bought by a man with the name Joseph Cole in 1785.

While I cannot yet ascertain the exact relationship, what is interesting to me is that that specific name, Joseph Cole, happened to be the same name of the man who married my William Tilson's youngest daughter, Jennet. That Joseph Cole also happened to grant property for use of the local congregation to build their church and establish their cemetery—the cemetery, in fact, where William Tilson himself was eventually buried, the Saint Clair Bottom Primitive Baptist Cemetery. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Not Too Early — But Not Too Late

Exploring the history of land grants in the British North American colony of Virginia has been an interesting side trip on my route to discover what prompted my Massachusetts ancestors to move to the wilderness surrounding the Holston River. I knew that my William Tilson had served in the French and Indian War before marrying his bride in 1762 and moving to southwestern Virginia. But it has taken a lot of digging to determine just how the land in the area might have gotten doled out to willing settlers.

One of the first land grants I found information on was issued in 1745. That year, of course, predates my Tilsons' arrival in the Virginia colony by a considerable amount. Still, to explore the mechanisms of how colonists obtained land in that era, I decided to follow the paper trail.

The 1745 grant was made by the Virginia governor and Council of State to a gentleman by the name of James Patton. His was not a modest receipt of property: the grant entailed a swath of land totaling one hundred thousand acres. The only stipulations, apparently, were that he could not select lands within the boundaries of claims of three other grantees: Lord Fairfax, Benjamin Borden and William Beverley.

In the ensuing years, there has been much interest in the land grants of that same James Patton. Records of a subsequent—1749—land grant he received are housed at the Library of Virginia. An interesting assessment of the longstanding—and possibly suspect—business dealings of James Patton and William Beverley has been offered in the bulletin of a local historical society.

James Patton was not the only one surveying large grants of land received from the Virginia government. Just a few years later, another explorer, Thomas Walker, joined with several others to form a company which received land grants, as well. That company was known as the Loyal Company, and among its founders were men with surnames which make up part of my own heritage: Gilmer, Harvie, Lewis and Meriwether.

Those land grants—of 1745 and 1748—were too early to include my Tilsons' arrival in southwestern Virginia, of course. But in looking at a meandering report I've mentioned previously, an online reprint from a 1937 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly, I noticed author Ralph M. Brown observed,
From the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1764, until 1768, nothing of importance occurred in Southwest Virginia beyond the visits of the Long Hunters and the surveyors for the land companies, few settlements being made.
The great influx of settlers into Southwestern Virginia and Kentucky did not begin until after 1794.

While 1745 was too early a process to include my Tilson settlers in the area, that date of 1794 for a "great influx" of settlers was definitely too late. I needed to find something in the middle to help me understand just what it was that inspired a newlywed William Tilson to opt to leave home and extended family to set up housekeeping with his bride in the wilderness of southwest Virginia.

Fortunately, other "current events" of the time period pointed me to some possibilities. Part of the business woes of the Loyal Company involved fallout from the politics of the era. Once source mentioned "the crown rejected further extension of the grant" held by the Loyal Company as part of a ban on western settlement in 1763.

For those astute history buffs among us, that date of 1763 may have rung a bell—but not for me, unfortunately, as I had to slog through pages and pages before I even realized that date sounded familiar.

And it should have sounded familiar to me, if for nothing else than that William Tilson—who had served with the British in the French and Indian War—was by that year free to marry, to travel, and to relocate his residence, simply on account of the end of his military duties during war time. In other words, with the war now over, the obligatory treaty had to be drawn up. To the victors went the land of the defeated, so Britain now held claim to lands once under French control.

In addition to that, other agreements fell into place. Among them was the provision in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 forbidding all settlement west of a line drawn along the Appalachians. Bottom line: that suddenly rendered void any land grants which had been given by the British government to those American colonists who had fought in the war.

This opens up two additional points to pursue. One: that there were land grants issued by the Crown to colonists for military service before 1763. Second, if that were so, and if that was what instigated the Tilsons' move to Virginia, how was it that he remained there on that now-not-legally-granted property? For William and Mary Tilson remained in southwest Virginia at least through the dates of birth of the seven children I've been able to locate—a stretch of time from 1763 through 1776, and possibly much longer.

Every time I've pried open the answer to one question, all that pops out is yet another question.     


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Daniel Boone Was Here

Oftentimes, I've run into beginning genealogical researchers who get jazzed at the thought their ancestors might be related to someone famous. Kings come to mind here, but also generals or explorers. Once the possibility enters their mind of a connection to greatness, it unfortunately seems to nudge the research work in the wrong direction.

Perhaps as a counter-move in the hope of avoiding such weakness, I've automatically been dismissing any notion of a connection to well-known names of American history. You might have noticed that I glossed over some references, in links last week, to folk hero Daniel Boone.

The more I delve into the history of the Wilderness Road and the land in southwestern Virginia where my Tilson ancestors decided to settle, I can't help but acknowledge that that very place was one in which Daniel Boone used to roam.

In the region around the three forks of the Holston River in Virginia—the place where William and Mary Marcie Tilson settled and where all of their children were born—the way was made possible by adventurers, explorers and land surveyors who passed that way before the Tilsons arrived in 1762 or 1763.

Since this is such a new area of research for me, I've been absorbing an immense amount of material to get up to speed on the necessary background details. Swamped with information overload, perhaps that's why I gravitated to a website with the kind of simple terms best suited for younger students. Sometimes, it's just easier to learn new material by reverting to the simple, concise explanations presented in books intended for grade school students.

In reading one entry at a website called Tennessee4Me, after getting the lay of the land, information-wise, I scanned the article for names of people and geographic locations to help provide keywords for further searching.

That's where I saw the mention of Daniel Boone. Only one year after William and Mary Marcie Tilson's oldest child was born in 1763, Daniel Boone was somewhere in the same area, exploring the Holston valley for a land speculator.

Of course, by the time Daniel Boone was covering the area, the Tilsons had already settled there. Though the name introduces that bright-shiny aspect to the research, what I really needed was a clue as to how land was being distributed before Daniel Boone got there to check it all out.

The same article gave me a few more leads from earlier years. The one name which caught my eye was that of Virginia "adventurer" Thomas Walker, who arrived in the region in 1748 and returned again in 1750. He was key in an entity known as the Loyal Company—a detail I thought might be worth following up on. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Getting Lost in the Details

Can you understand your ancestors without understanding the times in which they were living?

In trying to determine not only why but how my Tilson ancestors left their home in Massachusetts colony after their marriage in 1762 to end up in southwest Virginia, I'm having to absorb a lot of Virginia history. And, not being a speed reader, I'm learning a lot of detail I hadn't anticipated including in my pursuit of family history.

Virginia, like the Florida of my McClellan ancestors, is one of those locations in which I have family roots, but have never traveled through, myself. Thus, it makes the research that much harder, for the place names don't evoke any memories of spatial relationships. I have no idea which two town names might constitute a short trip of a few hours, and which represent distant journeys. Geographic identifiers, such as the Blue Ridge mountains or the Piedmont, the James River or the Shenandoah Valley, mean nothing to me. I have to slog through corollary material like maps and documents to guide me through the explanatory texts I hope will answer the question initiating this search.

What, indeed, made these crazy ancestors travel all that way? And what made them think this was the way to get there?

And so, as I try to retrace my ancestors' steps, I'm wandering down detours of my own, reading summaries of a history so intricate yet seemingly so disconnected from the roots I thought I had.

Take this website found on colonial Virginian expansion, courtesy of Google, explaining the several treaties drawn up in the 1700s which opened the way for westward expansion of the colonies. (Did you know Virginia claimed land rights all the way across the continent to the Pacific Ocean?)

Even as the article meanders through details I once hoped would easily provide me with an answer, I feel as if I'm coming up short when the immigrant pathways outlined in the text mention Scots-Irish traveling on foot to the destinations I thought were the communities formed by my Mayflower English settlers. Somehow, these details don't seem to mix.

And yet, I read on, somehow hoping these recitations of history will lead me to some slight clue producing the answer I'm seeking.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Only Ninety Eight More Shopping Days . . .

It may seem premature to even mention it, but according to the Christmas Countdown Clock, there are only ninety eight more shopping days until the year-end's big gift-giving extravaganza.

Not that I'm into shopping or anything. Our family has graduated from the big fling holiday style; we keep things to a moderate level. What I am looking at are all the possibilities inherent in the holiday season to remind our fellow family members that their family is rich with heritage—and that we are just the ones to share it.

Face it: we've spent days on end, collecting details about ancestors none of our family ever met—let alone heard of. Granted, some of our discoveries may have been less than dramatic, but there are others for whom a story line may have piqued our interest—and can for those with whom we share it.

How to share, though, is the trick. If your family is filled with people whose eyes glaze over, the minute the slightest mention of the dear departed is made, you may have a challenge on your hands to rouse anyone's fascination. But there are ways to share your discoveries, and this season may be the best time in which to prepare.

During a genealogy class I taught this weekend, someone asked about how to scan documents, and I mentioned the Flip-Pal scanner. As an example, I described one of the most novel uses I had heard about using the device: inspired by the Flip-Pal's ability to "stitch" scans of small segments of large documents together, one researcher took this idea literally and scanned an heirloom quilt.

Another project I had heard of was when a woman was puzzling over how to preserve the ties she had inherited from her departed father. I've heard of people taking such ties and crafting them into a quilt, or arranging some in a shadow box, or any other way to transform this token of heritage into a form in which it could be visually shared and enjoyed.

There are any number of creative ways to share our family history with family, one sliver at a time. These brilliant ideas, however, never occur to us in a timely manner. They might pop into our head the night before the family descends on us for Thanksgiving, for instance, or at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. Not, at any rate, at any moment leaving us adequate time to prepare.

I've thought of making up calendar wall hangings, complete with photos marking significant dates of our ancestors: the day our great-grandparents got married, or the birthday of a grandparent. Sometimes these ideas are rather routine and simple, but when blended with stuff we all use everyday, they provide a practical mechanism for us to take a snippet of our research progress and get it out there for everyone to see and enjoy.

You have probably had a few ideas of your own—and if you are the crafty type, please share them with those of us who are creativity-challenged!—but the time to do something about such notions is not right before the holiday rush descends upon us. The time for those creative outbursts is now, when we can brainstorm on how to turn that genealogical-sharing dream into a reality in time for others to enjoy during the upcoming holiday season. 
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