From the Ancestry
Where Did They Get That?
Confusion is often in the mind of the beholder. The ongoing release of the every name 1900 census index at Ancestry.com has caused me to revisit some relatives in this census. When I viewed one entry, I remembered how confused I was when I first saw it. Like many genealogical records, the enumeration contained an error. And like many errors, the incorrect statement was a clue. In this case it was a clue that I failed to notice.
In 1900, John M. Trautvetter is a 60ish widower, living with his four youngest children on a farm in rural Hancock County, Illinois. The bulk of the census entry is consistent with other records, including John's age, place of birth, year of immigration, and citizenship status. What confused me was the place of birth listed for the children's mother--Ohio. No other record ever listed that state.
John's wife, Frances, was the mother of all his children (there was not a second wife, although different places of births for the mother can sometimes indicate this), and she died in 1888 well before the 1900 enumeration. Every document indicated she was born in Illinois in 1851 with no hint to another possible state of birth. While I had no direct evidence of her birth date and place, Frances' parents were known to have resided in Illinois as early as November 1850, and Frances' guardianship records (created when she was five years old) clearly state she had been born in January 1851. There was no evidence that her parents lived anywhere except Illinois after November 1850. But still, in the 1900 census, entries for four of her children indicate she had an Ohio place of birth.
Frances' three oldest children were out of the house by the 1900 enumeration, and their entries were also located. These children indicated their mother was born in Illinois. While this was not consistent with the Ohio birthplace listed by the other children, at least it was consistent with what I already knew about Frances.
So Where Did Ohio Come From?
It was years after I first discovered that 1900 census entry that I learned that Frances' parents were German immigrants who married in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1849. Their stay in Ohio was short, but it was where they were married and where the husband was naturalized. I wish I had considered the Ohio reference as a clue from the start instead of simply ignoring it as some off-the-wall mistake. Whoever told the enumerator the children's mother was born in Ohio must have known that her family had some connection to that state.
In this case, the error was a lead as to the family's origins. Some discrepancies in records are clues as to other locations where the family lived. Unfortunately, not all inconsistencies can be understood as easily as this one. However our point is that apparent errors should not immediately be tossed aside.
Many Errors in Records
Did our ancestor think the clerk meant, "Where is your mother from?" instead of "Where was your mother born?" Where a person is "from" is not necessarily the same place as where they were born. In the case of Frances, the children still living in the household in 1900 were relatively young when she died in 1888. Their memories of their mother may be very dim, and their only knowledge of her and her origins may come from their father--who might not necessarily know where she was born either.
Other Types of Errors
- Bald-faced lie.
- They were not there.
- A little detail they did not know.
- Sometimes there's no telling what they were thinking.
Consider the Errors
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
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