October is the Month of Goblins and Ghosts. Already the corn maze is open every evening, each one attempting to out-do the others. Flyers are posted on city message boards and discount maze tickets are offered as bribes to sign up for the local newspaper. Front-page photos invite all to enjoy Fright Night at the High School Halloween Dance; Or, at the local amusement park.
What of October and your genealogy? Let me share a few genealogy ghosts. And how to avoid them.
Well meaning government clerks, book and index editors, and genealogists combine evidence in separate documents for persons of similar and “soundexed” names—sometimes creating a false genealogy. Genealogy ghosts–that’s what they are. And when you innocently grab these ghosts in both original and transcribed records, then blissfully build new pedigrees that have no basis in reality, you create genealogy ghosts. Although they may seem real, they are figments of your creativity.
Some examples from my own research experience:
- Duncan/Dungan. These are both separate surnames found in the same legal documents in Southwestern Pennsylvania. A well-meaning editor combined them into one index–which is rather common as genealogy indexes go. The index was a product of his combining the will of John Dungan with the probate accounts of the estate of John Duncan. So John Dungan, an unmarried man who left extensive real estate in PA and KY to his brother Joseph Dungan and “compensation” undefined to a relative Levi Dungan for taking care of John in his final illness–the real man, becomes a married man with a wife and seven children–a ghost. And John Duncan, whose administration is unaccounted for, is lost forever. UNLESS you read the original documents and keep them separate in your own genealogy.
- Kelley/Kettey. The Bishop’s Transcripts in Warwickshire England include a Lawley-Kettey marriage entry. The typed transcript of the parish register entry includes a Lawley-Kelley marriage. These are copies made from the original register. It would seem an easy task to locate and read the original to see how the clerk wrote the entry. The original register is not at the Family History Library. It could be in the local Museum or in the archives of the nearby technical College or preserved in the County Record Office or still among the records in the parish itself. Doable, rather than easy. You can request a photocopy or photograph of the original entry to study it. Just to complicate the problem a little: the first clerk, who copied the Bishop’s Transcripts of the register in the late 1500′s, crossed double ll’s in each name. The next clerk self-crossed each t. The third clerk drew a line through double tt’s. You know how the Bishop’s Transcripts are written. Now, order the original document.
- Pool(e)/Pettypool. The county recorder indexed the Pools, Pooles, P’pools, and the Pettypools all together. Deeds. Marriages. Wills. I read and copied the index entries. Then I went to the original documents to separate them out so I could study each entry and match them for fit. Are the Pools and the Pettypools the same family? In the printed Pettypool Genealogy, marriages were given in an alpha list in the Appendix. There were marriages printed in that Appendix that do not appear in the county records. WOW! What to do? Took me a long time to find those marriages. They were recorded in the Dinwoodey Distillery Accounts–an original business ledger now available at the Virginia Library. Question: Why were they recorded in such a strange source? Answer: Business accounts are legal documents admissible in a court of law should there be any need to verify the information. Today the Pool(es) and Pettypools are related by both blood and marriage as a result of living in proximity to each other. The Pool family members were transplants into the county, they did not originate there. And there is no evidence that the Pool(es) were related to the Pettypools. Soundexes were designed to find these anomalies by mixing the spelling variants together, not to prove they are the same families. Do not merge them together. Keep them separate so they can be examined and fit into their own families.
Each of these examples was not meant to mislead or to build a pedigree ghost. The creators of the misread and merged ancestors were trying to make genealogy faster and easier for those who came after. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle. http://arleneeakle.com
PS Research strategies focus your attention on the evidence needed to prove your family tree–stay tuned! I have a brand new book on Genealogy Strategies which I’ll tell you about shortly. You will want your own copy of this companion to our best-selling Family History for Fun and Profit.