Thursday, 25 September 2014

Confusion and the Proof Standard

For years my grandmother, father, and I have had the same Riggin brick wall, which stopped at John C Riggin, my four times great grandfather. Family lore said he came to Illinois from Tennessee and that his father was a minister, who rode a circuit, preaching at several churches on rotating Sundays. What we could never figure out were the names of his parents or any siblings.

After researching John C Riggin's descendants more thoroughly, and definitively proving he settled in Madison County, soon after Illinois became a state, I purchased a used copy of the two-volume Centennial History of Madison County. I was hoping there would be profiles of prominent citizens of the county. The book did include those profiles, but my known ancestor was not among them. However, I did discover this lovely snippet in the section about Troy:

My "new" books, Centennial History of Madison County

I was still a rank amateur family historian and didn't realize the significance of finding out the names of two of his siblings. Instead, I kept banging my head against the brick wall that was John C Riggin. However, earlier this month, I started researching John's brothers -- Harry and James. I still haven't learned much about James, but Harry was a goldmine!

"Troy" from the Centennial History of Madison County

I found an article entitled Three Rs in Lincoln's Education: Rogers, Riggin, and Rankin, by James T. Hickey, which appeared on pages 195-207 in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Volume 52, Number 1, Lincoln Sesquicentennial (Spring 1959). Hickey was one of the foremost authorities on Lincoln, especially his time in Illinois. The article had this to say about Harry and James Riggin:

"The Riggin brothers were sons of the Rev. James Riggin, a Methodist preacher of Sevierville, Tennessee. Originally Catholic, the Riggin family had renounced Catholicism when they came to America from Ireland."

An extensive history of Harry Riggin's life was also included. It seems he knew Abraham Lincoln when Lincoln was a student at New Salem, learning under Mentor Graham, and opposed Lincoln in the 1838 state legislature elections.

From Mr. Hickey's article, photograph courtesy of the
Illinois State Historical Society

With that clue I was able to trace the Riggin family, through the Reverend James Riggin, back to Somerset County, Maryland, when the first Riggin -- Teague -- arrived sometime in the 1650s as an indentured servant. A book of Somerset County wills and land records proved invaluable.

Like my Scottish Muir line, the Riggins faithfully named their sons and daughters after parents and grandparents. I currently have eight ancestors, all born within a few years in age of each other, named Teague Riggin in my family tree.

Map of Somerset County, Maryland, circa 1795

It was at this point in my research that I confused myself beyond reason. Several of these Riggin ancestors were of an age to serve in the Revolutionary War. A review of those records, showed no one named Riggin with which I was familiar. So I went to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) website and searched for a Riggin patriot. I found three, named Francis, Stephen and James. I do not believe at this time, that the James who fought for a Delaware regiment is my James Riggin. But I did download the three applications that used Stephen Riggin as their patriot ancestor as he fought in the Somerset County Militia.

For several days I traced the lineages provided by the three ladies who became DAR members using Stephen Riggin as their patriot ancestor, gathering source citations to validate their research along the way. As I worked backwards, I was, of course, trying to connect them to my Riggin extended family in Somerset County.

When I got to John Riggin, last person on their lineages, all I learned was he wrote a will in 1747. At first I believed this John Riggin did not tie into my tree but rather was a descendant of a possible brother of the original Teague Riggin, who may have also come to the American colonies, but the records are in no way definitive on his existence.  Now I believe this John Riggin to be the John I have in my tree who was born about 1708 and wrote a will in 1747 which was probated in 1757. The date the will was written and the place it was filed being the only "proof" of that connection. In the sea of early Riggin genealogies on the Internet, I would be the only person making that connection, which is the source of my confusion.

Augustus Kerr Riggin, son of Harry Riggin;
image from the Past and Present of Menard
by Robert Don Leavey Miller

Have I got it right or am I completely lost?

I have been researching how to think through and write a genealogical proof standard but have never done one before. I'd love to hear your thoughts on proof standards as I am in uncharted waters.


  1. I so understand where you are coming from. My Hero's 2nd great grandfather was easy to find but where he came from not so much. Finally I found a short bio of his brother that opened the way to finally identify his father and open the door to England. You look for them where you can. Check out Fold3,654,470,784 if you don't have it as a subscription, then it is free at the Family History Center. Also do you follow Evidence Explained on Facebook? Great place for genealogical proof standards.

    1. Fran, thanks so much for the Evidence Explained Facebook page. I do have a subscription to but have determined that James isn't mine.

  2. Hi Schalene. Do document your negative findings as well as the positive ones. It will help other researchers and also yourself when you look back and wonder now am I sure that he isn't connected? .... Good luck with your researches. Regards Anne

    1. Anne,

      What a great idea! It would also prevent me from doing the same searches over again, which I do more often than I should. Where do you store those notes in your tree software? And as what type of note?


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