ICYMI: Tips for online genealogical research

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 20 February 2014.]

007_HaleIndexI frequently encounter eighteenth- or nineteenth-century dates, especially on the migration trail, that are not cited and which often derive from “online trees,” usually the FamilySearch Ancestral File, Rootsweb WorldConnect, or Ancestry World Tree. These days, I find it easier to determine whether any of the information is valid thanks to the many works and databases indexed at Google and Google Books. The following case suggests the variety of trails the researcher must be prepared to follow, from unverified online trees (which may hold important clues) to books and newspapers contemporary with the events mentioned (and which are sometimes flawed).

Walter Goold was born in Lyme, Connecticut 25 January 1759 and buried there 3 June 1817. A descendant’s generation charts identified Goold’s wife as Sally Latimer. When searching the Lyme Vital Records (in the Barbour Collection at NEHGS), I was able to confirm Walter’s birth and I found his burial on FindAGrave; his marriage, also at Lyme, only identified his wife as _____ Latimer. (Click on images to expand them.)

Barbour Collection

On Ancestry World Tree, several trees identified her as Sarah “Sally” Latimer, daughter of Henry and Sarah (Christophers) Latimer of New London, Connecticut. They also gave her a date of marriage at Montville, Connecticut on 15 January 1785 and a death in Orleans County, New York, on 26 April 1853.


In reviewing the charts online, I recognized lines of both her purported father and mother going back to Mayflower passenger William Brewster: Henry Latimer would be in the sixth generation and Sarah Christophers in the seventh, both descending from William’s son Jonathan2 Brewster. I went to the Mayflower Five Generations in Progress volume by Barbara Lambert Merrick. Both lines were confirmed to Henry Latimer as a child of his parents and Sarah Christophers’ father as child, but neither line continues to Sarah Latimer and her marriage. Henry Latimer died in New London in 1825, but he did not leave a will identifying heirs. I decided to do a bit a Google searching.

I did various searches for “Walter Goold” and “Sally Latimer” and “Henry Latimer” and “Sally Christophers” and “Sarah Christophers” and “Lyme” and “New London,” etc. Below are some the results I got after some detailed searches:

First Google searchThis led to a citation to their marriage in Montville in 1785 that I did not find in the Barbour Collection:

NYG&B Record
The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 52 [1921]: 32.
(Chesterfield is a village of Montville.)
Some of the later members of the Goold family had distinctive names. Walter and Sarah’s son Gardner married a woman identified as “Lodema Amelia Bush Peck.”  I searched just for that name alone:

Second Google searchThis led me to the website of the “Michigan Biographical Index,” which gave me links to two articles about Lodema:

Michigan Biographical Index

Both were identified as coming from the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, which we have in the NEHGS library. The source turned out to be an article by Howard R. Goold on “Descendants of Robert Goold Who Came to America in the Year 1665,” and on page 100 of volume 22 [1959]  was the family of Walter Goold, which showed the dates that had often been used online:

Goold family article
Howard R. Goold, “Descendants of Robert Goold Who Came to America in the Year 1665,” The Detroit Society for Genealogical Research Magazine 22 [1959]: 100.
The sources for this information were the Barbour Collection for Lyme, correspondence with the Public Library of New London, and a private record, the “Goold Family Bible” in the possession of Charles Gardner Goold of Medford, Oregon. These events, no doubt taken from the Goold Family Bible, were also consistent with the dates I could find from the Lyme and Montville records. Further confirming that Sally was the daughter of Henry Latimer and Sarah Christophers, her third child was named “Henry Latimer Goold” and her tenth child was “Sally Christopher Goold.”

When I was almost done with my research, I saw one final record that really surprised me. In another person’s Ancestry World Tree was a reference to Sally from the Hale Collection:

Hale Collection index

The Detroit Society for Genealogical Research article states that Sally died in Carlton, New York, and I also found a FindAGrave entry listing her burial there in Fuller Cemetery. I thought at first that perhaps Sarah had two gravestones, one in New York and one in Connecticut. However, Family History Library film # 3246 was not a listing of the main body of the Hale Deaths and Burial Index; rather, it was an index to the New London Weekly Chronicle. After using this index to get the full entry, I had everything I needed:

Hale Collection death record
Charles R. Hale Collection, Family History Library film # 3423

Getting a death record in western New York in 1853 can be difficult. Usually you are limited to gravestones or death announcements (if that), since deaths were not civilly recorded. Even in Connecticut, while death records were kept in this period, the record usually did not list spouses, and almost certainly will not list parents. This newspaper’s death announcement of a New London native who died in western New York not only lists both of her spouses but also her father, giving me all the proof I need to extend her ancestors back in Connecticut and Massachusetts for seven more generations!

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

9 thoughts on “ICYMI: Tips for online genealogical research

  1. Thank you for such good researching hints. A few I never thought to do. Maybe now the mortar in a few of my brick walls will start to crumble a wee bit with your information.

  2. Yes, thank you for the tips. One point I would like to add, and I just experienced it this weekend, is that FindAGrave may not always be accurate. I have an ancestor whose headstone clearly states Died 1857 Aged 83 yrs. The birth year is listed as 1778. If you subtract 83 from 1857 you get 1774. I wrote to the person managing that memorial and the response was, “A few years is not gonna matter.” I have requested a note be added to the marker transcription so we’ll see if that works.

  3. Great article thank you. As with the person above sometimes what we learn causes me to have to start over again on some things. At first I was searching through records of the wrong family someone with the same last name as mine. Luckily they had a genealogist in the family and they put me on track. Happily one of my ancestors wrote a book so now I compare it to what I find on line. But the Internet has been a treasure trove. I have found birthdates on some of the sites thatt came after the date of death.
    But your tips are wonderful and you gave me a new resource. I grew up in Michigan and now I have another database to look at. This one is geared for people like me who grew up there.

    Thanks again

  4. Thank you so much for this fine example of what I end up doing most Saturday mornings! Now I can share and people can understand better my obsession with genealogy AND the work involved in online research.

  5. Little off-topic but something I run into often is that members of my family who are part of Puritan communities often had several adopted children. They never Give the names of the children It makes me curious how those of us doing research might find ancestors who might have been adopted by other families? Have any of you ever written a story on this topic? It’s something I keep running into.

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