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Searching for Cave’s Parents

I have searched for months for the parents of my great-great grandfather, Cave Johnson Bearden. He was born 26 December  1870, in Tennessee, and died 15 January 1952 in Montgomery County, Tennessee.

From what I’ve found in census records, it appears he has always resided in middle Tennessee. Through other member stories, his parents died when he was a little child and he was raised by Benjamin William and Betty Turner. I have traced their lineage, thinking they must be related in some way to Cave’s parents, but I was unable to link them. I have his death certificate, but his parents are not listed. Birth records were not required in Tennessee until the 1900s, so I have no birth record.

I contacted the Social Security administration to see if he applied, but they found nothing. Also, he has no delayed birth record or military draft card after searching both Ancestry and Fold3. I am at a total loss on what to do. I have dug through the census records to see if the Turners were living in the same area as his parents, but no hope there either. Please help give me some more ideas to find his parents! I’d be so appreciative!

Taylor Burich

Oh, this is a tough one.  You’ve done a good job of tracking down leads that you have found.

You state that he was born in December of 1870, which means he is not in the 1870 census as it was taken earlier that year. We do find him in the 1880 census, living with the Turners and two other laborers in Dickson County, Tennessee.  I do find it interesting that a 9 year old is listed as having an occupation.  Does this mean that his parents have died and he had nowhere else to go?

Also, the 1880 census tells us that his parents were born in Tennessee.  This may or may not be true, but let’s go with that for now.

We also discover that in 1880, Cave is the only Bearden (checking multiple spellings), living in Dickson County which has 12,462 inhabitants. 

Next, you would want to find possible candidates in Tennessee in the 1870 census.  We discover in Dickson County, that there are 0 Beardens. There are 391 Bearden’s in Tennessee in the 1870s.  Now you can take each family you find and try and determine if they are Cave’s parents, but how?  It is possible that his parents died between 1870 and 1880 and that he is listed in a probate settlement somewhere.  That is going to take a lot of digging on your part and sounds like a very haphazard approach.

If there was any property or anything of value, and Cave’s parents did die, maybe there is a guardianship document.
It is also possible that Cave’s father died, his mother remarried, and for some reason Cave decided not to live with the family or maybe his new family choose to place him elsewhere.

I think you have reached the end of your online search.  Not all of our ancestors leave an easy paper trail.  Cave and his parents have not left much of one at all. I believe that what you really need here, is a Tennessee genealogy expert; someone who knows the area and time and understands where to look.  So how would you go about finding someone to help?  I would first contact the Dickson County Historical and Genealogical Society ( and see if they have recommendations.  You can also check Association of Professional Genealogist (  Also, Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) has a listing of Certified Genealogists ( and you can check for genealogists who specialize in Tennessee.

So how do you know if someone can help you? 

  1. Tell them everything you know.  You don’t want to pay someone to redo the work you’ve already done.
  2. Ask for research proposal.  Find out exactly what they plan on doing, where they are going to look and why, how long it will take, and how much it will cost.  This is your money, get the details up front!
  3. Ask for referrals and/or examples of their work. 
  4. You might limit the first research to a certain number of hours so you can assess the work that is being done on your behalf and if you feel comfortable with it.

This one is hard.  Sometimes the trick is to know that you’ve gone as far as you can go and it’s time to raise your hand for help.

Good luck!

  1. ancestry-stickynotes posted this