Fluid genealogy

By now followers of my Vita Brevis posts are well aware that no genealogy is perfect. Period. No matter who wrote it.

The old mindset that a work published in a book or an article is automatically complete and completely accurate should be dead by now. The problem has always been that, once a book is in print, there is no practical way of updating and correcting information without reprinting the entire book.

On the other hand, modern electronic publication (in theory) offers endless opportunity to keep a genealogy “live.” A great example of this “fluid” aspect of genealogy came up after last week’s The Weekly Genealogist included the announcement of the posting of five new or revised Early New England Families Study Project sketches. Immediately, the switchboard began lighting up with half a dozen friends pointing out errors or additions! Thanks. No, really, thanks. One cannot know if one has made an error or omission if somebody does not point it out.

These corrections will be incorporated into the sketches, but in the meantime I thought several were interesting to note. Whenever there is an error or discrepancy in my work I always hunt down the reason so that I can hopefully avoid repeating the mistake.

Double year dates do not apply to an event in June! Only dates in January, February, and March would be double-dated.

Thomas Nichols: Doug Cooley pointed out the strange baptismal date I gave for Thomas of 6 June 1614/15. What’s wrong with that picture? Double year dates do not apply to an event in June! Only dates in January, February, and March would be double-dated. The cited reference, Bob Anderson’s Great Migration, clearly gives the date as 21 February 1614/15. However, Thomas’s sister Elizabeth’s marriage date, listed a few lines above Thomas’s birth on the same page, is 6 June 1625. My eyes had wandered and picked up half the date from one line and half from another. Lesson reinforced: read carefully, proofread more carefully.

Two friends sent in additions for the second version of the Joseph Andrews sketch. Ellen Stine Miller pointed out that the death date for Joseph’s daughter, Hepzibah (Andrews) Manning, can be extended from “aft. 30 Dec. 1692” to “after 6 Aug. 1698,” the date on which she witnessed a record concerning the probate of her husband in New Jersey. I missed this one simply because I did not take the time to consult the published New Jersey records. Lesson: New Jersey is not the other side of the moon. Check the published records at least.

Janis Paulding Swanson pointed out that the baptism for Joseph’s son Ephraim IS in the Hingham vital records. I had looked for it in “August 1639” based on George Lincoln’s statement in his History of Hingham, and when I found no baptism for that date in Peter Hobart’s records, I looked no further, completely missing the baptism for Ephraim Andrews on 8 October 1641, which appears to be for Joseph’s son. Lesson: Always look a little bit further than you think you need to.

Yes, it does take a village.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia is the lead genealogist on the new NEHGS study project, Early New England Families, 1641-1700. Prior to joining the NEHGS staff, she compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant, the Alden Family Five Generations project, and the Harlow Family : Descendants of Sgt. William Harlow (1624/5-1691) of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University. In October 2016, Alicia was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists.

17 thoughts on “Fluid genealogy

  1. I so agree. I had an article published in the NEHGR last year that was literally about correcting an error regarding the wife of John Terry, that had been perpetuated in books published more than 100 years ago, and I am currently working on an article which I hope will get published involving a 110 year old misattribution of parentage to one of early residents of the Plymouth colony.
    With more resources available and fresh eyes, we can find mistakes all the time.

  2. Its so encouraging to have our work read, updated and improved no matter how briefly silly we might feel when our errors are pointed out. The collaboration that has happened in recent years due to availability of records and ability to share research is on of the best things to happen to the genealogical community!

  3. The researching and recording that I’ve accumulated over the past 52 years surely has errors of one kind or another within. I sincerely enjoy receiving constructive criticism at any time on any of it. Simply because, it means that someone else has taken the time to read it !!!

    1. I used to give the nieces and nephews little genealogy pamphlets for Christmas. I would put their Christmas check inside the pamphlet and thus if the check was never cashed, I knew who did not read it!

  4. I have been doing my personal family Genealogy for over 60 years (trying to complete all of my lines) and I find that Genealogy is never complete nor totally finished, There is always new pieces of information to be found and of course like any serious Genealogist I have made corrections (on some of my prior work) even though I was always careful and double checked all of my information and research used in my work. I’m still working on many of my personal Lines. In my small research Business I do mostly Lineage work (mostly DAR, SAR, CAR, 1812 Org., UEL Organizations & Civil War) for other people seeking to become a member and going into various lineage organizations along with some varied Historical research. Therefore I must research carefully to use their approved documentation required for each Family Surname in each Generation to make it acceptable for that organization. If there is any question I must attach a 2nd or 3rd approved record (always necessary for 2ndary sources). I find that much of this information is still not available on Line (with copies of the Original signed document) and I find myself spending hours trying to read original church registries, Wills, Military and Land Records seeking all the connections. Only approved books are allowed by most organizations of this type and therefore It amazes me to no end when Someone tells me they did their complete Family Genealogy in 6 months. My Motto remains “Fast Genealogy is not Good” and “Good Genealogy is not Fast”. Amen

  5. My Dad taught me how to research deeds from the viewpoint of a land surveyor. First rule not to be broken ever, “always read through a couple of pages before and after the page on which you found information relating to your search”. Including indexes, deeds, mortgages, rights running with the land including right of ways, margin notes and plans. You never know what reference to names that relate to your search will be mentioned in another instrument that might reveal a new path to explore. That was and still is the best rule for all research including genealogy. Thanks Dad miss your advice and insight from over 40 years of research.

  6. Thank you, Alicia, for this post. People are often reluctant to point out errors because they do not wish to offend. Every genealogist and writer has a thick skin. Please tell us when we err. Just read this note six characters at a time to make sure there were no mistakes!

  7. I am a retired reference librarian who also managed the genealogy department. When researchers found conflicting information their first question was which is right? I told them to write down the information, say a birthday, AND be sure to note the source. Then do the same with the conflicting information. As their research progresses, as it always does, soon they would have a preponderance of evidence that would further support one or the other of the conflicting pieces of information. I would also cite all the things you have mentioned about always updating and learning new info about their long lost families. It’s the learning and growing that is the fun!

  8. Since I think without looking back you had said you decided to publish after 30 years of research, so you may be forgiven for a few mistakes:) Proof reading and learning lessons about mistakes is someting no true Genealogist should take offense to corrections or even trying to point out possible errors. And there are some who would argue that New Jersey is the other side of the Moon:) That was a good line, I loved it, being a former New Jersey girl (a State I do love regardless) so don’t go by anything I say here. Your suggestion about being able to make the corrections a little easier is so true. As much as some misuse this wonderful Technology, it certainly does have it place.

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