Posts Tagged ‘methodology’

I am arguably fortunate in having had many of my colonial New England families studied by scholars, sometimes genealogical scholars, sometimes scholars in other fields, sometimes both. Probably the biggest possible down side of this is that well-respected scholars tend to be taken at face value by many genealogists, probably on the belief that since they are well-respected scholars, they are thorough in every aspect of their research. Donald Lines Jacobus, one of the early to mid-20th century leaders in turning American genealogical research from generally consisting of hearsay, family traditions, and fabricated noble/royal lines into a scholarly discipline, researched and published on a number of my colonial New England lines and we are related through at least one ancestral line, the Lymans. Hale, House, and Related Families, Mainly of the Connecticut River Valley by Jacobus and Edgar Francis Waterman (originally published in 1952, a 1978 reprint is available online at HathiTrust) includes a number of my families, and I use it as a reference for sources.

When I was working back on tracing the Pynchons and allied families, I used Jacobus and Waterman’s sources as a starting point. I was able to confirm much of their information via their referenced sources. And then I came to a supposed ancestor named Jane Empson, whom they list as the daughter of Richard Empson, and state that this father named Richard Empson served in the government of English King Henry VII and was one of the two people executed by King Henry VIII right after he ascended to the throne. I was able to confirm their sources on Jane’s adult life. They had stated that widowed Jane Pynchon had married Thomas Wilson and that again-widowed Jane Wilson had left a will that had been proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC). I located her 1576 marriage to Thomas in Terling, Essex, in which she was listed as a widow, and her 1587 PCC will, which listed both her late husband Thomas Wilson and her Pynchon children by her first (known) husband John Pynchon, neatly tying together her adult life. So far this is the earliest extant will I have found that was written by a woman in my own tree. The Pynchon sons listed in her will that she made as Jane Wilson match the sons listed in her previous husband John Pynchon’s 1573 PCC will. Curiously, according to the Terling register, Jane and Thomas married after dispensation by the Bishop of London; so far, I haven’t sorted out what was going on there. (Also curiously, though Jacobus and Waterman reference the dispensation, they seem blasé about it.)

The 1582 PCC will that Jacobus and Waterman ascribe to Jane’s final husband Thomas Wilson, which does indeed seem to me to be the correct will, doesn’t mention Jane at all, and to me seems like it was partially intended to continue his good connections after his death, as his first bequest was to “my goode and loving friende Sir Ffranncis Walsingham, knighte,” who was one of Queen Elizabeth’s major advisors, and his second and third bequest recipients were his brother-in-law (who was another knight) and an esquire. After that, Thomas made bequests to his children. Once I got to the part in his will that specified that he had living biological children (a fact not mentioned in the book) I understood why his will seemed aimed to continue his good connections after he died. Connections like Francis Walsingham were extremely good ones for his children to have.

Jacobus and Waterman say that Jane’s absence from the will was “presumably because she had been provided for in a prenuptual contract,” but as the “presumably” indicates, they provide no source to back this up. Jane’s previous husband John Pynchon had willed her all of his property in County Essex for “her natural life,” and none of the conditions placed on the bequest included that she remain a widow. Whether her next husband would consider this enough for his widow, I cannot say for sure, but I think it is also a plausible scenario. Thomas did not mention any properties in Essex in his will, so it seems that even if the property Jane inherited should have technically legally been his after marriage, rights to it may have been retained by Jane, whether by a marriage settlement (to oversimplify, a 1500’s version of a prenuptual contract) or some other way. In Jane’s own will, she bequeathed the aforementioned Essex properties to her eldest son William, and rights to a dwelling-house in Thomas’s beloved London to her youngest son Edward. (Her middle son, John, was bequeathed money.) All of this was after their father had already bequeathed directly to them as well as to Jane.

But after researching Jane’s adult life, there was still the problem of Jane’s origins. Jacobus and Waterman referred to Jane as one of her alleged father Richard Empson’s heirs (more precisely, as a “coheir”), so I figured they had estate papers to back up their claim of parentage. But then I started researching the life of Richard Empson – not particularly difficult to do since he was a major figure in England’s government – and realized that the math didn’t add up. Richard’s execution was before it was particularly plausible that Jane was born given the documentation I did have, and Jane was not listed as one of his heirs in anything I reviewed. While it had been possible that she could have been an heir as, say, a grandchild or cousin, if she wasn’t listed as an heir at all and that was listed as the proof that she was his daughter, then what to do next? I have had this issue before, including with some much more recent scholarly genealogical publications, so my next strategy was two-fold – try to see if Jane even was an Empson by birth (whomever her parents were), and try to find the real source of this statement.

Unfortunately trying to find Jane’s origins is not an easy slog in surviving records of 16th century England. She could have married or been baptized in any of a number of parishes in a variety of counties, and could have even been married by license, which would have been separate from parish records. Additionally, only some parishes have extant registers from this period, so even a thorough search would not necessarily be able to conclusively prove that Jane was not an Empson unless a record were found that definitively showed her maiden name as something else, as there would be a good possibility that the relevant records don’t exist any more. So far I haven’t found a record of her marriage to John Pynchon. Without knowing her maiden name for sure, I don’t really see a point in trying to find her baptism record at this point, since even if I found a Jane Empson baptized in a time period that fit, that wouldn’t necessarily mean she was the person who married “my” John Pynchon.

Finding the origin of a questionable statement is almost always an interesting challenge to me. I located a number of 19th century authors that claimed Jane was the daughter and heir of the Richard Empson who was beheaded by King Henry VIII, which may be where Jacobus and Waterman found it and accepted it as fact (since they don’t share a source, I don’t know for sure). I eventually found an author who attributed the claim, listing Morant’s book on Essex as their source. It didn’t take much searching to find Morant’s wonderfully-lengthily-titled The history and topography of the county of Essex, comprising its ancient and modern history. A general view of its physical character, productions, agricultural condition, statistics &c. &c (1831) nor to discover that it is now online. For some reason searching the text for “Pinchon” does not turn up any hits even though there are multiple mentions of the surname, so I went through the “Writtle” mentions until I found the statement in question. Morant seems to have been a very enthusiastic local historian, but once I saw the Empson comment in context I realized that his genealogical work is, shall we say, not up to the par of the 1800’s, much less today. Quoted in part below, it is riddled with errors:

Nicholas Pinchon, of Wales, was one of the Sheriffs of London in 1532; he left John Pinchon, Esq., of Writtle, who married Jane, daughter of Richard Empson, (beheaded in 1509,) one of the hated ministers of King Henry the Seventh. This Nicholas died in 1573, and, with his wife, was buried in the north aisle of the church; his sons, were William, John of Springfield, and Edward, who was knighted. He had also two daughters; Elizabeth, wife of Geofrey Gates, of St. Edmunds; and Jane, the wife of Andrew Paschal, of Springfield. William Pinchon, Esq., of Writtle, married Rose, daughter of Thomas Redding, Esq., of Pinner, in Middlesex, by whom he had six sons and three daughters; of these, Joan was married to Sir Richard Weston, of Skreens, in Roxwell, chancellor of the exchequer, made baron of Stoke-Neyland, and earl of Portland. . . . (p. 171)

It is difficult to say where Morant got any of his information, since the only thing that seems to clearly be from a specific source is the information on where certain family members are buried in the church in Writtle (most likely from a church visit, but who can say definitively?). What I can say for sure is that the Nicholas Pynchon who was a sheriff in London in 1532 appears to have been from Writtle, and his PCC will names four sons, not three – Edward, William, Robert, and John – as well as his wife Agnes and a cousin John Pinchon of Writtle. Note that Morant has either latched onto the wrong Nicholas or made a serious typo with the death date, as the Nicholas who was sheriff left a will proved in 1533, a far cry from Morant’s claim of a 1573 death. As to saying Nicholas Pinchon was “of Wales,” I honestly have no idea so far as to where he got that, and I was able to find some later writers who had been equally baffled by Morant’s “of Wales” reference. (My only idea so far is that perhaps he badly misread a handwritten mention of “Writtle.”) The William Pinchon that Morant lists as Nicholas Pinchon’s son was really Jane and John’s son.

More digging on my part resulted in my locating what I believe was the likely origin of Morant’s information on the Pinchons, the 1612 Visitation of Essex, which was published by the Harleian Society and is now available online. The Pinchon pedigree in the Visitation states that John Pinchon’s wife was “Jayne daugh. and heire to Sr Richard Empsone Kt. She after mar. to Secretary Wilsone.” (there should be a few superscript letters in that quote). Note that the Visitation was in 1612, over a century after the Richard Empson who served Henry VII was beheaded. Note also that the pedigree does not state that her father was the same Richard Empson who was beheaded; if the pedigree is correct (and there’s no guarantee that it is), could she be the daughter of another Richard Empson? There are some errors in Morant that aren’t in the Visitation, so my educated guess is that the information had probably made at least a couple of hops on its way to Morant, like the game we called “Telephone” when I was a child, where you would whisper something to the person next to you, who would whisper it to the person on their other side, and so on, until what eventually came back to you was a garbled – or sometimes completely different – version of what you said.

In addition to my trawling through records long-distance, folks have gone to various archives in England to look through specific records for me, and it has proved fruitful. So far the clearest evidence that there was a connection between the Pynchon and Empson families is through heraldry. A manuscript identifies Jane’s son and daughter-in-law William and Rose (Redding) Pynchon as having had a shield design that was half Pynchon, one-quarter Empson or Epsom, and one-quarter Orchard. While this certainly doesn’t definitively show Jane as an Empson/Epsom by birth, it indicates there was some connection between the families. The manuscript is similar to the description of the shield design in the 1612 Visitation of Essex, though it appears that by the time of the 1612 Visitation whomever held the rights to it had added a symbol of an additional surname to the shield, that of a Weston family.

Whomever Jane was by birth, she seems to have been a shrewd and savvy 16th century Englishwoman. She married a man who was either wealthy to start or became wealthy over the course of his life, and in his will she was given the rights to property with no condition that she remain a widow. After at least three years operating her late husband’s property as a widow, she chose her next husband extremely well; the year after Jane and Thomas married, he was appointed joint Secretary of State, serving alongside his friend Francis Walsingham after another of his friends (and Walsingham’s prior co-secretary), Thomas Smith, died. Then, again a widow, Jane made a will that gave her sons additional benefits beyond those they had already gotten through their late father. For a woman of her time and place, marrying well and leaving children that were living, and living comfortably at that, when she died was about the best that she could hope to do with her life.

I was going to make this another two-person 52 Ancestors post, but this post is already pretty long and involved, and Thomas Wilson’s story is also long and intricate, so I’ll devote a future post to him.

For me, history is not something static – it is a constant flow in which those of us alive are participating now. Two hyacinths and a tulip that were introduced while Elizabeth I was queen of England are blooming in my garden now. While Thomas and Jane had died before the tulip’s 1595 introduction in the Netherlands, many of their children and grandchildren were still alive and may have walked past it, seen a painting that included it, or even grown it in their gardens. Additionally, it was one of the parent tulips for many of the tulips that came shortly after it. Every time I walk past that little tulip blooming in my urban garden, I think of how much history is stored in that bulb, how much has changed in the world since then, and how few cities there even were in the world in 1595. Could Jane have even imagined that one of her grandchildren would be one of the major early colonizers of what would become known as New England, or envisioned that the actions of her grandson and his fellow Massachusetts Bay Colony leaders would reverberate down the centuries and drastically change the world? Just before she died in 1587, did she think England’s efforts in colonizing distant locales would go anywhere at all?

Tulip Duc van Tol Red and Yellow

1595’s tulip ‘Duc van Tol Red and Yellow’ blooming in the author’s urban American garden this week. (Photo by the author.)

Pink Roman hyacinth

The pink-colored Roman hyacinth is known to have been in gardens starting in 1573, the year Jane’s late husband John Pynchon’s will was proved; it is blooming in the author’s urban US garden this week. (Photo by the author.)

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There has been much to-do recently in the genealogical community over Ancestry.com’s decision to do away with what they call “old search,” the search system they used to use. Ancestry’s claim that only 2% of users utilize old search today may have been the most incensing comment. In talking with a number of experienced genealogists locally, I have determined via self-reporting that most of them gave up on old search mostly or totally because they found it really difficult to keep track of how to find it on Ancestry, since the link kept being moved on the site; a number of them weren’t even sure how to reach it now.

As a genealogist and historian, when it comes to websites and other archives, I am interested in practical results: How easy is it to find what I want, even if I’m unaware that it’s what I want when I start? If it’s not easy, is it worth the trouble to locate it? And is there something there that I’d be unlikely or impossible to ever find due to something to do with the site/repository/etc. rather than due to my own research methods?

Recently I have been researching someone named Zenas Clement. This name appears to have been unique in Ancestry’s 19th century U.S. records, so Zenas seems to be a good test case. I have used a variety of strategies with both old and new search to test the results.

When I started researching him, I started out working backwards from cemetery records, so I knew his death date and place and approximate age, and that he was quite likely related to the people with the same surname in the same cemetery plot. The typed cemetery records spelled his name “Zenos,” which seems to come from an understandable, though apparently inaccurate, reading of the handwritten “Zenas,” which really does look like the “a” could be an “o.” It didn’t take long to determine that he was the husband and father of some of the other people buried in the plot.

The nag notice Ancestry now frequently puts up when you’re searching and get few to no hits that it considers to be good ones has annoyed me since they introduced it, as in my opinion it quite erroneously implies that the more information you put into a database, the more likely you are to obtain results that are “your person.” In reality, putting in a lot of information can trick a database into missing relevant results because the hits aren’t a good match for the large amount of information you entered. My test case with Zenas illustrated this well.

When I included Zenas’s approximate birth date, death date and location, wife, children, and known residences – which new search defaults to doing if you hit “Search” from a profile page in an Ancestry tree – some of the top hits were for people who happened to have the surname Clement and matched one or two of my other parameters. For example, I got an 1880 U.S. federal census result for Moses Clement, who had a wife Sarah H. Clement (not Zenas’s wife’s name) and a daughter  Sarah J. (Zenas had a daughter named Sally J.), who was born approximately five years later than Zenas, in a state that neighbors the state Zenas was born in, and lived in a state (though not a county, much less a town) where Zenas had lived prior to 1880. I get another top hit on the 1880 U.S. federal census for a David Clement.

It takes less than the first page of results to reach the blue box where Ancestry says that results below the box are much less likely to be “your ancestor” (apparently Ancestry assumes no one will be researching anyone but their direct lines). A number of the top hits below the box are for a Zenas Clement, so I have absolutely no idea why two people with the wrong name are above the blue box while some exact matches on the name are below it.

But some of the other below-the-blue-box results on the first screen of hits are completely inexplicable to me. For example, one is a web-results hit for a mention of a Montagna Michael Clement in an offsite North Carolina birth index; Montagna appears to be the parent of the infant, which at least explains why I got a result for an index that doesn’t start till 1865 (64 years after Zenas’s estimated birth), but literally the only reason this seems to turn up is because the father and mother have the same surnames as Zenas’s surname and his wife’s maiden surname. They don’t have a child with the name of the child in the index result, and I gave the database nothing to suggest they ever lived in North Carolina.

The second page of results returns one exact match for Zenas Clement’s name and a ton more irrelevant hits that happen to have the surname Clement.  The next few pages similarly contain mostly people that happen to have the same surname, as well as a few hits where the first name is Clement and a couple hits where there are no name matches and it is not apparent why they are coming up. There are no matches for Zenas. By the 6th page of results there are still no more matches for Zenas, and the number of “no apparent reason why this hit is coming up” have started to increase.

All in all, inputting as much as I know and can input into Ancestry’s new search turns up 15 results for Zenas in the first 6 pages, 9 of which are above the blue box, and 14 of which are on the first page. I suspect after 4 full pages with no so-much-as-plausible results at all, most searchers would simply move on to a new search (be it a different search for Zenas or a search for a different person).

Approaching new search a different way – using the drop-down menu to go to the main search dialog box and only entering Zenas Clement’s name and approximate birth date – returns very different results, despite it being the kind of search that Ancestry emphatically tries to dissuade people from doing in its automated messages. Indeed, when I do this search, a blue box appears above my very first result nagging me:

A little more information will give you better results. Try adding a state, province or country in “Lived In (Residence)” Try adding a birth or death date; even a guess might help.  You can press ‘r’ to refine your search, or ‘n’ to start a new one. Check out Getting the most out of new search for more tips and tricks.

This is particularly annoying to me, not only because I did include a birth date (I’ve sometimes gotten this nag box at the very top of my results even when I provided detailed information), but also because scrolling down past the nag screen I immediately see that this search, without providing detailed information, has given me much better search results than my previous search, including several items that are immediately obviously about Zenas but didn’t turn up in the entire first six pages of the other search!

There is only one result on the first page that seems puzzling given what I inputted, but clicking through to read the user-submitted “story,” it turns out that Zenas is mentioned in the text of a story that has been attached to someone unrelated who happened to be living in the same town at the same time. There is only one result on the first page that doesn’t directly pertain to this Zenas Clement, but the results match what I have inputted – a Z. Clement, born in approximately 1800, enumerated in Louisiana on the 1860 U.S. federal slave schedule. Since I did not give any location where Zenas had lived, it is a perfectly reasonable result that matches the information I gave in my search.

Clicking through to the second page of results, the upper hits on the page also match Zenas, and then there are a few Optimal Character Recognition (OCR) results where the word “Zenas” and the word “Clement” appear near each other on the page but aren’t actually a match – and then suddenly it drops to what happened on the very first page in the previous search – a whole heap of results for people who have the surname Clement but not the given name Zenas.

The third through sixth pages consist completely of the latter type of result, and again, at that point I think most people would simply give up on a search (either on Zenas altogether or on their current search strategy). This search strategy returned 30 hits that matched Zenas Clement, all in the top 2 pages, and most of the non-relevant hits in the top 2 pages were understandable given the search parameters.

Next up, I did the same low-info search on “old search,” which you can reach by going to the “Search All Records” option in the drop-down “Search” menu and then clicking on the tiny link to old search in the upper right of the page. The top 14 hits are all for Zenas Clement. Then they take a very different turn – by returning some Massachusetts results for a Zenas Coleman. There are 5 results for this Zenas Coleman, followed by the Z. Clement who was on the 1860 federal slave schedule in Louisiana. “Clement” to “Coleman” is not a big leap when recording from hearing, so I can understand why the “Coleman” results turned up, and if I were researching a name that was frequently misheard, I would likely be appreciative of the implication to consider searching for the surname Coleman as well.

Page 2 immediately returns to hits for Zenas Clement, starting with some of the same hits that turned up in the low-information-inputted new search but were completely overlooked by the high-information-inputted new search. The first 12 are for  Zenas Clement, and then the path follows a similar one as to the low-information new search – there are some OCR hits where the words “Zenas” and “Clement” are near each other, and then the hits for other people with the surname Clement begin. There are no more hits for any Zenas Clement through page 6 of results. Since a low-info old search defaults to not including “Stories & Publications,” that probably explains why the two newspaper results that did not turn up in the high-info-inputted new search but did turn up in the low-info-inputted new search are not turning up in old search.

Indeed, clicking on the tab for “Stories & Publications” results, the member story that turned up in the low-info new search is the top hit, and the third and fourth hits are the same newspaper stories as in the low-info new search. There are also a good number of other hits for Zenas Clement in the first page; all but the two user-submitted stories list the name Zenas Clement in the results column. The “publications” in the results include a number of scanned local history books, and one includes an entry about Zenas’s wife’s family that provides her maiden name. Of course if someone found this in an initial search it would need to be backed up with other research, but for a researcher doing a skeleton sketch of the family as their starting point in research, it would provide a possible maiden name – as well as her (supposed) parents’ and siblings’ names and the names of her adult siblings’ spouses, her mother’s maiden name, and her mother’s second husband’s and parents’ names – as a significant starting point in their research.

The first page of old-search “Stories & Publications” results provides 17 more results for “my” Zenas, as well as two OCR matches where Zenas and Clement are near each other, and one private member story for someone who lived in England in the 17th century (since I cannot see the private member story, I cannot tell whether the name Zenas Clement is in it, though with the significant time difference I am unclear on why it turned up as the second hit anyway).

These hits provided a lot more color for Zenas’s biography than the hits that turned up in the “Historical Records” search on old search, and almost none of them turned up in the first six pages of results on new search – only 1 in the high-info new search, and only 3 in the low-info new search. Through them I discovered such things as that Zenas was on a temperance committee, was a member of the state legislature for at least one session, and was a member of a state militia. Of course these local histories need to be backed up, if possible, with further research, and cited as the only known source if one is unable to find further records supporting the claims, but they provide a starting point for knowing what other records to seek.

The lowest relevant hit on the first page of “Stories & Publications” was to a fairly lengthy biography of Zenas’s son that mentioned Zenas as his father, and would allow the researcher who was working forward in time instead of backward to figure out where Zenas’s son had moved and what had happened to him. The second page of results in “Stories & Publications” is a mix of relevant and irrelevant hits, and it would behoove the intrepid research to look through all the hits on the second page and to keep going through further pages of results.

The “Historical Records” section of the low-info old search yielded 26 results for Zenas Clement in the first six pages, and the “Stories & Publications” section of the low-info old search yielded 17 results for Zenas Clement on the first page and 3 more on the second page, after which I stopped searching for the time being due to having to click through to each page to view OCR results on old search. All in all, that’s a total of 46 relevant results in just 8 pages of results.

Lastly, I tried a high-info-inputted old search. Interestingly, old search does not allow a space to input children; you’d have to do it as a keyword search. So I inputted his name and approximate birth date (same as the low-info searches in both old and new search) as well as his birth state, his wife’s maiden name, his residence in the two states where I’m sure he lived, and his death information. The top four hits are for the 1850 through 1880 U.S. federal censuses (not in chronological order) and the next two hits are both for the marriage of a James Carpenter and a Catherine G. Clement in 1852 in Boston. Nowhere did I say that the family had ever lived in Massachusetts, and I have no idea why Ancestry returned a result with Zenas’s wife Catharine’s married name as the fifth and sixth hits in a search for Zenas, not a search for Catharine. The seventh result is one of the same “shaking leaf” hints that Ancestry had offered me – an American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI) entry for Zenas Clement:

Name:     Zenas Clement

Birth Date:     1810

Birthplace:     New Hampshire

Volume:     30

Page Number:     296

Reference:     Gen. Column of the ” Boston Transcript”. 1906-1941.( The greatest single source of material for gen. Data for the N.E. area and for the period 1600-1800. Completely indexed in the Index.): 12 Jun 1918, 6966

Even given my fairly generous -/+ 5 years choice for the birth date in my search, 1810 is outside of this range, and while I included New Hampshire as one of his residences, I did not list it as his birth state. Any information is only as good as its source, and presuming this is the same Zenas Clement, whomever gave this information to the Boston Transcript provided both an incorrect birth year and an incorrect birth state.

The next hit is – incredibly inexplicably to me – for the marriage of a William Brown to a Catherine Jennison in Massachusetts – except for Zenas’s wife Catharine’s given name (spelled differently), neither the names nor the location matches anything I inputted. The rest of the page is a mix of results for Zenas and irrelevant results, most of which only match a state of residence and/or a surname, and another of which doesn’t match anything I searched for.

Page 2 provides the same mix of relevant and irrelevant results, and by page 3 I’m at the same point I was after inputting a lot in new search – people who have the surname Clement but are otherwise irrelevant. I even recognize a number of the same names/locations from the similar search in new search. To match the high-info new search, I scrolled through the rest of the first six pages; no further results for Zenas occurred. I got 17 relevant results, none of which included the newspapers or local histories that by now I knew Zenas was listed in on Ancestry. To do a high-information-inputted search in the old search, you have to switch to “Advanced Search,” which causes you to lose the ability to choose between tabs at the top of your search results, so I no longer got to switch from “Historical Records” results to “Stories & Publications” results.

To recap my results:

  • High-information-inputted “new search”: 15 results for the correct Zenas Clement in the first six pages
  • Low-information-inputted “new search”: 30 results for the correct Zenas Clement in the first six pages
  • Low-information-inputted “old search”: 26 results for the correct Zenas Clement in the first six pages of “Historical Records,” plus 20 more in the first two pages once switching to the tab “Stories & Publications,” for a total of 46 results
  • High-information-inputted “old search”: 17 results for the correct Zenas Clement in the first six pages

To sum up my test cases:

Using old search garnered more results early in my search results than using new search.

Starting with a low-information-inputted search garnered more results early in my search results than immediately starting with inputting a lot of information, regardless of whether I was using old search or new search. As FamilySearch advises in their own dialogue boxes, if starting with a a low-information search returns too many irrelevant results, you can always start adding more information till you start getting pertinent ones.

Note Heather Rojo has compiled a list of recent blog posts about old vs. new search on Ancestry, along with some older posts and articles on the subject, at “Flash Blog Mob” about Ancestry.

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Many long-time genealogy researchers tend to find just about everything interesting. A common comment for being more efficient with research time is the need to limit what I call “Shiny Object Syndrome” – the fascination with anything interesting that is wandering into the research view – and what many other researchers call something such as “following rabbit trails.”  While this is certainly important when one is researching for someone else or researching at a repository for a very limited amount of time, sometimes following the path wherever it leads can be beneficial.

Chipmunks, a Northeastern North American mammal that burrows in the ground, are fascinating creatures.  They usually have at least three entrances/exits to their tunnels so that they can come in or out at will, escaping predators and other chipmunks.  They also typically have multiple food stores in their tunnels, because chipmunks have a propensity to raid each others’ food stores, and this way, their entire cache of food won’t be wiped out in a single raid.

What on earth, you are likely thinking, does any of this have to do with genealogy?  I posit a somewhat offbeat idea – that sometimes going down the chipmunk tunnel will lead you to a cache.

For some days, I had a piece of mail almost ready to go, waiting to be sent to a vital records department.  Like some other vital records repositories, this one requires a money order to process, so I hadn’t taken the final step of getting one.  When I have to take an extra step like that, I like to pool my order if I can.  Since this couple had gotten married in a particular town, and I believe they likely did so because a sibling lived there at the time, I wanted to try one more time to find some indication of where the sibling’s marriage took place before sending the letter in, so that I could request both records at once if it turned out to be in the same locale.

I started by searching for an obituary of the husband.  I knew his death date from family papers that had been passed down to me, and had previously confirmed the place and date with an online index, but had not looked for an obituary nor ordered the original record yet.  (I had previously searched multiple times for an obituary of the wife, who outlived him by 34 years, but had never found one.)  I found a death notice in a newspaper, and then found a full-page article about his life and death in a trade magazine on Google Books.  The article went into great detail about his life, but only gave a year for the marriage, and no place.

I had not researched his family of origin at all, though, and the lengthy article mentioned his father’s name and that his father died in the Civil War the same year he was born.  So out of curiosity I checked to confirm (or refute) his father’s service and death, and when I discovered it appeared to be true, I thought I’d check to see if the widow (the husband’s mother) filed for a pension.  I confirmed this easily on Ancestry’s pension index cards, and then went to check the other record set of pension index cards, since the two sets often contain different information.  Much to my shock, Fold3 turned out to contain the entire pension file – the first time I have found a Civil War pension file on there (they are very slowly indexing them, and were up to 3% complete the last time I checked), though I know a few other researchers who have found several.  I ended up very glad that it was on there, as it was by far the smallest Civil War pension file I’ve ever seen, and if I had ordered it from NARA at their flat rate of $75 per pension file for up to 100 pages, it would have cost about $3 per page.

After spending a bit of time skimming through the file, I went back to working on my original goal – when and where the couple married.  I found that the husband had published some articles in the trade magazine prior to his sudden death, and that those are online too.  I also found in googling that the wife had applied to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and did a descendant search for her on DAR’s database, hoping the application would include marriage information, as many of them do.  I discovered that she applied under a different ancestor than the one I knew served in the Revolutionary War.  I paid for and downloaded the PDF of her application, as well as a later application for the same ancestor that would likely be more detailed.  This is for a line that I haven’t really done much work on – I’m not stuck on it, I just haven’t done much to date.  Her application was bare-bones like many of the early DAR ones, and did not include any marriage information.  But the other application was very detailed, and will be useful for clues as I work on this line.

And then I turned back to searching and found a scanned “social register” which listed his marriage to his wife – in 1896, in the city she was from.  The article about his life and death had stated that they had married in 1898, and the estimate based on the 1900 census data was for a marriage in 1897.  Most interesting of all – at least to me – is that the social register had two different marriage dates listed, one under each of their cross-referenced names!  The dates were only two days apart, so at least it gave me a narrow window to focus my initial search.

So I went to FamilySearch, as I knew from other research that they had updated their “Ohio, County Marriages, 1790-1950” database with more records this year, and I figured it was worth a try to see if they had been added.  I searched for them, and there they were!  One of the two dates in the social register was correct.  I was sure I had the right couple, because the husband had a fairly unusual last name and a very unusual middle name.

I had the answer to my question, and new records to add to my files.  And I went ahead and stopped by the bank that day to get a money order, and sent the lone marriage record request on its way.

This may seem like a convoluted way to reach my destination.  But even if I hadn’t gotten the answer to my question, I still think it would have been a valuable pursuit.  Here are some of the things I learned in my two hours of research:

  • The death notice states that he died “suddenly.”
  • The article on his death provided a very large amount of information I had not already had. While it will need to be confirmed with other records (as shown by the marriage year being incorrect), what has been checked so far has mostly turned out to be accurate.
  • Finding the article on his death and the articles he had published in the trade magazine both show that Google Books has added more trade magazines. This is worth pursuing for other folks in my tree as well.
  • The trade magazine’s extremely detailed article on his life and death also showed just what a rich source of information they can be, and emphasized that it would be wise to give them more priority in relevant searches.
  • Fold3 is continuously adding to their Civil War pension files, and it is worth checking any time a new pensioner is discovered in my research.
  • At least for this one widow, the fact that her husband died during the war and she applied nearly immediately appears to have gotten her a pension quite quickly – much different than what I am used to seeing in my Civil War pension research. But she was also dropped from the rolls after some time of failing to collect her pension, according to the last page of the file; this is not something I have encountered before, and plan to explore what it means more.
  • The pension file also indicates that he was the only child of this couple.
  • The DAR applications suggest a possible path for a line I haven’t done much work on, as well as some sources to try for it. Her application and acceptance also tell me that she was a DAR member, and that she knew enough about her lineage to apply through one of her ancestors.
  • It’s always worth trying googling for a research question. (Just a self-reminder of something I already knew, but it’s always nice to have confirmation.)
  • It seems worthwhile to try the rest of my names of people who may have married in Ohio, since FamilySearch’s “Ohio, County Marriages, 1790-1950” seems to have expanded so much this year.
  • The date and place of the marriage, with a scan of the original record now added to my files.

And in my wanderings through the chipmunk tunnel, I found a cache.

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