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From the Ancestry Daily News
Sally/Sarah, What's the Difference?When two people have the same (or similar) names, or one person has multiple names, it can create big problems for genealogists. Records on individuals with the same name need to be "sorted" out into their separate identities, while individuals who used different names may have to be "merged" together to create one identity despite the varying names. The separating or merging is not always an easy process, and sometimes it is downright impossible. Incomplete or hasty research can aggravate the situation. Jumping to conclusions too early and holding on to them for too long may only add to the confusion.
To help with these frustrating occurrences, today's article centers on difficulties caused by individuals with similar names.
Making Assumptions: A Case Study
A search of the online Illinois Marriage Index located no marriage between Philip Smith and Sarah Kile. However, there was a marriage between a Sarah McIntosh and a Philip Smith on 3 May 1860. Another search of Kile marriages for females turned up an 1858 marriage for a Peter McLain and a Sally Kile. After finding these online records, I made the connection that Sarah and Sally were one in the same. After all, Sally was a well-known nickname for Sarah. Peter must have had died shortly after the couple's 1858 marriage, and Sarah must have married again. The nickname situation would explain the ladies' first name difference, and the original record was probably just misread so that McLain was mistakenly recorded as McIntosh. The scenario seemed clear, based on these assumptions! (Genealogy Guardian Angel advice: Look at the actual, original marriage records before making a conclusion like that.)
Next Stop: Census!
I needed the original census to doublecheck the information and determine the date the census was taken. While I was waiting for that, a quick look at my copy of The Sources indicated that the 1860 census began on 1 June 1860. Philip Smith married Sarah McIntosh on 3 May 1860. This was starting to shoot holes in my theory.
On To 1870 . . .
Back to the marriages (more thoroughly this time . . .)
A search in the online Illinois State Marriage Index for brides under the surname "Kyle" located a marriage between a John McIntosh and a Sarah Kyle in September of 1852 in Mercer County, Illinois. This information led to a new working hypothesis, which was as follows:
Sarah Kile married John McIntosh in 1852. This marriage was terminated (either by John's death or by a judge). Sarah McIntosh married Philip Smith in 1860. Sally Kile, who married Peter McLain, was likely a relative of Sarah Kile, who is known to have married Philip Smith. Sarah Kile (McIntosh?) Smith and Sarah Kile McLain are likely related, possibly cousins. A look at Philip Smith and Sarah McIntosh's marriage license lists her as "Mrs. Sarah McIntosh" with a mark on the Mrs. (it's not clear if the mark is intending to strike out the Mrs. or not). This "Mrs." notation is not indicated in the online marriage index and is a considerable clue.
There's still plenty of work to be done: a COMPLETE analysis of census and other records, and an attempt to find out what happened to John McIntosh.
2) Consider alternate spellings.
3) Do not jump to conclusions.
4) Research with the goal of finding out as much of the truth as you cannot with the intent of proving your initial hunch correct.
5) Continue to analyze all information as new information is located.
Comments on This Research "Technique"
2) McIntosh and McLain being considered the "same" without any evidence to back it up was a stretch (and a very long one at that).
3) At least the research continued and the researcher finally admitted that the initial theory was not correct.
It was only some years later, when I researched the records myself, that I discovered my ancestors' marriage record was therewith the date and the names I had given the researcher. My ancestor and his brother had married sisters, and I was originally sent the record for their siblings.
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 email@example.com or visit his Web site.
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Used by the author on his website with permission
Articles by Michael John Neill
---type in your surname or county and state in the search box that comes up on the left hand side of your screen. I've found and purchased several books this way!