Monday, July 13, 2009

A Bubble Burst, A Family Found

For many years it has been assumed that there were 5 Tolliver brothers from North Carolina. This would be William, Moses, Jesse, John, and Charles. And there were two sisters Lucy and Sarah/Nancy. It was thought they were related to Robert, the immigrant, Taliaferro who lived in the Tidewater Virginia area in the seventeenth century all Taliaferros, Tolivers, and Tollivers branched from the same tree.
Robert Taliaferro left England shortly before his 21st birthday. He boarded the ship 'Honor' at the Stepney docks only two days after his father, Francis Taliaferro, died and was buried. He left his older sister, Anne, to act as Administrator of their Father's estate.
The date, August 1646, the likelihood that his uncle was a close adherent of the deposed King, and the haste of his departure in company of Robert Lee, seems to signal that Robert Taliaferro fled England in the wake of the defeat of King Charles I by the Parliamentary forces. Soon after he arrived in Virginia, he took up a patent adjacent to the earlier patent of Richard Lee, progenitor of Virginia's famous Lee family and a known Royalist. Richard Lee invited King Charles to take refuge in Virginia where he would be welcomed.
Robert first resided in York County; the records showing that his name first appears about 1645. He was a man of consequence; for he had large grants of land in Gloucester County and on the Rappahannock River, including one of 6500 acres which he patented jointly with Major Lawrence Smith. The grant in Gloucester is dated 1655, and in the document the name is written"Toliver," thus showing that the pronunciation is the same as it is today.
Having found all of this information on my ancestors, Sylvia and I decided we would take a few days and go to the Tidewater area of Virginia and see if we could find where Robert and his descendants lived. We decided to make Fredericksburg our headquarters and so reserved a nice hotel room and prepared for our trip.
We drove along a road that on maps is called “Historyland Highway” which in reality is State route 17 which follows the Rappahannock River which we knew from our research Robert had lived along. Imagine our surprise to find a roadside historical marker that referred to the Taliaferro home that was located nearby. Across the road from the Historical Marker was a couple who were working on their driveway. Sylvia rolled down her window and asked if they knew where the homestead was located. They were familiar with the site and gave us good directions to find it. Off we went full of excitement to find the historical site. After a few turns and misses we came to the place they told us about. It was the offices of a development company. They were developing several thousand acres along the Rappahannock River into a planned community. The site contained the remnants of the Taliaferro homestead which we learned had been built of red clay brick. The owner of the company offered to take us down to the site where the house had stood and five unmarked graves had been found. We were so excited! He told us that he had invited a team of archeologists from the Virginia Historical Society to do a “dig” of the site. They had found thousands of relics. We reached the site and got out to wander about the area. He showed us the foundation of the home, where a dairy had been and the grave sites. He then said that he was currently living in Robert’s son, John’s home, and invited us to tour it. As we were making our way back to our vehicle, he picked up a piece of brick that he said was from the home and a pottery shard and gave them to us. We were thrilled! We followed him back up to the main road we had come in on to the site of the large two story redbrick home where he was living. He took us through the home and it was an awesome feeling to walk where my ancestors had walked so long ago. Robert had actually lived in one side of the house until his death. It was getting towards evening so we bid the kind gentleman goodbye and made our way back to the highway and to our hotel in Fredericksburg.
I turned on my laptop with the idea that I would write my feelings of the day while they were still fresh in my memory. Now came the bursting of my bubble. Before starting to write I decided to check my email. I found an email from a lady that I had been corresponding with about the Taliaferro/Tolliver line. And she told me that a descendant of John Tolliver (1760-1863) who my line came through had just had DNA testing done and it proved that John was not actually a Tolliver. Even though all the records said he was one of the five brothers and had been raised in the Tolliver home, his lineage was not the same as the other members of the family. At first I went into denial but eventually came to the conclusion that John must have been taken in by the Tolliver family for some reason and raised as one of the family. I wrote to the man who had had the DNA testing done and he wrote back and gave me the information he had received. He said the testing revealed, “The Y-DNA of descendants reveals there are three families involved. The smallest is that of the Taliaferros, who are of Italian origin and came to Virginia early in the 17th century. The second, began by William of NC, has its roots in Western Europe and is common throughout the US. The third group, revealed by the DNA of John Tolliver has Biblical roots.” I was told that John was descended from the Perez Family, a Jewish line that went from Jerusalem to Spain and eventually to America. I then contacted another Tolliver researcher and received the following, “A DNA study conducted in 2003 by the Taliaferro DNA Project found a genetic match between descendants of four of the "Five Brothers" (Jesse, Charles, William, and Moses). A descendant of the fifth brother, John, did not match the others. However, John, Jesse, and Moses did consider themselves to be brothers, proven by a declaration that John Toliver filed in 1856 in support of a Revolutionary War pension application by the widow of Capt. Samuel Johnson. In the declaration, John refers to his "older brothers" Jesse and Moses Toliver. It is possible that additional descendants of John Toliver need to be tested to verify the DNA results. If the results are valid, then John Toliver must have had a different father than Jesse and Moses.
None of the Five Toliver Brothers matched anyone from the Taliaferro family of Virginia, which rules out the Taliaferros as ancestors of the Toliver Brothers, at least in a direct male line. It is possible that the Tolivers could be related to the Taliaferros through a female line, such as a child born out of wedlock who took the Taliaferro (Toliver) name. Although it is difficult to speculate about the actual relationship between the Tolivers and the Taliaferros, it is true that the Toliver family of Wilkes and Alleghany County occasionally spelled their name Talifer, Talifero or Tollafaro rather than Toliver, and there is even an example of the exact spelling Taliaferro in an 1867 deed involving the heirs of Jesse Toliver's son Solomon Toliver.
So, the Five Toliver Brothers continue to be an intriguing source of speculation, conjecture, and debate among their descendants. Was their father John or William? Did they really come from Fauquier County, VA? Were they really brothers, or perhaps cousins? Were they related to the Taliaferros of Virginia? We may never know all the answers to this riddle.
To say that I was a little bummed by all this information that directly concerned the site I had just visited is an understatement.
But as with most walls that appear along our path of Family Research, I began to look for a gate, tunnel or other way to get through, over, under or around the wall. This quest has put me in touch with many wonderful people who have added to my information about John and his descendants. Through these contacts I have visited the graves of John and his wife Tabitha Howell Tolliver near Sparta, North Carolina; talked with descendants scattered all over the United States, and exchanged stories, photos and documents.
So as of now here is how I am connected to the family of John Tolliver (1780-1863); James Franklin Tolliver (1795-1861); Wiley Gordon Tolliver (1835-1906); James Franklin Tolliver (1859-1937); Mearl Edna Tolliver (1894-1969) and Bill Blimes, Jr. (1921-1980). Some of these folks were explorers of new lands, fought for independence in the Revolutionary war, fought against each other in the Civil War, took part in an infamous feud in Kentucky, were jailed on suspicion of murder, worked in coal mines, farms, and factories and fought in World Wars. I am proud, whatever their circumstances, to be associated with them.

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