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17 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: Writing Leads To New Discoveries

Possibly the footstone at Hiram Gaines's grave
One of the inadvertent benefits of writing one’s family history is that sometimes the process leads to new discoveries. My current genealogical focus, during the CV-19 shutdown, is Hiram W. Gaines, a third-great-grandfather on my paternal line. I previously shared my story of how I was able to confirm the name of his father – that was the inspiration for this Quarantine Quests series.

I had been waiting to write Hiram’s biography for my family history blog until I could include the names of his parents. Since I now feel confident that I have that figured out, thanks to Ancestry’s ThruLines, I decided to write Hiram’s bio. That is what I’ve been working on for the last few days.

My process for writing an individual biography, once I have substantially completed researching that person, has two parts. I use the list of facts and the timeline features in my RootsMagic genealogy database to compose the narrative. Once that is complete I look through my source documents and select material to illustrate the post. Sometimes, particularly for more distant ancestors, I turn to Google to help embellish the story. After all, I want my siblings and cousins to read what I write so I try to make it as appealing as possible. For example, the list of possessions that were recorded in Hiram’s probate packet included a gig wheel, an inkstand and whip, and a flaxwheel and reel. I entered each of these in the Google search box and easily found images of all three to augment my story.
This image came up in Google when I entered Gig Wheel
I finished the text for Hiram’s bio yesterday afternoon. After dinner I was looking through the documentation I have for Hiram which includes a series of photos I took in 2017 of his original probate papers. Yes, the archive I visited in Abbeville, South Carolina allowed me to look for, handle, and make copies of Hiram’s material as well as the probate packets of several other Gaines relations.

While trying to decide which page of the probate packet to use as an illustration, a line item popped out at me and momentarily took my breath away. It simply read, “Monticello - .50”. Yes, this was a reference to the Monticello – the home of President Thomas Jefferson. Three years ago, I reviewed each item in his probate packet including this list of expenses and gave no thought to that specific entry; but recently I have done a lot more research on my Gaines line, and in doing so I learned that Humphrey Gaines was a carpenter at Monticello. Humphrey was Hiram’s uncle. Using good ol’ Google I found this website that lists Humphrey and two of his brothers as workmen who were employed at Monticello.
This is a page from Hiram's probate packet
showing the reference to Monticello

I doubt that there is any way of ever learning exactly what services or materials my third great grandfather sold to  Monticello but I believe this original record shows that there was a connection and that pleases me. Had I not endeavored to write a biography of this ancestor I would never have known this, but I did and now I do.

Let me know if you have a Quarantine Quests story. I’d like to hear from you. I will do the writing or edit what you write if you prefer. You can contact me at

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