Genealogical Tip No. 402: Don’t use guesswork to untangle your family tree.
I had decided to zero in on a particular slaveowner: Moses W. Dobbins, of Stewart County, Ga. A cursory Internet search formed the basis of my idea of who Moses W. Dobbins was: a farmer-turned-educator who moved from Stewart County, Ga., to Fulton County, Ga. and was later appointed to the Fulton County School Board. (NOTE: the 1860 Census and the 1870 Census place Moses W. Dobbins and his family in Stewart County. By 1880, the family was living in the Buckhead section of Fulton County. I found a small clipping of a newspaper article announcing that a Moses W. Dobbins had been appointed to the Fulton County School Board in 1883. A city directory also listed a Moses W. Dobbins as living in Fulton County and his occupation was school board member).
I followed this path of conjecture all the way to Georgia, where I had the opportunity to visit the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library. I spent hours on the fifth floor, poring through books, city directories, tax lists– any document I could find that could support my theory that Moses W. Dobbins was in fact the man who owned my great-great-great-grandfather, Alfred Dobbins.
Approximately three hours later I still had not connected the dots. In fact, they were even more scattered than ever before. I had discovered two Moses W. Dobbins and one M. Dobbins. The two Moses W. Dobbins were born in 1824 and 1825 respectively. Both were born in Georgia and both had served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Both lived in Fulton County, Ga., in the 1880s.
I went back to what I learned on the 1870 Census about the Moses W. Dobbins I was looking for. His wife was named Sarah. I was able to find an obituary for Sarah Dobbins in a 1916 issue of the Atlanta Constitution. It mentioned that she was survived by her two children, which meant that Moses W. Dobbins died sometime after the 1880 Census, but before 1916.
I found a book of Confederate soldiers’ gravesites and it listed Moses W. Dobbins as having died in October 1880. His widow, the book said, was Sarah E. Dobbins. “But wait,” I thought. “How could he be dead? He was on the 1880 Census.” Sure enough, when I looked again at the 1880 Census, it was taken in June 1880. Moses W. Dobbins would be dead less than six months later. This also disproved my theory that an early member of the Fulton County School Board possibly owned my ancestors.
So while I have yet to make the slave-slaveowner connection, I now know who it is I’m looking for…and who I’m not looking for.
(Oh, and for what it’s worth, the other Moses W. Dobbins was formerly of Alabama, had a wife named Harriet and died in 1916. He was appointed to the Fulton County School Board to fill an incomplete term).