I had the honor Saturday to present this very topic in Albany, Georgia for the Southwest Georgia Genealogical Society and thought it a great topic for a blog for a few weeks.
Many of these may seem extreme and totally off the wall but I assure you, I have seen just about everything. I believe a lot of these crazy mistakes are either made by people researching while extremely tired or not taking the time to see if the “fact” is even reasonable just because someone else had it. You really must look long and hard at the ‘hints’ that Ancestry provides. It is simply an algorithm based on what others put on their tree and not even remotely based on probability or fact.
I always start this type of discussion with a quote by President Abraham Lincoln, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it.” Now obviously, he did not say that, but far too many people make this mistake over and over. They also believe everything they read in a family history type book, article, or anything else.
So you are probably wondering what am I even talking about. The latest one I found on Ancestry.com was this, a valid Revolutionary War Patriot who was born in Pennsylvania in 1750 and served from Pennsylvania. He married a woman named Elizabeth and moved to Laurens County, South Carolina, and dies about 1840. So far, so good. However, some people also show this same man serving in the Civil War from Pennsylvania based solely on a man with the same name and a wife also named Elizabeth. I never heard of any 110 plus-year-old Union Soldiers and neither side drafted ghosts. You may think this is absurd but I found where others copied the same thing to their tree.
If a widow has children after the death of their husbands and has not remarried, unless they put the father’s surname on the birth records, the children will carry the surname of her deceased husband. But this should not be justification to have him listed as the father. It is possible in all known websites and software packages to create an unknown father. The other thing you might want to look at is whether there is an unknown marriage to someone with the same surname (relative or not) as the deceased husband. However, I have seen numerous trees where the dead man is listed as the father. Even in my own family, a 2nd great-grandfather dies before the census of 1860 and there is a ‘border’ living at the house with the widow. In late 1861 she has a daughter with the surname Livingston and everyone says the father was John who died over 12 months prior.
A (different than above) Revolutionary War Patriot states he was born 22 September 1763 in Culpepper County, Virginia. Based on your research you know his parents and grandparents were born in Virginia, please tell me why people have attributed a baptism in the Anglican Church in 1794 in Surrey, England? The other thing to keep in mind is that he ‘thinks’ he was born in Culpepper but his parents may have moved there shortly after his birth so that is what he grew up believing to be true and you must validate by determining if proof exists showing the parents in that place about the time of the birth.
Here is yet another mistake I have seen. A man is born in 1732 in Virginia and dies in 1812 in North Carolina, having signed a will. At the time of his death, his widow’s name is Susannah. According to numerous trees, he was married previously and had a daughter and two sons, the daughter dies before he does. In his will, he leaves unconditionally everything to his wife, Susannah. Absolutely no mention of his sons. Under North Carolina law at the time, he left his estate open to a lawsuit by his eldest son at a minimum and possibly both, but there is no mention of a challenge. Might these children belong to another man with the same name? Typically, if there were children, especially sons, the wife would receive her widow’s dower as a life estate.
Take a hard look at what you have and see if it makes sense. Do not judge by 2021 standards but by the time and place of the event. I have heard a national speaker say there must be a mistake in a research because a 14-year old girl would not be married having babies. Yes, they did in the rural south back 100 plus years ago. I saw where another person claiming women over age 37 did not bear children. Then my father and one brother must be imaginary. My grandmother was 37 when Ralph was born, 40 and 42 when my father and the youngest were born, respectively. I have seen records of women bearing children into their early 50s although that is far less likely but definitely into their mid-40s. But do not assume a 68-year-old woman had a child nor a 10-year-old girl. Men, however, can father children well into their old age if they remarry a much younger woman. And while we all know a male under 18 can have kids, I have rarely seen this except within the past 75 years.
I’ll cover some more common mistakes next week.