Read the problem; Trust, but verify

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My father, the MIT graduate, used to try to tutor me in math. His most frequent frustration was getting me to remember to “read the problem.” All the answers were there, he claimed, if I understood the problem. Alas, I never conquered math, but the advice is applicable to genealogy.

When I was writing the Early New England Families sketch on Hilliard Veren, whose wife, Mary, was remembered in the will of her mother, Jane (Slade) (Conant) Searle, I cited the abstract of the will published in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 52 (1898):271 (at left), which gives the date of the will as 1 May 1665. Apparently, I neglected to read the entire abstract and note that the date of probate was given as 20 June 1658. ­­­­

In the case of Mary (Conant) Veren, the 1665 date for her mother’s will did not raise a red flag, since she lived well beyond that date, but the flags came out with her sister, Jane (Conant) (Holgrave) Mason, wife first of Joshua Holgrave and second of Elias Mason. Jane Searle’s will left a bequest to her daughter Jane Mason in New England, but Jane Mason died in 1661.

The temptation might be to conclude that the mother, in England, did not know her daughter had died four years before she wrote her will, but that type of assumption is always dangerous. Remembering Dad’s advice, I went back to the item in the Register and this time read all of it.

With some further diligence, I found the full transcript of Jane Searle’s will in Essex Institute Historical Collections, 52 (1916):51, which gives the year of her will as 1655, and the date it was proved as 29 June 1655.

Next, undoubtedly influenced by current news and my father’s admiration for Ronald Reagan, I remembered the president’s quote, “Trust, but verify.” The failure to read the whole problem was mine, but the fact that the source was published in the Register undoubtedly encouraged my omission. The Register’s 169 years of publication is renowned for its excellence, but, of course, that doesn’t mean it is, or ever has been, perfect. Does that mean we can trust nothing, even in a “trusted” source, and have to verify everything from scratch?

To be continued.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. 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.View all posts by Alicia Crane Williams