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Blog 2021 10 29 Don’t ignore the courthouses

I have met people who have done research for over 20 years and never once stepped inside a courthouse to conduct their research.  This can be a big mistake as way too many records get overlooked which could help in your research.

While many courthouses have suffered devastating record losses the overwhelming majority have not.  Chances are, if your ancestor lived there long enough, they had to have interacted with the local government.  At the very least, they paid their local taxes.

I have written a series of articles on the subject of research at courthouses which is available through the Cobb County Genealogical society’s website in the member’s section at www.CobbGaGenSoc.org.  I hope to post them here on this website soon.  For now, I will give a brief look at what you might find.

Estate records hold invaluable information about the families who lived in the area and had someone die who owned an estate.  Many people settle for just the will, if one exists, but you really need to evaluate every scrap of paper in the packet.  Often, it took a few years to close an estate during which time minors came of age, daughters married, children died and their share went to their children if they had any.  Married daughters died and their father left items to their grandchildren.  Additionally, once the testator (one making the will) died, his or her executor(s) went into the court to have the will submitted to the court to open the administration of the estate.

Land and deed records can help in identifying when someone moved to an area and when they departed.  Assuming your ancestor bought land (I have one line who were renters for generations) then the earliest recorded date will be closer to when they moved there or became an adult and could buy land.  Also, the land was disposed of in some fashion.  Either they sold it, gave it away as a gift of love, or the estate had to deal with the land after they died.  You may also find that your ancestor was a trustee in some organization such as a church or masons.  I have even found the only known document of a couple separating in the deed records.

Criminal and civil court records can also hold a lot of great information.  Whether your ancestor was charged with a crime or gave testimony, there might be good sources in these records.  Also, we have always been a very litigious society with suing others or being sued and you can learn from these records as well.

Do not overlook the vital records stored in courthouses but do not limit yourself to the “certificates.”  Such as Birth, Marriage, and Death.  You can often find the same information in the vital record registers.  I previously mentioned that my father has two birth certificates in the official files in Appling County with his name spelled slightly different and date of birth wrong.  The register confirmed the spelling and birthday he spent his life using.

One more thing, do not assume all the court ledgers are on FamilySearch, often they are not.  There are miscellaneous ledgers that were not easily categorized which were overlooked.

Blog 2021 10 22 Are you waiting to understand the science of DNA before using it?

I have given several presentations this year about using DNA as just another genealogical tool.  I start by asking how many of them drive AND can explain the science behind the internal combustion engine of their car.  Very few know the science but they drive anyway.  Why?  Because they do not need to know the science to use the car as a tool to get from one point to another.

It is the same with DNA.  If you begin using it as a basic tool in the genealogy tool kit, you will become more comfortable with it.  The more comfortable, the more you start learning new methods to apply it.  It really is that simple.  Just like the auto have various types such as sedan, coupe, convertible, cross-over, and SUV; DNA has three types.  An explanation of each type will help you decide which one to use, or can use, and where to test.

Autosomal DNA (atDNA):  All DNA testing sites utilize the atDNA as the basis of their marketing.  The atDNA test can be taken by anyone and except for close family members: parents, children, and full siblings, the remaining DNA matches are placed into potential categories based on shared centiMorgans (cMs).  I will not fully explain cMs here, except to say that the more shared cMs, the closer the relationship, particularly if there are more and larger shared segments.  Just like gasoline, the more you have, the better off you are.  The atDNA results are good to about the 5th or 6th generation, then the number is so small as to be virtually unusable.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA):  The mtDNA reflects the straight maternal line with virtually no change (mutations) for up to 52 generations.  Anyone can take the mtDNA to identify their mother’s line.  Therefore, if someone takes the mtDNA test the results will completely exclude the father’s family.  This test is currently given only by FamilyTreeDNA® at www.FamilyTreeDNA.com (FTDNA) and is quite expensive.  I personally do not recommend taking the mtDNA if money is tight unless there is a specific brick wall where the test results might be beneficial and the unknown matriarch is within six generations.

Y-DNA Test (Y-DNA):  The Y-DNA reflects the straight paternal line with almost no change (mutation) for up to 25 generations.  Only men can take the Y-DNA test and the results will identify the father’s family to the exclusion of the mother’s family.  This test is currently only given by FTDNA and the cost is less than the mtDNA.  The more markers (points on the chromosome) that are tested, the better.

Understanding centiMorgans (cM):  As stated, I am not explaining what it is, just how to use it.  When your results come back from most testing companies it will not show you have a specific relationship such as Aunt, Uncle, 3rd Cousin once removed.  But several possibilities unless the relationship is a sibling, parent, or child.  It will also report the amount of shared cM and perhaps the largest block or number of segments.  By using the shared cM number and comparing it to the Shared cM Project table listed below, you can begin to see where this person might fit in if you otherwise do not know.

The Shared cM Project:  Many people in the genetic genealogy arena, including Blaine T. Bettinger, and others, put together some great information to help people understand shared cMs, segments, and other DNA results and can be found at https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Shared-cM-Project-Relationship-Chart.png.

What is meant by the cM range, is that you still have to do some traditional research.  Let’s say you share 1,400 cM with someone.  Based on that chart, this person could be Great Aunt/Uncle, Aunt/Uncle, 1st Cousin, Half-Sibling, Grandparent, Grandchild, or Great-Grandparent.  You must determine the reality.  I have two matches, they are siblings but one I share 383cM with and the other 283cM.  Since I know that they are both 1st Cousins once removed, that is where I put them and not as 2nd and 3rd as suggested by the testing company.

Ancestry.com has the largest database, by far, for the atDNA matches.  You can test there and download your raw DNA and then upload, for free, to FTDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDMatch.  GEDMatch is not a testing site but a third-party tool that allows you to compare DNA results regardless of where people were tested.  Do not be overwhelmed if you end up with thousands of matches.  Just work your way from immediate family and Aunts/Uncles and Nephews/Nieces, to 1st cousins, then 2nd, and so on.

Good luck and have fun taking DNA for a test drive.

Start using it and begin feeling more

Blog 2021 10 15 Are you making these mistakes, part III?

This is the final week on common mistakes.

 

Not properly understanding what your DNA testing is telling you is another common mistake.  While a large portion of what DNA is providing you are suggestions, sometimes it can be hard facts.  The specific example I am speaking of pertains to a prominent family surname here in Cobb County, Georgia.  The Cobb County Blackwell family Haplogroup is R1B, my client is R1A.  That means there is no Blackwell family connection for at least 1,000 years.  Nevertheless, many would still keep researching that line instead of walking away.

One of the biggest mistakes many make is always wanting to find quick answers even though the process can be very time-consuming.  We will take the time to go through countless index books and look at other people’s online trees but will you take the time to read Court Minute Books and other court or local records?  Many of the early American and Colonial Court Minute Books are not indexed and require reviewing page by page.  During the heart of the Covid Pandemic shut down, when there was no place to go if you wanted to, gave me the time to go page by page through 10 year’s of minute book records from a Georgia County in the early 1800s and finally find actual documentation linking a father to three of his sons.  We knew he was the father but there was no direct evidence, until now.

Along this same line, you may need to order records from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) which may take a long time and cost some money to obtain.  But the information those records may provide may contain a lot of useful information once it arrives.  You should make every effort to obtain the records, whether you order directly from NARA or through a third-party organization like Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches.  Going back to an earlier paragraph concerning military records, right now, I am waiting for NARA to reopen and allow Civil War Pension Records to be copied to determine what happened to an Illinois Civil War veteran.  People have him and his family in Minnesota, Iowa, Kentucky, and other places simply because of the common name.  Those records should point me in the direction he went.

Another common mistake is forgetting that boundaries have changed over time.  Has anyone heard about the state of Franklin?  While it never got approved by Congress, it was in what is now northeast Tennessee.  One of the first governors of the State of Delaware died in the same house he was born in, only it was Cecil County, Maryland when he was born and New Castle County, Delaware when he died.  You need to be sure of any boundary changes and look at what government entity controlled it when the event or events occurred but be sure to check all locations.

I trust as you continue on your journey towards finding your ancestors, you remember some of these and avoid them.

Blog 2021 10 08 Are you making these mistakes, part II?

I started this topic last week and will complete my current thoughts next week.

I’ll start with a secret about genealogy researchers who charge by the hour.  We absolutely love being given a family tree with no siblings, just the direct ancestral line.  Care to know why?  Because we will then charge you to add all of the siblings so we can do a proper and thorough investigation.  You simply cannot truly locate all possible records without looking at the siblings and extended family.  You may find an aunt or uncle who has no children bequeath things to the children of your missing ancestor.  Information about your ancestor may be hidden inside a land record belonging to a member of the extended family.  Maternal grandfathers will bequeath directly to their grandchildren when their married daughter has died before them.  I understand your strong desire to take the line straight back but you simply cannot ignore the rest of the family without risking overlooking other potential records and information.

Another common mistake is not thoroughly researching people with duplicate or similar names.  For example, you are researching a John Livingston whose wife’s name was Mary and he worked as a butcher in Chicago, Illinois in the 1880s.  Should be easy, right?  You find in the records a John Livingston, butcher, wife is Mary and he lives on Michigan Avenue at 22nd Avenue.  But there is another one married to a Maria on 20th Avenue.  Also, another John working at a meat-market whose wife is not listed on 23rd Avenue; a Johan married to Martha on 25th Avenue who is a grocer, and finally, a John Livingston, butcher, married to a Mary on Michigan Avenue.  How do you know you have the correct one?  Without further research, you simply do not know and can inadvertently begin chasing the wrong line.

This is especially true when researching military records.  For example, I have previously discussed my ongoing research to determine which Banner Thomas was released from the Confederate Army to take up his elected position as a tax collector.  Was he the older one who we know had been a tax collector before the war or the younger one who we know was a tax collector in a neighboring county after the war?  Another example would be the three Joseph H. or J. H. Thomases who filed World War I draft cards from Appling County, Georgia.  Which one is my grandfather?  None, he filed from Brunswick, Glynn County, Georgia where he was working with some of his brothers at the shipyard.  How am I sure?  Besides the date of birth, when mine filed he indicated he was not medically qualified due to being deaf in one ear and having a club foot, he also noted that he was short in stature.  Since I personally knew my grandfather, this one had to be his.  Once again, be sure you have confirmed you have the correct one.  But be careful not to overreact based on age.  Boys as young as 10 years old did run away and hang with the Army during war-time and later end up enlisting and older men did join or get drafted during wars.  Plus, you cannot take that one indication of age as accurate.  Did they lie to get in?  Are they old and really unsure of what year they were born?  We put a lot more emphasis on our birthdays in 2021 than they did in the 1700 and 1800s.

Next week I will give some final thoughts on avoidable mistakes.

Blog 2021 10 01 Are you making these mistakes?

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.

Blog 2021 09 19 Tips and tricks with FamilySearch.org

If you are a true researcher, then you have used FamilySearch.org (FS) but have you used ALL of the features there?  Have you seen some of the new services they offer?  Let’s take a look at these.

Have you ever wanted to bounce your research off someone else or ask for advice in overcoming a brick wall?  You can now get help from a research consult either in person (where available) or virtually.  You can book a consultant for a free, 20-minute consultation once a week.  They are “Designed to provide you with research guidance, methodology, and next steps.”  You will be asked for some information concerning your family or specific issues when you submit the request so the consultant can be better prepared to help.  For more information, check them out at: https://www.familysearch.org/family-history-library/virtual-genealogy-consultation-faqs.

You know the frustration when you are searching for a record only to learn the only place that has it is the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah?  Or find that while there are copies around, none are within a reasonable drive but there is also a copy at the FHL?  You can now fill out a form listing the digital item or book item you are needing and they will find it and send it to you.  You do need the details of the specific item you are looking for.  For a book look-up, you may not have the page number but you can give the specific name and information (e.g. spouse’s name) you require.  These are 1 item per request.  They are not doing your research for you as you must provide them with sufficient information to prevent them from having to search, they can grab the microform and know the image number, or grab the book by title, call number, and author and have either the page number or the name being researched.  However, if the book is not indexed or easily searched, this type of request might get rejected.  Again, for more information on this and other new services please see www.FamilySearch.org/family-history-library,

I will say this unapologetically, the trees on FS are just as untrustworthy as those on Ancestry.com and all other places.  However, you should not dismiss them unequivocally as they might lend you clues.  So do look at the trees for these for suggestions.  Be sure to look for sources and if they exist, thoroughly examine them with the idea discussed in last week’s blog.  Can you prove it wrong?  While others may have put up trees without any sources, they might still know something we do not.  Case in point, researching for a client whose widow and children carried the surname of Musselwhite, we were trying to determine her husband’s name.  One family researcher had a name that I have yet to prove existed.  However, when I communicated directly with them for a source, they had a family Bible started by the deceased granddaughter.  They were also on Ancestry and had taken a DNA test.  When we changed our tree to show the same information for the missing man, several others showed up in the ThruLines.  So, did we prove this man carried the alleged name?  No, we only proved that we have the same person in mind whose name may or may not have been what they had.  The reason why I say this is because I never found a single document with that name anywhere in the county or nearby counties.

Should this client decide to conduct further research on this family, she at least has a starting point.

There are two ways to research here, you can look at the FS world tree by selecting Search, Family Tree to see what others have; select Search, Genealogies.  Then you must click on the person’s name to see if they have any sources listed.

Take a look at the Research Wiki for locations or collections you are interested in.  If you select an area, it will tell you when it was formed and from what areas it was cut out from.  They list any known records lost from fires or other disasters.  Lists local agencies are nearby such as Genealogical Societies, Historical Societies, Libraries, and FHLs.  You can also click on find affiliate libraries where you can go and access the same images which are restricted to FHLs.

A large number of books are digitized and selecting Books from the Search drop-down will give you access to their book catalog where you can search for books just like any library.

Finally, the Catalog is under the Search dropdown.  Here, you gain access to the vast array of digitized records.  Many of these records are digitized microforms of what is in your local courthouses.  Some are indexed through FS, some you will need to open and look for an index at the beginning or end of the collection and many are not indexed at all.  It may be well worth your time to go through these books page by page if necessary.

If what you are looking for is not at the city level, try the county.  If not at the county, try the state.  To give you an idea of what I am speaking of, here is the list of topics and the number of items in each category from Pierce County, Georgia.

 

 

So you can see from the  list to the right, there are six items in the Probate Records area, eight under Public Records, and eleven court records.  Now look a bit further.  Each of these items lists a government entity as the author so you should be able to view them, if not from home, at a FHL or affiliate.  When the author is a person or agency such as Daughters of the American Revolution then it is a book and may not be digitized.

One final hint. Sometimes you see where a microfilm roll contains multiple items and you want to find your area quickly.  For this example, I will use the Tax Digest of Pierce County with multiple years as shown here.

 

Pierce’s records follow Milton, Miller, and Monroe Counties.  The fastest way to find the Pierce collection is to click the grid view and hit the minus sign until it no longer shrinks.  Then look for black squares indicating the end of a collection and the beginning of another.  Count for the fourth one and double click and judge against the list.  Did you get the fourth county of fourth entry, Monroe County 1868 – 69?  Using this format, find the one you want.  Same thing if you are looking at entries that are not indexed and cover multiple years such as Marriage Records covering 1860 – 1880 and you believe the marriage you are looking for was 1875, then look at the total number of images and select something about ¾ of the way through.  Enlarge it and see where you are.

One final thought, this does not override a visit to the actual courthouse or another repository when the opportunity avails itself.  Not every single record or ledger was scanned and you do not want to risk missing out on the material not scanned.

Good luck and Happy Hunting!

Blog 2021 09 10 How do we know what to trust?

It can be easy to take other people’s research as correct because it makes sense and aligns with what we hope but have you thoroughly researched their findings with the thought that you want to disprove it.  Sounds counterproductive I know, but that is the mindset I recommend when validating someone else’s research.

You just know I am going to give you some examples so here they are.  We are going to start with one of my researches on who are the parents of Hopewell Adams (Circa 1737 – 1799) and died in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. [i] Hopewell is first seen in Edgecombe in 1766 when he buys land from a Mr. Moses Field. [ii] Researchers for a major genealogical company recommended starting with the illegitimate son of a Hopewell Adams and Sarah Hull in Somerset County, Maryland.

When I took the project on, this theory was quickly put to rest as her son, Hope (also called Hopewell) took the last name Hull and not Adams and he lived and died in Maryland.  So he is not the same person. [iii]

What about the Hopewell Adams then who did father the child, he also lived and died in Maryland in 1768. [iv] Well, he had a son named Hopewell who might have been old enough to be the one who moved to North Carolina.  However, he did not, he also stayed in Maryland. [v]

So, even though hundreds of family group sheets, family trees, and genealogy books state that the Hopewell in North Carolina is the son of the Hopewell Adams we see they are incorrect by taking on an antagonistic approach to validate the information.

Who are the parents of this Hopewell Adams, I will tell if and when I discover more solid facts but I can say it is trending towards one in St. Mary’s County, Maryland who I can no longer find any records for in Maryland after 1759 or so.

Okay, this is just one example, what else?  I have previously written about who an Ambrose Watson (1790 – 1861) whose father everyone believed to be Elijah Watson and I was beginning to believe that as well.  But again, taking the approach of trying to prove he was NOT the father I found the evidence that he was simply a brother who was 21 years older than Ambrose.

In my own family one of my oldest ancestor’s wife was absolutely named Sarah as the church record’s records him and his wife Sarah as charter members.  But who was her father and mother?  Every research has continued saying her maiden name was Banner and therefore her father must be Peter Banner, the only Banner old enough in the area to be the father.  Only, his will lists a daughter named Sarah with a different last name from my ancestor.  So, either he had two daughters named Sarah or he is not my Sarah’s father.

Until you are satisfied that someone else’s research is truly accurate, try to disprove it.  If you can then you know you still have research yet to do and if you cannot disprove it it does not mean it is correct but certainly makes it far more likely.

[i] Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Superior Court, Wills 1758 – 1830 Vol. 1; ADA – BEL, page 2, Will of Hopewell Adams; image (FamilySearch.org https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939L-JD9M-T9?i=4&cc=1867501&cat=299030 : accessed 8 December 2020) proved May 1799.

[ii] Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Deed Book C 1763 – 1768, page 414, Deed between Moses Field to Hopewell Addams, FamilySearch.org (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-8983-69G2?i=420&cat=306915 : accessed 8 December 2020), Edgecombe Superior Court.

[iii] See http://thehullsofgeorgia.com/ for more information.

[iv] Somerset County, Maryland, “Prerogative Court, 1635-1777”, p. 690-692, Hope Adams Will, written 5 September 1768 and proved 13 December 1768; image, Ancestry.com (www.Ancestry.com : accessed 8 December 2020), citing Maryland, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1777.

[v] Somerset County, Maryland, “Will Book EB 7, 1788-1799,” folio (page) 208-210, Phillip Adams, son of Hope Adams, names his brother Hope Adams as executor; will written 10 March 1789 and proved 17 April 1792 indicating his brother, Hope Adams, son of Hope Adams was still in Somerset.  Hope Adams, son of Hope and brother to Phillip had his will recorded in Liber EB 17, folio 193, 28 October 1788 in Somerset.

Blog 2021 09 03 GPS Standard #5: A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion

We now come to the last standard although we have touched on it several times, we must take our research and make it available to others.  Whether we publish it in a book or journal of some kind; simply put it online via one of the many websites; or simply leave it to be put into a library or other repository, we must write out our findings.  If you are simply leaving it in one of a myriad of genealogy software programs, many have spaces for notes where you can enter your conclusions on the items discussed below.

We need to show our research with sufficient source citing so followers can find the exact same source otherwise, as we discussed, it is no longer fact but speculation.  As I said, how formal the citation is depends on the method of publication but if you are relying on websites such as FamilySearch.org you cannot simply list the URL as it might change, you must state the location of the original.

You must explain any conflicts and how you determine the truth and sorted the people, events, or places.  You should provide sufficient documentation along with any reasonable analysis that drew you to a conclusion.  For example, to state that this 14-year-old girl in Georgia in the 1880s could not possibly be married having babies is not a reasonable conclusion because I will show you such cases.  But if you said she was less than 12 years old, then your conclusion is reasonable.  If you say the woman was over 40 your reasoning is flawed since my grandmother was 42 when my father was born and 45 when her youngest was born.  However, as I explained to a colleague who was absolutely sure one of the two daughters of this family was the biological mother could not be because at the same time the baby was born, that woman was married in Florida having a different baby.

You need to ensure you have done reasonably exhaustive research by looking at all reasonable possibilities.  Sometimes these can be ruled out quite quickly much like resolving conflicts.  I may have mentioned in a previous blog the case of two men of about the same age in Colorado.  One married the daughter of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta in 1890 making front-page news and the other was a member of the Five Civilized Tribes (FCT), specifically, the Choctaw.  The quick proof was that the member of the FCT was a former slave, the man who married the pastor’s daughter had to be a white man in the 1890s.

However, you put in writing (electronically or on paper) write up your findings and share them with others researching the same family or families.

Blog 2021 08 27 GPS Standard #4: Resolution of conflicting evidence

I touched on this a bit last week when I mentioned the multiple Banner Thomases in Pierce, later Appling, County.  There are many reasons we run into conflicting evidence and all too often people overlook or ignore them and simply concentrate on the person they are confident is the right one.

But I ask, how many times have you seen people with trees online that simply do not make sense?  I found one case where someone did not realize there were two men named Bolar Moon in the same county and between the two there were three marriages.  But this particular person had one man married to all three women, with marriages overlapping, and having kids by all three.

If we want our research to be accepted and believed then we simply cannot ignore evidence that conflicts with what we believe to be true for our research subject.  We must address it using the standards previously discussed, with evidence to support our conclusion, and then write it up.  Sometimes, we cannot directly or even indirectly resolve the conflict and we must speak to it still being an open issue.  Take for example one in my own family.  The elder Gilshot Thomas (Circa 1730 – 1792) had a son, Gilshot Jr. (Circa 1752 – 1809).  One of the two was arrested on a felony and transported to Savannah in 1787.  No court records have been located to show the charge or which Gilshot was charged.  Therefore any write-ups I might do would have to state that this conflict remains unresolved.  Since it does not directly relate to any proof of relationships (that I know of) then this conflict does not require resolution at this time.

However, as in the case of Ambrose Watson, I had compelling evidence that Elijah was his father until something popped up that indicated otherwise.  Upon further research, analysis and resolution, it was shown that Elijah was his brother, 21 years his senior.  Sometimes we want something to be true so we overlook conflicts but we absolutely must thoroughly research the issue, analyze it, and resolve it.  Particularly if it directly impacts establishing family relationships.

Without properly resolving conflicting evidence or information, all of our research is for naught as it can be easily picked apart by others.  Some things, which seem so obvious to us, might look entirely different to someone else.  I am reminded of a meme that has a large number painted on the ground.  The person on one side looks at it and calls it a six, the person standing opposite calls it a nine.  Without something to specifically indicate whether it is a 6 or 9 both are simply relying on a single perspective.

Do not shy away from such conflicts but look for clues to resolve them and commit them to paper, or computer files for others to use.

Blog 2021 08 19 GPS Standard #3: Thorough analysis and correlation

What exactly does this mean?  You cannot always take things at face value and must thoroughly look at all aspects of what you have found.  Also, you must not stop just because you think you have found your answer.  I was researching a Robert Watson and I had fairly convincing evidence his father was Ambrose Watson.

I found where an Ambrose Watson wrote his will in 1861 and died later that year.  In his will he nominates his son, Ambrose M. Watson, to be his executor and names his wife, Jane, and children; W. Thomas, John David, Jesse, and Luiza. [i] However, these are not all of his children.  The younger Ambrose dies without a wife or issue (biological offspring) two years later in the Civil War.  If we stopped here we would determine him to be the wrong father of Robert but always look at every piece of paper or document in an estate.  After the death of the younger Ambrose, the remaining children (led by Robert), all of whom had attained the age of majority, sued their deceased brother’s estate.  This forced the elder’s estate back into court, added the younger Ambrose’s property into the pool, and allowed the court to decide a fair division. [ii] By researching every part of that estate, we get the names of all children of the elder Ambrose by both his first and second wives.

If you look at the 1860 Census and find Ambrose, you will see children named who are not included in the above estate.  That is because this Ambrose is the nephew of the above elder Ambrose.  We must search for ALL people with the same or similar names to ensure we are accurately analyzing our findings and coming to a solid conclusion.  The natural reaction is to assume that every reference to a person with your ancestor’s name must be referencing your ancestor.  But it also means you must annotate all others with the same or similar names and show why the one you selected is correct.

This also means, only stating things as fact if they are based on solid evidence and not using unsourced evidence, authored work, or arbitrarily using other people’s research results.  As your school teacher used to say, Do Your Own Work.  You may find where someone did the research for entry to a lineage society such as Daughters (or Sons) of the American Revolution and that is not proof.  Thank them for their effort, take their work, and revalidate with skepticism.  Make sure that for every name being researched there are not others with the same name without identifying them and explaining why you are confident in that person.

I’ll explain with an example from my own family.  In Pierce County, Georgia’s Tax Digest for 1864, looking at the Thomas surname, there are two Jonathans, four James, and two Banners. [iii] Then if I were to look at the 1860 and 1870 U. S. Census records, there are more.  How do I prove which Banner is mine?  I would use the other Banner who was listed as “Banner, Sr” to be the uncle of “Banner, Jr” by the fact that the elder Banner was in a different Militia District and the Uncle is administering the estate, on two sons who died in the Civil War, and by virtue of being the estate administrator responsible for the taxes.

About the same time, there are two Thomas cousins with the same name and again, one is older and was the tax collector in Ware County before Pierce County was created from portions of Ware before the Civil War.  After the Civil War, the family later moved just north to Appling County and the younger was the tax collector.  During the Civil War, they both had Pierce County addresses and both served in the Civil War but with different Regiments.  One was elected tax collector of Pierce County and was discharged from the Army to serve the term.  But which?  Both descendants claim it was their ancestor and until I can prove once and for all which, I will not make that claim due to unresolved conflict.

[i] Spartanburg County, South Carolina, Will Book E, Pages 127-128, Will of Ambrose Watson, 28 August 1861, Probate Court, Spartanburg County courthouse, Spartanburg, South Carolina, image, FamilySearch.org (https://www.familysearch.org/Will_A_Watson_1861: accessed 6 April 2020).

[ii] Spartanburg County, South Carolina, Probate Court, Real Estate Book 1853 – 1881, page 439, Spartanburg County courthouse, Spartanburg, South Carolina, image, FamilySearch.org (https://www.familysearch.org/Watson_Real_estate_Bk: accessed 27 April 2020).

[iii] Pierce County, Georgia, Tax Digest for 1864, microfilm, Georgia State Archives, Morrow, Georgia, multiple pages.