Forgotten Compiled Genealogies–Can it really be that easy?

Forgotten, compiled genealogies–Research in the past included a Preliminary Survey of genealogies already traced.  Today, we use the internet to see if the genealogy we need has been indexed and is available for quick and easy retrieval. A sort of mini-Survey.

The purpose of the Preliminary Survey is to add new generations to your pedigree and to identify potential ancestors that were previously unknown to you.  The need for this survey still continues.  The genealogies online at Ancestry. com and and other collective sites are incomplete–no matter how many millions or billions of  ancestors are included.

This is an easy trap to fall into–even experienced genealogists are not thorough enough.

Let me demonstrate with a problem I drove all the way to Yuma AZ to report on.  And then I solved, quite by accident, two days later in Idaho Falls ID:

The correct ancestry of James Howe, the father of Cyrena Howe who married Stephen Bartlett.  Cyrena died after 1907 in Lowell, Middlesex, MA.

Initially, I distinguished between and documented these James Howes:

  1. James Howe, born  11 May 1787 Rochester, Strafford NH and died 11 May 1832 in Boston MA. He was the son of Dr. James Howe and his wife Lucy Fisher.  This pedigree came from Ancestry. com World Tree. This James Howe married Elizabeth Ball Willis and the naming patterns of their children, documented in the Vital Records of Haverill Massachusetts, prove the lineage: Elizabeth Willis How, Mary Fisher How, Benjamin Willis How, Calvin Fisher How, etc.
  2. James How, bapt. 22 July 1787, Rochester, Strafford NH, the son of Dr. James How and his wife Elizabeth Furbur.  Yes, there are two Dr. James How(e)s in Rochester NH at the same time having children.  This pedigree came from the Church Records of Rochester.
  3. James Howe, born 24 Oct 1784, son of Samuel Howe of Amherst MA. This pedigree appears on
  4. James Howe, born 28 Oct 1771, Barrington, Strafford NH and the father of Cyrena Howe born in Strafford, Orange VT.  They are documented in the Vital Records of the Town of  Strafford, Orange VT.  In the same records is Isaac Howe, the son of Samuel Howe also living in Strafford.

Four James Howes of the same generation born and living within miles of each other. Three states, towns and counties of the same names, men who are doctors in the Revolutionary War–all closely connected and perhaps even cousins.

In the Massachusetts section of the Idaho Falls Family History Center I discovered the answer–because I looked at the right books.

James Howe, born in 1771 is the son of Thomas Howe who served in the American Revolution from Barrington MA.  This pedigree is extended 4 generations to the immigrant Abraham Howe who came to Roxbury MA about 1636 from England in Historic Homes and Places and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Middlesex County MA by William Richard Cutter.  This is a 4-volume work published in New York by the Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1908.

We lovingly call works issued from the press of the Lewis Historical Publishing Company–Mug Books.  They are common in New England and filled with pedigrees–most often undocumented.

However, with a lineage and an account of family traditions assigned to that lineage, we can go into the sources to see if the pedigree is correct.  And Cutter recounts the stories of Thomas Howe in the American Revolution which are documented in the sources I had already searched!

The next research stage will be to tie Thomas to the next three Howe generations laid out by William Richard Cutter.

The bulk of my time in the  first searches I make on most pedigrees–is usually taken up in determining which of several persons is the right ancestor.  This is not wasted time, I would have to do that eventually–but the process is simpler when research is done with the right steps in sequence.

Mr. Cutter had already taken the time to determine which lineage Thomas descends through.  In a lengthy article, he outlined the known information about Thomas and his connections.  The fact that there is no documentation, other than references to family tradition, is not a good reason to reject the lineage out of hand.

Education in the genealogy world takes a long time to take hold and be understood–especially when it involves advanced thinking.  On the tough problems I get, it takes advanced research techniques to solve the problems that everyone has messed up.  Unless…

Unless… someone else has already worked out the lineage.

A research colleague once told me that with a name, a place and a time period, a good researcher can document the lineage and distinguish between people of the same name.  Just takes due diligence.

Can it really be that easy?

Stay tuned for Part II of this Howe saga.  When I get the lineage documented and proven–all the way back to Abraham through Barrington NH, Portsmouth NH, Kennebunk ME, Boston MA, and Roxbury MA–I’ll let you know if the lineage is accurate that Mr. Cutter submitted in 1908.

And don’t forget the value of a thorough Preliminary Survey.  In our hurry to extend the lineage and reach the immigrant, it is so easy to overlook this important genealogy research step or to short-cut it.  Remember the James Howe saga.  Do the Survey! Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  If you need guidelines on how to do a thorough Survey–check Family History for Fun and Profit:  The Genealogy Research Process by Arlene H. Eakle and Linda E. Brinkerhoff.  2003.  Available from Family History World, PO Box 129, Tremonton UT 84337.  You can order it online at my website using your PayPal account.  The first 1/3 of this volume of more than 450 pages covers the Survey and how to evaluate the data you collect.

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