Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Similar Names, but Different People: James M. Mitchell vs. James Madison Mitchell

When dancing with the ancestors it is quite possible that you are going to come across with two people with same/similar names who are actually two separate individuals. Then, if using Ancestry or some of the other tree sites, you might come across a third person created . . . by someone, at some time, merging Person A with Person B. It happens, people, trust me it happens. I detailed one experience about two men with the exact same name (Greenberry Mitchell) here. This post is similar, but instead of concerning men named Greenberry Mitchell, it is going to concern two men named James M. Mitchell who . . . ended up in the same town in Dade County, Missouri known as Greenfield.

Now, they also had birth dates within a year of each other: one in 1796 and one in 1797. 

Let the confusion begin!

James M. Mitchell (we'll call him James the First) was born July 6, 1796 in North Carolina. James Madison Mitchell (we'll call him James the Second) was born June 27, 1797 in . . . North Carolina.

Are you beginning to sense how easy it is/was to confuse these two individuals, who both ended up living in Greenfield, Missouri?

James the Second, aka James Madison Mitchell, from documented letters from his direct ancestors, is the son of James Mitchell and Mary Craig. In those letters - written in 1899 and 1902 respectively - James's wife is referred to as blank Ridley. A quick search on Ancestry and I have a marriage in Maury County, TN on December 30, 1828 between James Mitchell and Winnifred Ridley.

James the First, aka James M. Mitchell, for the time being, has unknown parents. On a side note, I have a y-dna match to one of his descendants, so he has to descend from my most distant known ancestor Captain William Mitchell.

The problem: the majority of Ancestry trees list James the First's parents as James Mitchell and Mary Craig. James Mitchell is allegedly the son of Andrew Mitchell of Limerick, Ireland. Captain William Mitchell came from Sussex, Chichester, England, as did his father and grandfather. That does not rule out the possibility that some point, in the far distant past, that my line didn't originate in Scotland, and that James Mitchell, who married Mary Craig, isn't some distant cousin. It's doubtful, but still possible.

Now, back to separating James the First from James the Second, or the what I like to call the quasi-creation known as James the Third.

Note: James the Third is a figment of genealogists imagination trying to create a parentage that does not exist.

Okay, back to the separation process . . .

James the First married Martha McGregor and they had the following children: William B., Mary/Polly, Lucinda, Maxville, Margaret, Richmond, Eli, James Andrew, Elizabeth, Alfred, and Raleigh. 

In 1850, James the First and Martha are living in Warren County, TN with the following children: James A., Elizabeth, Alfred P., and Raleigh. In 1860, they are in Dade County, MO with their son Alfred, and their granddaughter Martha P. Martin. In 1870, they are still in Dade County, MO, living with their son James, his wife Charlotte, and their children Martha, John, James W., Andrew, and Simeon/Simon. Martha dies in 1872. In 1880, James the First is living with his grandaughter Mary Mitchell-Shipley, her husband Ephraim B. Shipley and their children Lucinda, Nathan, Lillie, and Charles. This information all comes from the Federal Census Records. 

James the First dies on April 8, 1882.

In 1850, James the Second and his wife Winnifred are living in Lewis County, TN, which is the county west of Maury County. The two counties share a border. In 1970, James and Winnifred are living with their son Washington Mitchell, his wife Eleanor, and their children George, Hattie, Mary, and Lucy. James and Winnifred's daughter Rebecca is also living with them.

James the Second dies September 27, 1872 . . . more than 10 years prior to James the First.

It is clear, from Census evidence alone, that James M. Mitchell and James Madison Mitchell are two separate individuals that somehow became interconnected on Ancestry and other tree sites with people taking the parents of James the Second and placing them as the parents of James the First. This is an easy mistake to make, and one especially easy to make in the days before the Internet.

Now, just to make things more confusing is this family story regarding James M. Mitchell, or rather, the obituary written by his grandson-in-law Ephraim Beechum Shipley that told the tale of the family of James M. Mitchell moving from NC to KY and then, about 1808 to Tennessee. The obituary appeared in the local Greenfield, MO newspaper after James the First's death in 1882. 

This same story appears in letters written by people related to James Madison Mitchell in 1899 and 1902, except they specifically mention the family moved to Maury County, Tennessee.

Now, it is highly possible that these two distinctly separate Mitchell families had similar experiences: NC to KY to TN. Stranger things have happened in the Universe. It is also likely that, at some point, a member of James the Second's family, a cousin or whatnot, heard the story being told in reference to James M. Mitchell (the First, not the Second) and thought they were talking about their relative and . . . the story became part of the wrong family and has been passed down through the generations.

Since Ephraim lived with his grandfather-in-law, I'm sure (well, as sure as anybody can be about things that happened in the 1880s) he heard the story first-hand from James the First. In any event, when he wrote his grandfather-in-law's obituary he included that story. 

I know from my own experience with family stories that the original telling is embellished over and over again so that only a small kernel of truth remains in the telling of the tale. I'm not saying this happened. 

In the end, based on Census Records and letters from family members dating back to 1899, that specifically lists James the Second's parents as James Mitchell and Mary Craig, and that James the Second married a Ridley, it is clear that his parents are in fact James Mitchell and Mary Craig.

Also, with evidence from Census Records, it is clear that James the First, who married Martha McGregor, is a separate individual who is not the son of James Mitchell and Mary Craig. Y-DNA evidence also disputes that possibility unless somewhere, way back, my Mitchell line originated in Scotland and while my line ended up in England, perhaps siblings of my ancestors remained in Scotland, then settled in Ireland, eventually immigrated to the United States, and members of both lines ended up settling in the same town in Dade County, Missouri. Again, stranger things have happened in the Universe.

But, for the time being, based on evidence at hands, I am sure that James M. Mitchell, born in 1796 and died in 1882, is not the son of James Mitchell and Mary Craig. And, based on y-DNA evidence, I know he somehow descends from Captain William Mitchell who arrived in Baltimore, Maryland about 1650, since I share a very close y-DNA match with one of James & Martha (McGregor) Mitchell's descendants.

So, when dancing with the ancestors and you come across two individuals with the same name, living in the same town, do not assume they are the same person. Do not, whatever you do, take a tree on Ancestry or other site at face value. Prove the information for yourself, as I did in this case, and the case of Greenberry Mitchell 1, 2 and 3. A bit of time on your part to verify facts, might save you some frustration later on, and some plucking of leaves off your family tree.