My fourth great-grandfather Ebenezer Lilley Sr. (circa 1798-1880) was a farmer who lived his entire life in Martin County, North Carolina, USA. He married Armecia Roberson (1798-1893), and they had at least eight children together. Their eldest, Hyman Lilley, was born 14 Nov 1817 in Jamesville, Martin, North Carolina, USA. I believe I descend from their son Thomas Lilley, who was born 21 Mar 1821.
Ebenezer Lilley Sr. had another child around 1818-1820, either Annis “Annie” Lilley or Joseph “Joe” Lilley. Annie and Joe Lilley’s descendants are my cousins. They appear among my genetic matches on Ancestry.com, and I can trace their ancestors back to Annie and Joe.
When an enslaved couple in Eastern North Carolina formed a domestic partnership prior to the end of the Civil War, both might have been known by the surname of their owner, which makes relationships among enslaved workers difficult to identify from government records. From the moment I started to assemble my family tree, I realized I’d be able to see only what had been recorded, only what my ancestors and their families wanted known.
It seems likely the mother of either Annie or Joe Lilley was an enslaved worker, born circa 1785, who appears in Ebenezer Lilley Sr.’s household at the time of the 1840 census. She is unnamed on the record. In 1840, her child Annie/Joe already had a family of his/her own. I can’t tell whether the woman who gave birth to Annie/Joe had other children. I hope to discover who she was. Maybe she would have wanted me to.
I began to focus on Martin County, North Carolina, records after another Ancestry.com subscriber contacted me about a surname that appears in both her family and mine. As children, she and I spent some of our summer vacations in the same years at our grandparents’ homes only 15 miles apart. We haven’t yet discovered a genetic connection, and we’ve never met, but we are cultural cousins without a doubt.
Most people don’t realize it’s possible to find distant ancestors in common with most of the friends they know well, if their backgrounds happen to be culturally and ethnically similar. The effort involved makes it impractical, but that could change as technology evolves and replaces some of the tedious genealogical research. Becoming immersed in the research, though, is the best way to learn American history.
All of the data in my family tree is potentially flawed and subject to new information that could alter my current assumptions.