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 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.

Blog 2021 08 12 GPS Standard #2: Complete and accurate source citations

Many people will ask, “Do I really have to write a fully sourced citation to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) or other such standards?”  Not to sound like Certified Genealogist and Lecturer Judy G. Russell but the answer to this question is, It Depends.

What it depends on is what do you intend to do with your research writings?  If you plan to only put it into your personal notes or genealogy software, then you do not need to do it to that standard.  If however, you plan on publishing your results in any manner whatsoever to include self-publishing, then you should meet the minimum standards.  If you plan to submit it to a genealogical society journal, you will need to meet their standard which is almost identical to the CMS.

So what is the minimum standard?  It is still hitting the main points of the CMS or Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Third Edition Revised, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, Maryland, 2017.

Dr. Thomas W. Jones, in his book, Mastering Genealogical Proof, NGS, Arlington, Virginia, 2013, takes a slightly different approach from Mills’.  Regardless, everyone agrees that citations are an art and not a science and therefore open to some interpretation.  Even this library guide put out by Indian River State College has their viewpoint, https://irsc.libguides.com/mla/whattoinclude.  However, they all agree that the minimum that should be in a citation is the below items.

  1. Who?  Not who is being referenced but who is the source of the information or the creator of the record.  Such as Appling County, Georgia, Probate Court.
  2. What?  What the title of the record is such as Marriage Book D (1850 – 1885).
  3. When?  Signifies when the record, book, CD, Newspaper, or microfilm was published.
  4. Where?  Where in the source is the information you are citing.  For U. S. Census records, we put the County, State, City or Township, Militia District, or Other; Post Office location when listed; Supervisor and Enumeration District (SD and ED) when available; Dwelling and Family numbers are preferred over line numbers.  The reason is, most of the schedules (supplemental census records) will use the SD, ED, Dwelling, and Family numbers to link the supplement’s record back to the specific family record on the population schedule.
  5. Where is the original record and where did you find it?  This one is very important, DO NOT use URLs as they change.  You must list the location of the original such as Appling County Courthouse, Baxley, Georgia, Superior Court.  Then you can say FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com etc.

The bottom line is, can someone pick up your research and readily go find the exact record you looked at.  So many people get hung up over style such as US Census vs U. S. Census vs U. S. census, vs….  Who really cares?  That is my thought and not indicative of anyone else in my profession.  But frankly, I do not care how you write census for those in the United States because I am smart enough to know what you mean.  However, if you mean Birmingham, England and just write, Birmingham, unless all other records have clearly indicated British research, then you have erred.  Anyone looking at your research must immediately know not to look in Alabama for your Birmingham records.

I hope this clears up a lot of the confusion.

Blog 2021 08 05 What is “Reasonably Exhaustive Research?”

Blog 2021 08 05 What is “Reasonably Exhaustive Research?”

 

One of the tenets of the Board for Certification of Genealogists is the first of five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard which is, “A reasonably exhaustive search.”  But what does that mean?

 

It means several things.  To start, do not stop proving something simply because you found one document that supports it.  I have a family Bible that says my Great Great-grandparents were married on 2 November 1880 but the county marriage license and the register shows 1881. [i] Had I stopped at the Bible records I would have the wrong answer.

A recent Genealogy Scavenger Hunt I am running shows the famous silent movie director, Clarence Leon Brown in the 1900 U. S. Census at age 10 living with his father, Larkin H., born in Pennsylvania, and his mother, Catherine, born in Ireland. [ii] However, the birth register shows Larkin was born in Georgia.  If you assume either one is correct alone, you have not conducted “A reasonably exhaustive search.”  We must always try to find no less than two but preferably three documents to support the event.

We must also weigh the specific document to determine which we trust over the other.  In the case of Clarence, the enumerator did not note who gave him the information, and census records are typically less reliable than others.  However, in this case, it is correct.  Using several other records including the 1870 U. S. Census from Delaware County, Pennsylvania, shows a 4-year old Harry, born in Pennsylvania along with his younger brother Hugh, living with his parents and older siblings all of whom were born in Georgia. [iii] To be honest, several documents had conflicting information but the above 1870 census is closer to the fact than the others and does corroborate statements later made by Leon.

In the case of my ancestor’s marriage, the primary reason may have been to conceal the fact that she was already pregnant at the time of their marriage.

When doing research, once again, I reiterate, look for no less than two documents to support the fact and preferably three or more.  If there is any conflict between the three, then further research is required to determine the truth and document the reason for that determination.

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[i] For particular reasons I cannot divulge the specific names involved here.  Family Bible personally held by author.

[ii] 1900 U. S. Census, Worcester County, Massachusetts, population schedule, Grafton Town. Supervisor District 1940, Enumeration District 1633, page 4 (inked) B, Dwelling 77, Family 88, household of Brown, Larkin H., image, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org : access 30 July 2021), citing NARA publication T623. Roll 692.

[iii] 1870 U. S. Census, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Borough of South Chester in Chester Township, Village Green Post Office, page 29 (inked), Dwelling 218, family 223, household of Brown, J. M., image, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com :accessed 30 July 2021), citing NARA publication M593, Roll 1336/1337.

Blog 2021 07 21 Never Stop Learning

One thing professional genealogists themselves do is to never stop learning.  We will take as many classes as our time and wallets will allow.  We always strongly recommend you do the same.

I will be attending the 3rd year of a 3-year cycle “Research in the South” led by J. Mark Lowe, FUGA, at the Institute for Genealogy and Historical Research all of next week.  Then in August, I am attending a weeklong presentation on Law School for Genealogists with Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL, and Richard D. Sayre, CG, CGL at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP).  Since I am doing two institutes this year I chose to forego the National Genealogical Society annual conference.  All of these this year are still virtual which cut down costs considerably.

While you may not be able to spend the money nor take the time out of an already busy schedule to attending there are countless opportunities to attend local genealogy society meetings and a host of online classes available, many of them free, and many which allow you to view at your convenience.  You should really check them out.

One great place to start is https://familytreewebinars.com/ where you can watch for free when they are live and for the first week after each presentation, after that, you need to be a member to get all webinars for free for a whole year and the price is reasonable.  For a great list of where to start, check out FamilySearch.org’s listing at https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Webinars_and_Online_Classes_from_outside_FamilySearch

 

Another thought on Veterans and their #1 supporter

3 June 2021

I was at the GA National Cemetery in Canton, GA yesterday morning paying my respects to Karen since it was 10 years ago yesterday God called her home.  Arriving at about 9:30 I did not expect to see a lot of groundworkers there who were not just taking care of the lawn.  And I was taken back a bit.

First off, so much has changed since the last time I was there and they have opened many new areas, enough to confuse some people.  But they were quite busy, laying out new rows for graves, digging new graves, and replacing grave markers.

Why replace grave markers you might ask?  That means the spouse of the first one to pass has joined them  For example, Karen’s grave has her information on the front about being my wife and that I am the veteran.  On the back is the grave number.  When the day comes for my sons to put me there, the VA will replace that marker with one that has my info on the front and her’s on the back.

We are losing our veterans and the ones who gave them all their moral support at a very fast rate.  Be sure to their stories while they are with us.

I’ll end with a little hint, do not trust the VA grave locator at newer cemeteries (less than 20 years old) as they may renumber sections.  They are not buried here and there, they are buried in chronological order.  Karen is in a full-size grave in June of 2011 so it was section 1, now section 6 but find the section where the front section is 2010 or 2011 and start walking back until you find the year and row that corresponds.  Same with the ones where urns are buried with ashes.

2021 Memorial Day Thoughts

I am sitting here after attending my small town’s Memorial Day Ceremony I reflect on the words spoken by Timothy Zarbo, who served six months in the Gulf War as a member of the United States Air Force.  He stated, “Veterans Day is for those who survived and retired.  Armed Forces Day is for those who are still serving.  Memorial Day is reserved for those who never got to take off their uniform.” [i]

Our American Freedom was paid for by the blood of the patriots who fought and died on the battlefield or from wounds inflicted in that conflict.  We often think about the American Civil War as the first war that pitted brother against brother, father against son, and destroyed families.  In fact, it was the Revolutionary War.  It has been said that about 1/3rd of the population supported the revolution, about 1/3rd opposed it and supported the British (AKA Tories), and about 1/3rd did not take sides but simply wanted to survive the conflict.

More than 1.1 million men and women have died in wartime in our history and nearly half of them were from the Civil War.  They would want us to go on and live and enjoy life and be happy, but they would also want to be remembered.  As today’s guest speaker here in Powder Springs, and numerous folks have said on various programs, “In this world, we die twice; once we when our heart stops beating and the other is when our name is spoken for the very last time.

Let us, as genealogists and family researchers, continue to tell their stories.  Let us commit to never let that second death occur because we have researched and uncovered their stories and tell everyone about them.

 

Larry W. Thomas

Captain, U. S. Army (Retired)

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[i] https://minuteman-militia.com/2021/05/29/veterans-speak-about-memorial-day-its-not-about-us/