I wrote this a few years ago in response to a request from Ancestry for African American research stories. I thought I would share it here.
I never knew my father. Those words had haunted me for all of my childhood, and most of my adult life. As an African-American, the possibility of tracing my paternal ancestry was never an avenue I thought to pursue with any success. A cursory search on Ancestry.com under the surname “Tolbert” did not yield any results that fit the few facts that I had learned over the years. I assumed I would not be able to find anything. On day, while looking through some old photos and papers, I discovered two telegrams dated the day I was born. Both contained the surname “Taliaferro.” This triggered something. I had a vague memory of my mother telling me about my birth and the hospital spelling my father’s last name incorrectly. I remembered that from an early age, I knew that my father’s correct surname was “Taliaferro” not Tolbert as stated on my birth certificate, and that he pronounced it “Toliver.” This, I assumed accounted for the hospital’s mistake. I also knew from conversations with my mother, the names of my father’s mother and his siblings. Armed with these facts and a renewed determination I rejoined Ancestry.com and began another search.
This time around, I was able to locate my father with his parents (my grandparents!) and brother and sister in the 1930 census. All the names fit with my information. What a thrill! Searching back, I was able to locate my grandfather and his parents (my great grandparents!) in the 1920, 1910, 1900 and 1880 census records. I also found my great grandparents in the 1870 census. A few households away was another Taliaferro(Toliver) family. Could these be my great, great grandparents? I felt fairly confident that all the relatives I had found so far were my ancestors, but there was no way to connect this last family from the 1870 census to my ancestors.
I turned to the Taliaferro message board on Ancestry.com in hopes of finding someone researching my Taliaferros. I went through each message one by one and then……BINGO. Someone was looking for any relatives of my father’s parents. I could not believe my tired eyes. It turns out that this message was posted by my father’s brother’s daughter in June of 1999. (The name fit with one my mother had given me). She was no longer a member of Ancestry. Good luck in finding her, right? Well, I did; right here in the same city where I live. She sent me an article written on our grandfather which confirmed all the names I had found in the census records. This article also confirmed that the male Taliaferro living in the household near my great-grandfather in the 1870 census was, in fact, my great, great-grandfather! I could not have asked for more, but I did get more. After contacting that cousin from the message board, I have a new family from my paternal side; 4 first cousins, an aunt (my father’s sister) and a brother!!!! My quest goes on, but if I find nothing more, it was well worth the hunt (the ancestor hunt that is)!
Since then I have found more information on my Taliaferro ancestors. However, nothing can compare to discovering living relatives, especially my brother. In 2005 I had my name legally changed from Tolbert to Taliaferro. It was a long time coming, but felt so right, so comfortable, so me!!