Sunday, October 23, 2011

Looking for the dead, and the living, and the dead

The past few months I've been chipping away at that brick wall surrounding my great-great grandfather, Thomas S. Maness. One theory is that he is Thomas McSwain "Swain" Maness of Moore County, N.C., but my uncle's DNA didn't match up with someone who had a common ancestor with Swain Maness. We haven't given up, however, because so many clues point to this man.

I made a couple of trips to Asheboro to look at a Maness family book, and I called the author and asked him a few questions. As it turns out, it's one of those perpetual family books — he keeps writing it and adding pages as he finds things out. So by calling him, I found out the name of Swain's daughter by his last (possibly fifth) wife. Better yet, her married name — Cora Brown.

DNA testing requires a straight male line or a female line. But I keep hoping that Swain's descendants, no matter what gender, might have a photo of him to compare with the tintype that we have of Thomas. I found Cora and her family on the census, then her death certificate. The library borrowed microfilm of the newspaper in that area, and voilĂ ! Cora's obituary listed her three daughters (with married names) and where they lived in 1994.

Before I ordered the obituary, I did an online search for the address on Cora's and her husband's death certificates, to verify the area for the right newspaper. I actually found a photo of her house, for sale on a realty site. Just for the serendipity of it, I printed it out.

For Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings blog challenged us to use to search for ourselves. I plugged in my name, as suggested, and got my correct age range, an old address, and it said that my late mother lived with me. We haven't lived together since I went to college. Interesting.

I plugged in the names of Cora's daughters. They should be up in years, but one of them was listed in her 40s. That can't be right, I thought. But the other one, mid-80s, was in a hopeful location compared to the obituary. I opened up my home page at and put her name and city in the white pages, which gave me a phone number and street address. Ah! I thought, one page (like Spokeo) may not give out all kinds of personal information, but putting several things together — obituary, search site, phone book — can lead to real live people!

I called Ms. Myrtle and briefly explained my research. At the last instant, I remembered to be tactful — my family has been chuckling for years about this possible ancestor who married many women (without benefit of divorce or death between them), but here was his family, and they might not know those things. She confirmed that her grandfather was a Maness and a civil war veteran (yes!), but referred me to her older sister for more information.

I then called Ms. Lessie, who is 89 and sharp as a tack (and matched the address of the woman listed in her 40s). Yes, her grandfather was Swain Maness. But no, they didn't know much about him. He died long before they were born. Unfortunately, her grandmother's house (Sarah Brady Maness) burned down, and she didn't think they ever had any pictures or birth certificates or anything like that. That news was a disappointment, but Ms. Lessie gave me one more tidbit.

I had never found anything on Sarah Brady (census, death), who was rumored to have preceded Swain in death. Lessie told me that she was mentioned in a book a relative of hers wrote about the Brady family. She read me the title and the authors, and I looked it up online.

There was a copy in Asheboro.

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