How do you know the document you are looking at belongs to your ancestor? When there was more than one person in the area with the same name, how do know which John Doe to assign the information to?
This is where knowing more about our specific person of interest helps us determine whether it belongs to our person or someone else. We must get past the simple facts and get to know the person as a person and their family. I’ll start with my paternal grandfather, Joseph Henry Thomas who often filed papers as J.H. Thomas, and his wife, Viola. I grew up knowing my grandfather and always remember him not being very tall and walking with a distinct limp. In researching WWI Draft Cards from Appling County, Georgia where he lived, there were several, J.H. Thomas, Joseph H. Thomas, and Joseph Thomas filers. Which one belongs to my grandfather? Only one of the cards said not qualified for service due to being deaf in one ear and having a club foot AND being short. Bingo!
In another case doing random research on him, I saw the name show up in a couple of city directories. Since he was a farmer all his life, or so I thought, I decided to take a look. I found a Joseph and Viola living in Columbus, Georgia, and at the same time, a Joseph and Viola living in Brunswick. Since these had to be two different men I looked more closely at the one in Brunswick since that is where his oldest brother (half-brother), James M. Thomas lived and worked for the shipyards. It turned out that it was my grandfather and his sister who were living there and so was his father, General Jackson (GJ) Thomas. GJ was the principal resident and the rest were ‘boarding’ there. His eldest brother was living down the street and another brother also lived on the same street. Apparently, they all took jobs as carpenters at the shipyard for a while. Meanwhile, GJ still had a farm in Appling County.
In another case, I was looking for what happened to one of the sons of a particular immigrant ancestor as the immigrant and younger kids were in St Louis, MO in 1860 and the eldest was still in Jefferson County, IN. Many trees on Ancestry.com have him serving in the Union Army and going to Kentucky, others to Iowa, some to Missouri, and others to Chicago. I found a pension card for a widow whose husband had the same name as the person I am researching and he joined in Louisville, KY which is across the river from Jefferson County, IN. Something in the information indicated his profession before joining was a butcher. That was the profession of the immigrant and several sons and grandchildren. Once I received the packet, it turned out to be the one I wanted.
While I could have ordered the wrong one, I took the chance and spent the money because of my knowledge of the family being butchers. It is incumbent on all of us to learn as much as we can about the entire family so that we can use those clues to narrow down the information as to whether it belongs to our person or not. I have previously written about how I was able to prove a father-son relationship through the son’s brother who had documented proof.
If we cannot prove the information either way when we find it, we must set it aside until we gather additional information. That way, we can either add it to the profile of our ancestor or dismiss it as belonging to someone else.