My father’s 70th birthday was observed recently. Since finding out that he was not the biological son of Grandpa Norton, I had hoped to have some sort of answer. I have narrowed down one set of great or great-great-grandparents, and AncestryDNA says that Myron Bacon—a man who looks like my dad—is one of his ancestors. But I could not find a suitable candidate for dad’s real dad among that man’s descendants. Am I one generation off?
I am “On the Clock” for finishing my requirements for my credentials with the Board of Certified Genealogists. I research so much, and I mean…research. I don’t just look up information online. I go to the library and look up books, I call distant libraries and get pages scanned, I order microfilm and look at original records. I may look at someone else’s research (and online “research” is most often copy-and-pasted plagiarized work from someone else) but I do not trust it unless I can repeat the research steps that brought that person to his or her conclusion. If the research steps cannot be duplicated—why? Did that person have information that is unavailable today? Did that person misinterpret the evidence? Did that person just guess? I’ve seen found all three scenarios, and I always defer to the records.
People who have the same name! This is a tough one in genealogy, especially when there are few records to go on, such as in 1600s and 1700s Virginia and Maryland. If you only use census records, you would not be able to differentiate men of the same name, but one must dig for tax records and land records. If you can find court records and depositions, they could have great genealogical information within. I have taken on the challenge of separating men (and women) with the same or similar names, and I’ve been able to definitively separate records to specific persons when enough evidence is studied.
I watched the opening season episode of “Who Do You Think You Are” on TLC. The Ancestry.com commercials make me cringe, a little. The twin men who typed in their parents names and bing, bing, bing, these little leaves pop up—YOU HAVE TO VERIFY THOSE SHAKY LEAVES! I see many leaves that link to a man with the same name as another man, but it’s the wrong record/wrong person! I recently posted to the Penelope Stout Descendants Facebook page this comment:
Yes, I have used some hints and have been pleasantly surprised. I love at-your-fingertips access to KY death records, or Maryland register of wills, etc. (I don’t know if newbies realize that in the old days we had to write a letter asking for the record from the clerk, wait for the reply with a yes/no they have the record, then send another letter to get it. OR arrange your vacation so you could flip through huge, dusty books in the basement of the county clerk’s office. Still my favorite way to research!)
What saddens me about the hints and the copy-paste genealogy, is that new researchers are not seeking out the veteran researchers who found those records the hard way, vetting each one with evidence. And if you, as that veteran researcher, tells the newbie, “Hey, that record does not apply to your ancestor,” the newb says, “Well, I got a hint on Ancestry.” My 30+ years digging and finding answers no one else has known challenged by an algorithm!
But, as we veterans embrace the social networks–this Facebook page, our blogs–and continue printing articles in Genealogical newsletters and journals, we will get the right answers out there!
So, when you start searching your family tree, please, ask if there is someone in your family who has worked on it before.
I have a distant cousin who has incorrect information on her tree. She lives too far away to have ever made it to a family reunion—where I might have shared the correct information—and she does not know me from Adam—nor how long I’ve studied and researched these lines. I try to let people know what is right and what is wrong, and I send information about the records which prove it. But…people who think they can “bing, bing, bing” their family tree online aren’t always concerned about the records.
Someone on another Facebook page bemoaned that fact that missing records make it hard to verify information. That is partly true. I’ve honestly never run into a situation of absolutely NO records for a person, except in cases of unknown wives and daughters. I’ve had subjects missing in a census record, but never in every single governmental or church-related record. Think about it—if there are NO records for a person, then how do you even know he or she existed? Now, I know there are brick walls—I have them too—but that is often a matter of finding the right record in the right place .
Recently, though, I learned there was a man named Charles McAtee, son of Colmore Wade McAtee of Morrow County, Ohio. There is no direct record of Charles. His name never appears on a census record because he married after 1840 (when he might’ve been listed as a head of household) and died before 1850, when his name would’ve been on that census. His marriage record is lost. The best I knew was that there was a male in Colmore’s household—but no name was given. It’s easy to assume these tick marks on early census records are unknown children who have died young. BUT…Charles’s name was written down—in the probate papers of his uncle—but only indirectly. You see, the great-niece (Jane McAtee Fryer) of Lloyd S. McAtee, was named as a heir to her great-uncle, In that record, it states Jane was the was the daughter of Charles McAtee, a brother to Lloyd. Then, searching Jane McAtee Fryer—we find her and her mother under the name McTee and McAffee. A genealogist really has to be looking for every possibility. Charles made no records of his own—at least none that have been uncovered—but he was named in records. There was evidence of his existence!
It is when there is NO EVIDENCE at all, that one might need to consider that the information you have is made up—or slightly off—especially if there are other records that suggest something else. (I discussed that in an earlier post about the Rowan Co McAtees.)
DNA remains somewhat elusive to me. Waiting for matches that will knock down our own family brick walls!
And recently, I got KUDOS from the editor of the Maryland Genealogical Society Newsletter, where I was recently published. The editor sent me a message from Col. Joe Holland, a subscriber, who writes:
“The article about Patrick McAtee/MacAtee, written by Dann Norton, was especially insightful and it has helped me deepen my personal genealogy, as Patrick MacAtee was an ancestor of mine. In my few years of Society membership, the extensive evidence laid out by Mr. Norton was the first time I, as a consumer of genealogy, have been able to directly apply scholarly research of the journal to my family tree. “
I picked up a new client last week, so….back to the research!