Friday, October 16, 2015

Assuming is the Curse of Doing Family Research - Part 1

When dancing with the ancestors, one of the biggest things that happen are that people assume things. Word of advice: assume nothing!

Example: you're doing research, find the will of an ancestor and it doesn't mention their child, your 5 x great grandmother! So, you assume your 5 x great grandmother wasn't the child of said ancestor whose last will and testament you found.


I have found last wills and testaments that list all the known children of an ancestor.

I have found last wills and testaments that list only the male children of an ancestor.

I have found last wills and testaments that only list the wife of an ancestor.

In the first instance, it's a woo-hoo moment because the last will of 5 x Great Grandpa lists all of his children. Yay for me!

In the second instance, it's a holy crap moment because I'm researching 4 x Great Grandma, daughter of 5 x Great Grandpa, and he only mentioned his six sons and not his five daughters.

In the third instance, well, you can figure that one out.

The main conclusion NOT to draw on Scenario two and three: my 4 x Great Grandma is obviously not the child of said 5 x Great Grandpa because he didn't mention her in his will!!


In many cases, when children back in the day married, the father would give them land and/or money and then not mention them in the will because they already gave them land and/or money at the time of marriage. 

Or, as in Scenario Three - 5 x Great Grandpa left everything to the wife and made some reference "to be evenly distributed among my children at the time of her passing". Yes, I've run across this as well. It's a family researcher's nightmare: the will doesn't name the children. It doesn't mean the children did not exist, or that I'm on the wrong trail, only that 5 x Great Grandpa didn't bother to name the children in the will. It happens!!

So, when dancing with the ancestors and you come across a last will and testament that doesn't mention the ancestor you're researching, don't assume you're on the wrong trail, you have the parents of said ancestor wrong or anything along those lines. Instead, take a step back and consider that maybe the ancestor you're researching already received a bequest from the parent. Try to hunt down land records or other records that can prove the parentage, rather than simply - as I've seen many people do - that because the ancestor is not mentioned in the will they don't exist or you have an error in your research.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Census Tip

When dancing with the ancestors, sometimes you can't find your ancestors on a particular census record. It's frustrating and . . . there are many reasons this might happen: 

  • your ancestors weren't home when the census taker came a knockin'
  • the census taker transcribed the surname horribly wrong
  • the transcriber transcribed the surname horribly wrong
  • the census page has not been indexed yet (yes, this still happens)
  • the census taker used your ancestors initials rather than full names
  • and other reasons
An example from my own research: 3 x Great Grandpa James Matthew Johnson

First - with common surnames, trying to narrow it down is sometimes impossible. In this instance, I had Census Records for the following years: 1850, 1860, 1880, and 1900. I was obviously missing 1870. I did the normal Ancestry search from within James Matthew Johnson and his wife Charlotte (Ballard) Johnson.


Did I mention nothing?

Okay, there were some 2,000 records scattered throughout Kentucky.

I then narrowed the search to Nelson County, Kentucky!


I was frustrated and then, as happens from time to time with me, I thought . . . why not try searching each of the known children.

Child by child I searched specifically for the 1870 Nelson County Census and . . . voila. I found it! Woo-hoo!

First - James Matthew was listed as J. M. Johnson. Note the usage of initials versus his full name. Second - the person who indexed the record transcribed Lottie as Sallie. It was an easy mistake, but also a mistake that made finding this record quite difficult.

So, when dancing with the ancestors and missing a census record or two . . .
  • Search for the children
  • Change the search to initials versus full name
  • Keep trying!!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Genealogy & Facebook

In dancing with the ancestors, there are many avenues of research - Google, FamilySearch, Ancestory, Rootsweb, and a bunch of others. Another fabulous avenue of research is - Facebook. More and more, different genealogy sites - Rootsweb, TNGENWEB, etc. - are creating Facebook pages which you can join and, hopefully, find out information about your ancestors. In addition, there are many family pages, as in - Sevier Family, Campbell Family, etc. Then, there are the county web pages, and the photo pages, and so on, and so on, and so on.

If you're not using Facebook as part of your genealogy regimen . . . get on it, people!!

For my Sweat cousins, we have a family page devoted to just the descendants of our grandparents William Oscar and Mary Willie (Boone) Sweat. On this page, we share all the old family photos, reunion announcements, and just day to day stuff that keeps us connected to each other. In addition, I share all the family history stuff I find as I dance with the ancestors. It's a convenient place and, I don't have to email the cousins individually, just post a link to files/websites and . . . voila, it's done, information shared, and I'm on to more researching.

In addition, on my personal web page, I make note of birthdays and weddings of my ancestors. For example, today - May 21 - was the day my 2 x Great Grandfather was born, back in 1839. My post on my page was: 

On this day in my paternal family history, my Great Great Grandfather James Douglas Tate was born in 1839 in Warren County, TN. He was the son of John Tate and Leodicia Hogg. He married Mary Jane McGregor and they had two children. 

But, not only was 2 x Great Gramps born on this day, but my Great Gran was born also, so this post appeared on my page as well:

On this day in my maternal family history, my Great Grandmother Mary Willie Watson was born in 1872. She was the daughter of Richard Hilary Watson and Anna Marie Johnson. She married Victor Ivo Boone and they had 15 children.

In this way, on my Facebook page, there is a record of the events in my ancestors lives and, in this way, I honor the past, the people that came before me, that make the life I lead today possible.

So, when dancing with the ancestors, make sure to utilize Facebook a) to your advantage and b) to share the past of your ancestors.


Monday, April 13, 2015

DNA & Paper Trails

Sometimes when dancing with the ancestors, the paper trail is almost non-existent. Such is the case with my 2 x Great Grandmother Rebecca Adcock-Smith.

Here's what I knew in the beginning: 2 x Great Grandfather John B. Smith married a woman named Rebecca. 

That was the extent of my knowledge. Over time, I connected with some distant Smith cousins who said they thought Rebecca's surname was Adcock, but . . . they weren't 100% positive. It wasn't until  I discovered Ardena Clementine Smith-Aldridge's death certificate that . . .

. . . I had verification that Adcock was her mother's surname. Ardena, or Aunt Clem as my dad called her, was his grandfather (my great) John Leonard Smith's sister.

If not for Ardena knowing her mother's maiden name . . . I might still be a bit clueless.

I knew from doing research that the main Adcock family that settled in Warren County, TN and subsequently DeKalb County, TN came from South Carolina and . . .

. . . were the children of Leonard and Jane (Cantrell) Adcock. I knew that the majority of Leonard's children named at least one of their children Leonard. I pretty much knew that Rebecca was a grand-daughter of Leonard, but . . . didn't have a clue which of his many sons might or might not be here father.

Then, came an Ancestry DNA match to a woman who was a descendant of William Adcock, son of Leonard Adcock! Woo-hoo!!!

Then, today, with Ancestry's DNA Circles . . . I had a match to two different descendants of William and Francis (Ballinger/Ballenger) Adcock.

Again, a Woo-hoo!!

Now, disclaimer time: just because Ancestry DNA links you to someone, it doesn't mean you're 100% related. 

For me, the mere fact there is a DNA connection gives me hope . . . which is a good thing when using DNA to confirm relationships within the tree. At some point, I'll contact the DNA matches and request they upload their DNA profile to and . . . we can compare DNA using a chromosome browser which will verify the match.

But . . . sometimes, when stumbling along when dancing with the ancestors, the hope of a DNA match, to prove what you've found so far, or to support what you've found so far . . . is a step in the right direction. There are, however, always other steps to take. Don't be a lazy genealogist and not keep looking for the paper trail or more verifiable DNA data when you get a DNA match.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Proof is in the Pudding

There's an old saying, don't know where it originated or what it means, that goes . . . the proof is in the pudding. When dancing with the ancestors, the proof is often not in the family stories or the printed genealogy books you'll find, but rather . . . in the pudding of your search to prove and/or disprove the information you've found.

Case in point: Jahaziel Tate who married Jane Lockhart. They had three children: Andrew Jackson, John Stubblefield, and James Lafayette. 

Jahaziel later married Sarah Tate - more on this in a bit. After Sarah died, he married Lavinia, and after her death, he married Nancy Shemwatter.

In the book The Heritage of Warren County, Tennessee, in the section about the Tate family, there's the following information about Jahaziel: Jahaziel married 1st Jane Lockhart and had Andrew,John, and James before leaving his Tennessee family and marrying his first cousin, Sarah Tate, in DeKalb County, Alabama (p.337).

See, I told you there was more on this in a bit about Sarah Tate. Her father was Aaron Tate, brother to James Tate who was Jahaziel's father.

Next, there was the book Tate Families of Southern States written by Metzel and Updike and published in 1984. In that book was listed the following:

Jahaziel married four times: (1) to a bride of whom we know little, except she died early leaving three sons, Andrew J., John S., and James Tate who were living with the Samuel Dykes' family in the 1850 Census of Grundy County, TN. Possibly the Dykes family were the grandparents of them since rural people always find room for their own kin. He was married to (2) Sarah A. Tate, on October 18, 1839 by Justice of the Peace, W. F. Mooney (M. P. 1837 - 7, 8 and 9). She was bon 1821, age 29 on the 1850 Census of Warren County, TN and died on January 28, 1852 in Pulaski County, AR. Her family was opposed to the marriage. They, however, eloped and settled near Little Rock, Pulaski County, AR. He married (3) Lavinia "Vina" who was born in 1810 in MS. He married (4) Nancy who was born April 5, 1824 in Hinds County, TX; she died on December 7, 1893 in Poetry, TX.

Now, if you read the italicized section in the fourth paragraph above, you know that Jahaziel and Sarah were first cousins, which would explain why her family was opposed to the marriage. Metzel and Updike failed to mention this little fact. Perhaps they didn't know Jahaziel and Sarah were first cousins, or perhaps they didn't want to mention this in their book. Either possibility is a good way.

The proof is in the pudding: Jahaziel and Sarah were first cousins which is obviously why her family didn't want them marrying.

Now, there are a few other errors in Metzel and Updikes telling of the life of Jahazeil Tate. First and foremost, I want to point out that they most likely did not have access to the information I have when they wrote their book. The Internet was in infancy stage in 1984. They were doing genealogy old school style. For all they knew, because Jahaziel remarried, was that Jane died.

This is incorrect. Jahaziel and Jane divorced and he abandoned his family in Tennessee. 

"A bride of whom we know little about" is true, in the fact that they knew little about her, however the Tate researcher who provided the information on the Tate family for the book The Heritage of Warren County, Tennessee was a Tate and had access to more information than Metzel and Updike, which is why he knew that Jahaziel married Jane Lockhart . . . and left his family in Tennessee.

Samuel Dykes is not Samuel, but Sander Dykes who . . . married Jane Lockhart-Tate, which is why Andrew, John, and James were living with Sanders and Jane Dykes, and their three children Calhoun, Sanders Jr., and Mary 1850 in Grundy County, Tennessee.

Samuel from Sanders is an easy error, and one many people, myself included, have made when looking at the actual Census Records. I viewed the 1850 Census Record and can see how they made that error. It happens. 

Metzel and Updike also did not know Jane's last name, or first name, but I did based on the information found in the book about Warren County, Tennessee.

Now, in trying to figure out this little mess, another Tate researcher and I began exchanging emails. The first thing we both did was go to the 1850 Grundy County Census Record, at which point we both came to the same conclusion: the reason Andrew, John, and James were living with Sanders Dykes was because their mother had married him. Sanders was not their grandfather, but their step-father. The second step was trying to find death records for Calhoun Dykes, Sanders Dykes, and Mary A. Dykes. We found Calhoun Dykes death certificate which listed his father as Sanders Dykes and his mother as Lockhart!

At this point, we had found the proof in the proverbial pudding. 

So, when you have a family story, or a genealogical book with a family history, and things don't make sense . . . do some digging on your own. Remember, whoever wrote the story or genealogy in the first place, probably didn't have access to the information readily available to modern day researchers. They could only use what they had back when they wrote the story . . . or put the family genealogy in written format.

Metzle and Updike utilized the information available to them in the 1980s when they put together their book. They didn't have access to the family stories that stated Jahaziel "married 1st Jane Lockhart and had Andrew, John and James before leaving his Tennessee family and marrying his first cousin, Sarah Tate in DeKalb County, AL. All Metzel and Updike knew at the time they were putting their book together was that Jahaziel had been previously married and remarried a second time. They assumed - always a dangerous thing to do, but happens more often than not - that because Jahaziel remarried, his first wife had died. Divorce wasn't so common in the early 1800s as it is today.

So, this post isn't in any way a criticism of their work, but rather a cautionary tale for modern day family historians to prove the family story or family tree you find when doing your research. It's easy enough to accept what is out there as 100% documented, but . . . the sad fact is, the information is not always 100% documented. To be true to your family tree, you need to prove and/or disprove it for yourself.

So, when dancing with the ancestors, know that the proof is in the pudding, and it's up to you to find the truth!!