Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
When you first become involved with genealogy, and maybe take a beginner’s course, something that is stressed that you start with what you know and work backwards from each new generation you discover.
It is highly discouraged to go looking for random families with the same surname and try to see if your branch fits in. But sometimes this hard and fast rule of just working backwards can be violated to crack a brick wall. I personally have violated this rule twice to extend my family tree backwards.
First, let it be stressed that you don’t just go out “stabbing in the dark.” When you have to violate this rule, you do it because you have done your homework on your family. And you have a hunch about where it is taking you, but you are blocked. Your intuition should be based on a clue or something logical.
Back when my dad and I were working on the family history, we traced our Whitaker line back to Elijah Whitaker, who lived in Carroll County, Kentucky, from 1840 on into the 1880s. He had a wife named Sarah. Using all of the traditional ways of finding out a person’s parents had led to dead ends.
Where had this Elijah come from?
We noticed the names of his male children on the census: Levi, John, Benoni, Nimrod, Elijah, and possibly an Abraham. All Biblical names, and some were unusual. In a book in the library, we found some marriage and will information about a clan of Whitakers who lived in Shelby County, Kentucky. (This was before the Internet). The patriarch of the group was the Rev. John Whitaker, a Baptist minister. He had documented sons named Charles, John, Abraham, Aquilla, Elijah, Isaac and Jesse.
The son Elijah was married to a Sarah. But further research showed that this Elijah was not ours. He was born too early, and his children were documented. We discovered that the children and grandchildren of the seven Whitaker sons included lots of Biblical names, and that repeated with successive generations. More people named Levi, Elijah, John, Abraham, Isaac and Benoni than we could untangle.
After looking into this Whitaker clan closely, we “knew,” without evidence, that our Elijah was descended from one of the Rev. John’s sons. But which one?
We found that our Elijah was married in 1817 in Shelby County to Sally Gassaway, but there was a dead end on his parents’ names. We had to check out every Elijah Whitaker we could find.
There was a 1939 paper written on the family, but it was incomplete. We followed every lead, ruling out people. This took a couple of years. Meanwhile, we “assumed” we were descended from the line of the Rev. John, and we even found his origins.
Shelby County, Kentucky, was subdivided in 1798, and Gallatin County was created from part of it. We knew of a deed for the Rev. John’s son Abraham in Shelby County that mentioned a son named Elijah as one of his 14 children. Abraham had originally been from Shelby County, but his land was located in Gallatin County after Shelby was divided.
The deed records of Gallatin County were a gold mine, especially the deed depicting his land and the individual parcels that were given to each of his children.
We had finally proven Elijah’s relationship to the Whitaker clan of Shelby County, Kentucky, through his father Abraham’s will, a deed for the division of Abraham’s land showing Elijah’s parcel, and a deed in which Elijah and wife Sarah sold that parcel of his father’s land to his brother-in-law.
We now knew the names of our Elijah’s siblings and could find out even more family information from their branches. We discovered that our Elijah had lived in Gallatin County before moving to Carroll County, and since Carroll County was created from Gallatin in 1838, maybe he didn’t move at all. A trip down to Kentucky revealed Abraham’s land on the Ohio River, located in Carroll County.