American Ancestors New England Historic Genealogical Society - Founded 1845 N.E. Historic Genealogical Society Seal View Your Shopping Cart Join NEHGS
Go
  • Rising's Reflections

    Marsha Hoffman Rising

    Published Date : April 17, 2002

    The follies a man regrets most in his life are those which he didn't commit when he had the opportunity.
    -Helen Rowland

    Executive Director, Ralph Crandall, has given me the opportunity of a lifetime. He has offered me the chance to address thousands of genealogists, suggesting I write about anything I want. Of course, his immediate thought and mine was that I would pass on some of the tips and tools that I have learned in twenty years of intense genealogical research, teaching, and scholarship. I will love doing that.

    But anything I want? What about reflections on the changing world of genealogy as more and more goes "on line"? What about controversies of method, documentation, analysis, and terminology that flow through the genealogical world from time to time? What about the changes brought to our beloved field by the movement of "big business" into the world that has heretofore been a hand-to-mouth existence of mostly small societies and sharing friends? What about the funny things that one overhears in the library? Or, some of the not-so-great advice that gets passed on and becomes part of the collective, "I saw it somewhere" knowledge base? Will I have the chance to talk about that too? He said anything.

    So, here goes. Every week or so, "Rising's Reflections" will offer something. For those of you who don't know me, I have a reputation for being straightforward, practical, brutally honest, and unforgiving of an ancestor (or research target) who is determined to stay hidden. I am tenacious in the extreme. As I have gotten older, I find life and people more amusing. Sharing the humorous makes my experiences even more enjoyable.

    In the past, I have researched my husband's ancestry (3/4 English, 1/8 Scots-Irish, 1/8 Swiss (Pennsylvania Mennonite) and my own (3/4 German, 1/8 English-much more "English" than my husband's-and 1/8 Scots Irish). I hope to return those lines someday soon. For the past ten years, however, I have been tracking my historical neighbors-the first 1,000 frontiersman who settled the Missouri Ozarks from 1835 to 1839. My goal is to determine their exact place of origin before coming to Missouri and, in that process, to develop techniques for tracing early nineteenth-century migrants. To date I have found 788 of those pioneers. Certain techniques for tracking ancestors do work better than others and can be applied to difficult ancestors in varying time periods and geographic locations. What has worked for me in tracking a Southwest Missouri farmer will work for many trying to get from Ohio back to New England. Some of the suggestions I will make here will sound very familiar. Some may be new. Some may be old ideas with a fresh look or a new angle. Stay tuned. Perhaps we can solve some genealogical dilemmas and have fun at the same time.


    Volunteer to confused researcher: "Why don't you check the 1840 Soundex?
    -Overheard in the library

    I find it hard to resist helping my fellow researchers when I am working in a record repository. If I didn't tune out the cries of frustration from floundering genealogists, I would never get any of my own work done. Sometimes, however, I just can't resist and I usually end up learning as well as teaching.

    On my last trip to the Missouri Archives, I was reading a fascinating Supreme Court case. One of "my" pioneers, the 1,000 of whom I spoke of in the last column," was appealing a case of "lewd and lascivious" behavior. Joseph was an elderly man and apparently forgot some of the decorum expected in the Ozark hills. The community was incensed and he had been fined $600 and six months in jail for what we now call indecent exposure. At this time, the normal sentence for assault was $5, and murder might get the perpetrator a year in jail. More often, it resulted in acquittal.

    Joseph's attorney appealed the case, partly on the creative grounds that it was debatable as to whether "the organ in question was in and of itself lewd." This unusual case had almost made it possible to ignore the difficulties going on at the microfilm reader next to me. Finally, the Missouri Supreme Court decided the appeal was not worthy, and the lower court was upheld. My research returned to the mundane.

    Two people were working together on the same ancestral problem-almost always a recipe for disaster, especially if husband and wife. This was mother and daughter. Mother was about 80 years old and sharp as a tack. Her memory seemed impeccable. The problem was that she didn't remember data in the genealogical way that the daughter wanted in order to locate specific records. Mother was passing on all sorts of interesting information, most of which the daughter was, unfortunately, ignoring. Daughter was asking questions like, "When did Phinehas and Anna marry?" "Where were they living in 1900?" Daughter was from Chicago, where I later learned she had left the National Archives branch in tears one afternoon because she could substantiate none of the information she had been given by the family.

    After recalling some of Mama's stories and then asking a few pertinent questions, I soon found myself immersed in their research problems. The first difficulty was overcome when I remembered Mama making a comment when the two were perusing the county marriage records. "Oh," reported Mother, "they were part was Papa's stepfather's family." Daughter cranked the wheel and on they went. I returned to that question. "So, your father had a step-father?" "Oh yes," Mama answered. "His father died when he was young." How young? "An infant? Eight or nine? A teenager?" "Oh, about eight. That was when he started to work in the tar fields." Aha! That was probably one of the reasons for the frustration. They were looking for an adult couple by the name of Cochran rather than the mother's remarried name. Sure enough. With the stepfather as head of household, all the younger Cochran children were there, under his name … except for Phinehas. We were able to find Phinehas's marriage in 1902 and his wife in her father's home in 1900, but no Phinehas. Several other records turned up as we widened the search under the stepfather's name. Mother and daughter were happy, but I was bothered. Everything indicated that Phinehas should have been in Osage County in the 1900 soundex. Why couldn't I find him? Then it hit me. Lesson One: Remember the culture, the community, and the customs. How do we spell Phinehas in the Ozarks? I knew immediately we should have been looking for "Finis"!

    Already over two hours late in my departure, I raced to the census where the Soundex pointed, and there was "Finis Cochran," listed one page away from his bride-to-be. "There he is, living in the Barnes household," I announced proudly. "It appears to be a couple without children." "Why, sure," answered Mama. He lived with them after his father died-Clem and Sadie Barnes. They never had any children of their own. He said they treated him just like their very own son."

    Lesson One : Remember the culture, the community, and the customs. And, listen to your mother.

    Genealogists must often work hard to find a record. Just as often they neglect to analyze that record with the same intensity with which they looked for it. Weighing and analyzing evidence is crucial, never more so than when records conflict.

    Which date would you most likely believe was accurate? A marriage date published from church abstracts in the genealogical journal, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, or the marriage date supplied by the widow when she made her pension application? Which is the primary record? Aren't primary records usually accepted as more accurate than published ones?

    Let's look at the two records in more detail. The church abstracts were published in chronological order, and the date and place is given as 8 February 1800, at the Stanford Baptist Church in Dutchess County, New York. Marriages dates recorded on each side were also performed in the early part of 1800.

    On 8 February 1851, Wayty (Parks) Couse Woodworth applied for a widow's pension for the Revolutionary War service of her dear departed husband, Joseph. She gave her marriage date as 8 February 1799. She stated she didn't have any evidence to support the statement, but both her sons signed affidavits that they believed the evidence she gave in her application to be true.

    My first reaction when I see marriage record discrepancies is to look at the age of the eldest child. Would the widow have a reason to set back the marriage date in order to explain the 8 lb. premature baby? Not in this case. The first child was born in 1802. Was it just a faded memory? I re-examined the document … not just for the marriage date to put in my pedigree chart, but for the context. The form read that for her to be eligible for a pension under that law, her marriage had to occur before 2 January 1800!

    Can you believe I had an ancestress who lied? I suppose she knew she was married to man who had been a soldier and was the father of her ten children. She probably thought that rule about being married before 1800 was silly government red tape! Besides, who would ever care?

    Lesson Two : When analyzing a record concerning someone likely to gain something, be aware of the requirements for the desired benefit.

    Land records are one of the most important kinds of evidence available to genealogists, who often don't take full advantage of them. The tip for today is to always examine the first land record produced by your ancestor in a new location. This is usually in the grantee section of the deed index. We won't discuss here all the methods aside from fee simple title by which individuals acquire land. While you are looking, it would be a good idea to check those first grantee deeds for his brothers and brothers-in-law as well. Often, the deed will tell where the individual came from:

    Cole County, Missouri, Deed Book C:61: On 20 November 1837, Eleanora Carpenter of Kaskaskia, Randolph County, Illinois, and widow of John Carpenter, child and heir of Mary, widow of Isadore Duprey, formerly of New Madrid County, Missouri, sold Thomas Plemmons of Cole County, Missouri, her New Madrid Certificate #2671.

    Nice, right? OK. They all aren't that good.

    When an individual leaves in area, always check the last grantor deed. That last deed may tell you the individual's destination. Remember that the deed may not be recorded until many years after the individual has left the area. Often, people do not want to burn all their bridges until they are sure they will be happy in their new situation. In addition, they may be quitclaiming to an estate and will not only give the location of new home, but their relationships as well.

    Bedford County, Tennessee Deed Book HH:284-285: On 7 November 1838, Benjamin Coats of Polk County, Missouri, gave power of attorney to James Coats to act for him in selling a tract of land in Bedford County, Tennessee, formerly belonging to Baily W. Coats, deceased, and now owned by his heirs.

    Lesson Three: Check the first grantee and the last grantor deed for the family you seek.

    Only the strongest marriages can survive working on the same ancestral family.

    A couple was peering into the microfilm drawer containing the latest censuses. She reached tentatively for a box of microfilm...

    Overbearing Husband: "You don't want that one! It's the 1900 census. Your father wasn't even around then! When was he born?
    Meek wife: "He was born in October 10, 1911."
    Husband: "Here then. This is the one you want-the 1910."

    -Overheard in the library


New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA
888-296-3447

© 2010 - 2014 New England Historic Genealogical Society