Here, gathered in our beloved South Dakota, are a few members of our Williamson / Mattson Clan. Charles and Luella are to be blamed (be kind, they didn't know what they were doing). We're generally a happy bunch and somewhat intelligent (notwithstanding our tenuous grasp on reality). I'm also proud to say that most of us still have our teeth.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Quest (Williamson Line)

From the Fortress of Solitude
Pleasant Grove

Hello All,
Researching our family history is a very rewarding hobby. The satisfication of breaking through a barrier and opening up a new branch of the family tree motivates me to keep looking.

In tonight's digital family gathering I've decided to invite you into the search and witness a sampling of the detective work required to gather and paste a family history together from the tattered remnants of records time forgot to wipe from history.

First, the genealogical problem.....

Look at the family tree (click on the family tree link at the top of the right side bar). Click on my Dad, Charles Williamson. His line will appear. Click on his father Charles. Click on his father William. Click on his mother Margaret Willis. Follow her line until you get to this entry "John Willis and Phebe Bennett". You'll notice the question mark. The question mark signifies a point in the tree I'm unsure about. The "?" was added after spending hours trying to determine if Phebe Bennett and John Willis were the actual parents of the Great Grandfather I was sure about - Bennett Willis.

The frustration comes from a conflict in the records found online and on various genealogical sites. Some records state that Bennett Willis was the son of John Willis and Sarah Jones. Other records indicate Bennett was the son of John Willis and Phebe Bennett. Now you understand the problem. Which record is correct? How does one make such a determination?

I've spent hours on this problem, searching for a link that might definitively solve the mystery. Finally, taking into account all evidence at hand, I choose Phebe Bennett as Bennett Willis' mother and placed the "?" in front of her name because the doubt I could be wrong was still present. Over the last several months I revisited the issue at least once or twice a week, always looking for enough evidence to removed the question mark.

Tonight I spent more time on the issue. Here are my evening's findings:

1. I reasoned that if Bennett Willis lived in Franklin County Virginia in the early 1800's then any other Willis in that county might be related. If they were related, then that relationship might point me in the right direction.

2. I pulled the records for the 1810 Census, the last taken before Bennett Willis died in the War of 1812. I found Bennett living in Franklin County Virginia. I discovered my hunch was right. Near Bennett's name was a certain Mark Willis.

1810 Census. Click to Enlarge

3. In 1810 the Census recorded the heads of households only. So Mark might be Bennett's father, cousin, brother or none of the above.

4. I started looking for information on Mark Willis and found the following:

John Willis and Phebe Bennett are the parents of Mark Willis and Mark Willis appears on the same page of the 1810 Census as Bennett Willis.

5. I went back and pulled more information on John Willis and Phebe Bennett and found the following:

You'll notice that this entry lists Bennett as the eldest child. Looking further down you'll see that Mark Willis is listed as Bennett's younger brother.

6. Therefore, the 1810 Census provides another missing piece to the puzzle and solidifies the case for Phebe Bennett as being the mother of our Great Grandfather Bennett.

Am I convinced enough to remove the question mark from Phebe's name? Perhaps.

And so you have it. A sampling of the process it takes to trace our history.

Thanks for reading and thanks for joining me in remembering and honoring those who came before.