Given Name(s) Last Name
 

from Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 6/14/1999


Nineteen Children on Two Continents: Analyzing an Online Family Group Chart

It has been said that a genealogist does not even believe undocumented statements made by his (or her) mother. While that level of scrutiny may not always be necessary, researchers should take care when using information from others. This is even more crucial if the compilation contains no sources and the user is unaware of the compiler's credibility or research ability. How can you best deal with such information?

This issue has received renewed focus from the genealogy community, largely due to the increased interest in the field and the proliferation of data available online. But do not kid yourself. This is not a new problem. Undocumented genealogies have been around since medieval times.

While one solution will not apply in all cases, scrutinizing and analyzing the information is an excellent place to begin.

The information that follows was adapted from a chart I recently located at a major online site. The original chart was on one of my ancestral families and the data has been slightly altered to protect the identity of the compilers. The intent is to educate readers, not to find fault with the compiler.

There are several things about this family chart that an inquisitive genealogist would question. The first problem was the complete lack of documentation (the original did not have any either). The second was the number of children. While it's not unheard of, for a couple to have nineteen children, a number this high should suggest that caution be used with the data. If all the children did live in one household, the user might reasonably wonder if all the children had the same set of parents (is this family an earlier version of "his," "hers," and "ours?"). If the children all had the same father, do they have the same mother? Based simply on the chart, it's difficult to tell but still worth considering.

Documentation of all these children may be difficult, especially for those children who died in infancy or childhood (they generally won't leave marriage records, land records, probates, or children of their own as proof of their existence). The only "proof" of these children's existence may be oral history (exceptions are families where Bible records, church records, tombstones, or vital records, etc. are extant).

A couple of editing problems on the chart also presented a problem (at least in my opinion). The first was inconsistent notation for locations—some states are abbreviated and some are not. Also, the county in Maryland is Harford, not Hartford, as was listed in the death place of one child (Hartford is in Connecticut). I am always left wondering when I see a chart like this: if they have difficulties with geographic details what else could they have problems with?

Repeated names for the children was another difficulty in this case, and the list below indicates the names that were repeated.

 

Name Birth Year Birth Place
     
Ann 1710 England, Suffolk
Ann 1722 Before Maryland
Ephraim 1695 England
Ephraim 1715 England, Suffolk
James 1706 Maryland, Baltimore
John 1680 England, Suffolk
Margaret 1697 Maryland, Essex
Margaret 1712 Before Maryland
Mary 1702 England, Suffolk
Mary 1716 Before Maryland
Rufus 1685 England, Suffolk
Rufus 1706 Before Maryland
Sarah 1701 England, Suffolk
Sarah 1710 Before Maryland
Thomas 1683 England, Suffolk
Thomas 1708 Before Maryland
William 1701 England, Suffolk
William 1715 Maryland, Baltimore

During some eras, families might re-use the names of deceased children, but in this case, the multiple names being repeated strain the theory. The difficulty is compounded with no documentation (note that we keep returning to that crucial issue). The most likely case is that some children were entered on the chart more than once (another possibility not discussed fully here is that children with nicknames are listed twice, once under their real name and once under their nickname- separately as Betsy and Elizabeth, for example. The Williams have the same death date, but not the same death place. Oh my goodness. Organizing the children by name made the analysis easier.

Some of the children's birth dates are fairly close and the repeats could in fact be the same children with birth dates estimated from different sources. The spouse contained the names of no child's spouse and hindered further analysis, especially of the daughters.

Sorting by birth date might also be helpful:

 

Name Birth Year Birth Place
     
John 1689 England, Suffolk
Thomas 1683 England, Suffolk
Rufus 1685 England, Suffolk
Ephraim 1695 England
Margaret 1697 Maryland, Essex
Ann 1701 England, Suffolk
Sarah 1701 England, Suffolk
William 1701 England, Suffolk
Mary 1702 England, Suffolk
Rufus 1706 Before Maryland
James 1706 Maryland, Baltimore
Thomas 1708 Before Maryland
Sarah 1710 Before Maryland
Margaret 1712 Before Maryland
Ephraim 1715 England, Suffolk
William 1715 Maryland, Baltimore
Mary 1716 Before Maryland
James 1718 Before Maryland
Ann 1722 Before Maryland

Sorting the dates that have a "Before" is problematic; our analysis of the locations must bear that in mind. The chart was created by entering all the names, birth dates, and locations in a table in a word processor and then sorting by the desired column (a spreadsheet or database will serve the same purpose). The dates and locations were entered in the table in year first to facilitate sorting and to minimize the amount of typing.

The locations appear inconsistent. While families did move, the birthplaces as listed have the family making several ocean crossings in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Maybe some of the children were born in England, but this warrants further study.

Does the chart have any use besides the recycle bin? The answer is a cautious yes, as long as research is done carefully and that the information on the chart is not directly entered into the researcher's database (without other source information). A good starting point would be with the death dates that and locations that were listed, attempting to locate probate or will information. In this case, the death dates were all accurate (based upon what I already knew about the original family from which this chart was created). The burial date and death date for the father were the same, which is somewhat suspect (in reality, the date used was when the individual's will was probated). The burial date listed for one John was a major problem. He was buried in 1742 and died in 1743—now there's a family skeleton!

An analysis of probate records should be done only after I have gained a workable understanding of the records, after all, I want to avoid creating my own erroneous family group chart. Ancestry's Red Book will inform me as to when and where such records are kept in the various counties I am looking for and The Source's material on probate records will keep me reading and learning for several days.

The analysis suggested here is only one approach. If it gets you thinking about and analyzing the online information you obtain, then it has served it's purpose. You should document what you find, whether it originated in the online or the offline world. The idea here is: think about what you find, question what you find, and do your best to document it.

Good Luck!

Bibliography
Ancestry's Red Book:
American State, County, and Town Sources

by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., C.G.
 

The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy
by Loretto D. Szucs and Sandra H. Luebking
 

Copyright 1999, Michael John Neill. Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: mneill@asc.csc.cc.il.us or visit his Web site at: http://www.rootdig.com/.

 

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