By: Anissa Penn Davis, Kentucky State Historian: The General Society of Mayflower Descendants
It is well-known that finding a female ancestor can be a daunting task. A researcher counts himself/herself lucky if a maiden name is found in a will. However, what do researchers do for those females who don’t leave behind many bread crumbs? How is it possible to determine a death date and location when there is no will and no gravestone? This was the question that needed to be answered for Olive Willis Tinsley. Unfortunately, Olive died before the 1850 census, so she would not be listed anywhere unless she was the head of household. Olive also did not have a will nor did she have an estate settlement. Without the usual places to look, one must get creative and use a variety of indirect evidence to come to a conclusion. The following is an analysis used to prove the death date and location for Olive Willis Tinsley.
Olive Willis Tinsley Analysis
Statement of Purpose:
This analysis will show that Olive Willis Tinsley, daughter of Joseph Willis, died in 1840 in Shelby County, Kentucky.
The will of Samuel Tinsley bequeaths to his wife, Olive Tinsley, all his estate both real and personal during her life or widowhood, and the said Olive Tinsley is to have the sole control and management of all his estate both real and personal.
List of Documents:
The following sources were located to provide clues about the death year and location for Olive Willis Tinsley.
- Will-Samuel Tinsley Shelby Co, KY Will Bk 7 pgs. 137-138 2 January 1826
- 1830C (census) Kentucky Index-Olive Tinsley
- 1830 Shelby Co, KY Tax list-KY Historical Society, Frankfort, KY
- 1835 Shelby Co, KY Tax list-KY Historical Society, Frankfort, KY (1831-1834 missing)
- 1836 Shelby Co, KY Tax list-KY Historical Society, Frankfort, KY
- 1837 Shelby Co, KY Tax list-KY Historical Society, Frankfort, KY
- 1840 Shelby Co, KY Tax list-KY Historical Society, Frankfort, KY (1838-1839 missing)
- 1840C Kentucky Index-Olive Tinsley is not listed
- 1840C information-US Census Bureau
- Appraisal of slaves and personal estate of Samuel Tinsley Shelby Co, KY Will Book 14 pg. 48 20 Oct 1840
- Sale of property of Samuel Tinsley Shelby Co, KY Will Bk 14 pg. 150 12 July 1841
The will of Samuel Tinsley clearly states Olive Tinsley will have control of all real estate during her lifetime or widowhood.
The Kentucky 1830C index lists Olive Tinsley as HOH(Head of Household). Samuel Tinsley (listed 4 people down) is her son.
Olive Tinsley paid taxes in Shelby Co, KY in 1830. Son Samuel is listed on same page.
Olive Tinsley paid taxes in Shelby Co, KY in 1835. Son Samuel is listed on same page.
Olive Tinsley paid taxes in Shelby Co, KY in 1836. Son Samuel is listed on same page.
Olive Tinsley paid taxes in Shelby Co, KY in 1837. Son Samuel is listed on same page.
Olive Tinsley paid taxes in Shelby Co, KY in 1840. Son Samuel is listed on same page.
Olive Tinsley is not listed in the Kentucky 1840C index. Her son, Samuel Tinsley, who died in 1862 is.
US Census Bureau information for the 1840 census states the census began on 1 June 1840.
Samuel Tinsley’s heirs requested an appraisal of slaves and personal property on 20 Oct 1840.
Samuel Tinsley’s property was sold. The administrator gave his accounting on 12 July 1841.
Daughters of the American Revolution Patriot Joseph Willis Jr. lineage states daughter Olive Willis is born c1780. There is no marriage record for Olive Tinsley in Shelby Co. KY for the years 1820-1869. Marriage records for these years range from Marriage Book 2-Marriage Book 9C.
Samuel Tinsley’s will proves he died in 1826. His will states Olive has sole control of his estate. His wife, Olive Tinsley, is listed as head of household in the 1830C. She dutifully paid taxes throughout the 1830s-proving she was in control of her deceased husband’s estate. There is only one Samuel Tinsley (Olive’s son) listed in the 1830C and only one Samuel Tinsley is on the Shelby County, KY tax rolls throughout the 1830s. Olive Tinsley is not listed in the Kentucky 1840C. Her son, Samuel, is. Shelby County Will Book 14 shows an appraisal of slaves and real estate and includes an accounting from the administrator. The only way Olive Tinsley could lose control of Samuel Tinsley’s estate and still be alive was through marriage. Using the DAR database, in 1840 Olive Tinsley would have been 60 years of age and a widow for 14 years with no minor children in the house.
The tax payments made by Olive Tinsley as well as the appraisal and selling of her husband Samuel Tinsley’s land that she had control of during her life makes it reasonable to conclude Olive Tinsley died in 1840 in Shelby Co, KY.
This analysis shows a researcher must sometimes get creative when knowing which stones to turn over. Tax records and a spouse’s will can provide enough clues to determine where to begin your search. Many courthouse books will have an index that lists the decedent’s name once and all the different documents (will, administrator bonds, estate settlement, guardian records, etc.) that go with the estate. Others are listed by event. Don’t let a missing date be a brick wall. Direct evidence may not exist, but using enough reliable indirect evidence can create a very strong conclusion.
Anissa Penn Davis is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher and is working on her doctorate in Educational Leadership at University of the Cumberlands. A member of many lineage societies, Anissa is currently the Kentucky State Historian for the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
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